Piggybacking off last year’s tense season finale, season four opens with Barry (Hader) in prison for his crimes—not just any prison, but one that also houses his former handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), who grows desperate for protection from the Feds once he finds out. But Barry’s not interested in killing him anymore; he’s rudderless after discovering that his former acting teacher/father figure, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), sold him upriver for killing his girlfriend at the end of the first season. “Mr. Cousineau, are you mad at me? Because I love you,” Barry whines helplessly into a prison payphone early in the season, his pleas falling on deaf ears. Hader’s always been skilled at walking Barry’s delicate tightrope between a hardened psychopath and a lost little boy, and his time in the clink unearths new layers of vulnerability.
But as broken down as Barry has become, the aftereffects of his actions over the first three seasons have rippled through the show’s supporting cast. Even outside its title character, “Barry” has always been about the innate push and pull between transgression and redemption, the ways we use our pain and resentment as fuel for creativity.
Those contradictions are fundamental to what makes the show so damn watchable. Take the very first minutes of the show—an extended wide shot from inside a prison guard office, tracking Barry as he walks to his cell. We hear the guards chattering about him from offscreen: Yes, he’s tea Barry Berkman, the brutal murderer brought to justice. “He’s on f**king TV!” the other guard gushes; even in prison, you can’t escape the pull of celebrity. It’s a level of grace Barry neither desires nor deliberately attracts. He sees prison as his penance.
Indeed, much of the first half of “Barry”’s final season is about our characters running from their true selves that the first three seasons revealed in all of them. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) flees to her hometown of Joplin, Missouri, where his parents seem less concerned with her former boyfriend’s status as a murderer than all of the self-mythologizing she did in her semi-autobiographical streaming series. Gene, meanwhile, professes a humble desire to see justice done but also seeks out a journalist (Patrick Fischler) to tell his story—naturally, in the form of a one-man show for a one-man audience. They, like Barry, seek absolution for their sins and further collapse when no one can give it to them.