Spoilers for the Barry Season 1 finale follow below.
HBO’s excellent new series Barry has concluded its first season, and things certainly did not go as planned. The half-hour comedy series from showrunners Bill Hader and Alec Berg began as the story of an extremely skilled hitman hoping to change professions and become an actor, but in the pilot Barry’s future plans got tangled up with the Chechen mob. After a number of ups and downs throughout the season, the Barry finale saw Hader’s titular character disposing of the dangerous Chechen mobsters and finally settling down to chase his dreams.
In a delightful twist, however, the episode jumped forward in time, revealing a happily content Barry in a relationship with Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and enjoying a weekend getaway with Gene (Henry Winkler) and Detective Moss (Paula Newsome). Could Season 1 really be going out on a positive note, giving Barry a happy ending?
Of course not. In a brilliant piece of plotting, over dinner Gene brought up the moment from the pilot in which Barry “improvised” a story about a guy who was really good at killing who didn’t want to do it anymore. Moss caught on, leading to a heartbreaking confrontation between Barry and the whip smart detective. In yet another brilliant twist, just as the two were about to embark on a shootout, the camera cut to inside the house—all the audience witnessed were the sights and sounds of gunshots. The episode (and season) closed with Barry crawling back into bed with Sarah and making yet another vow to himself to stop killing, starting now.
With this tightly plotted and equal parts hilarious and devastating eight-episode season now over, I recently got on the phone with Hader for an exclusive interview to unpack the events of the finale and discuss how they came together in the writers room. The showrunner/actor/writer/director revealed an alternate ending that was considered for the finale and what two ideas they came up with on the first day of writing the show that they followed all the way to the end, and also discussed the writers’ reluctance to kill off Goran.
Our wide-ranging conversation also touched on the universal themes explored in Barry about people trying to change, as well as whether Barry is at heart a good person, where that Akira Kurosawa joke came from, why Alec Berg is underrated as a director, a brief tease of Barry Season 2, and much more. If you’re at all interested in how Barry came together, and how the writers approached the endpoint of this season, I can pretty much guarantee what Hader has to say will leave you satisfied.
Check out the full conversation below.
When you were crafting the season, what were your early discussions about how you wanted it to end? Did it change significantly once you guys started writing?
BILL HADER: Yeah, yeah we had a very different ending in mind that was too far down the road. It was something that would’ve changed things a little too drastically, so what we tend to do—and we’re doing it now, because we’re writing Season 2 right now—I tend to walk in with, “Here’s a whole season.” I tend to work up, I work vertically. I go, “Here’s eight episodes,” and then Alec goes horizontally through all eight and goes, “Well that doesn’t make sense. Why would he do that? You could do this,” and Liz Sarnoff will say, “Instead of this we could do that.” And by the way, what I will initially come up with and then what the show ends up being, you can see remnants in there but it’s not the season really. I tend to work better when I’m working off of something, so it’s good to write your own version of that, sleep on it, and then look at it again and go, “Why are we wasting five episodes for this to happen? That should happen in Episode 2.” We just did that in Season 2 where I had something that was gonna happen in Episode 4 and Alec was like, “That should be the end of Episode 1,” and you’re like, “Oh you’re right,” (laughs).
The ending actually came to us—we wrote scripts for episodes 1 through 4 and had those, and then you could really feel it where we went, “Okay we’ve got this Shakespeare festival, we’re setting up these Marines, we have Moss and Cousineau and Barry and Sally and what she wants,” and it was just going, “Here’s what we know,” because we’d written the drafts for 1 through 4, and that tells you a lot. You can’t just outline it, you’ve gotta actually get in and write the drafts because then you start to go, “Oh that doesn’t work. That’s a conceptual idea. That doesn’t really work as you write it.” And you get the characters’ voices, you understand who they are—you understand that with Fuches, the guy we’ve written isn’t that guy anymore. He’s more of a con man. Fuches initially was like evil, and we reworked the character and made him more of a con man.
So basically, as we moved toward the end, initially Barry bought a house. In the initial version that I had written Barry had bought this “fuck off” house, and Fuches was furious, like, “It’s not good for you being an anonymous hitman to own a big house in Silver Lake.” The party at Natalie’s, initially that was a party at Barry’s house. That was like a thing that Barry was hosting a party and then his Marine friends showed up to that party, and at that party Moss came with Cousineau, and it was this big reveal of, “Oh Jesus, Cousineau came to the party with Moss.” Then at the end of Episode 8, they’re all drinking at Barry’s house and Moss goes to the bathroom or something and she finds some sort of clue. It was all just feeling a bit too pat, it just wasn’t working.
I remember Alec said, “What if you just cut into the future and they’re out in the woods?” and I went, “Oh God, yeah! This thing should feel like one of his daydreams!” and everybody went, “Yeah!” So you don’t know if it’s real or not (laughs). Our initial thought was, “What if you did a thing that started and you went, ‘Oh this is a daydream.’ This is what he wanted. This is what he’s thought about all season, so what if you lean into that and he’s in a hammock with Sally, they’re reading their lines for The Front Page, Moss doesn’t suspect him anymore and they’re all together and it’s this beautiful thing.’” Make it feel almost too idyllic.
That’s what it felt like at the beginning. Because the midway point of the episode is very much where a more traditional show would end. The two of them in the bar and there’s a slow pull back. But then you hear the wood sounds and you’re like, “Wait what?”
HADER: Yeah I like that. I like that you go, “What is happening?” and then you go, “Wait, is this real?” (laughs). We wanted that, and then just writing those scenes, Cousineau does that Harry Belefonte thing, everything’s perfect, Barry is very much now a part of that society, and now they’re all eating dinner, and then we sat there for like two days. “Okay they’re eating dinner… Uh…” and I go, “What is it?” and we went, “Well his loose ends are tied off.” We just couldn’t figure it out. And I said, “Oh my God, it’s already there. It’s in the pilot. Barry told him his fucking story in the pilot!” and that was one of those moments where we just start high-fiving each other. Then Moss would figure it out. Initially what happens between Moss and Barry was much more brutal, but then it was more interesting to have this scene between them and then kind of leave it open-ended so you don’t know what the hell happened.
That cut was incredible. I literally gasped. The cut to the window and you only see the light from the gun shots.
HADER: Yeah that’s all Alec Berg, man. He was like, “You know what would be better? You just cut to the window and you hear the flashes,” and I’m operating that. I was like, “Can I operate the flashes?” You had a different flash for her gun and my gun, so it was this thing where Alec was like, “Faster!” it was funny. They were like, “Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to have Bill do this,” (laughs). That was on a stage, and I was trying to work that.
I know you can’t confirm whether Moss is definitely dead yet, but I will say as a viewer, you guys did so much great character work and Paula Newsome gave such a great performance that I really don’t want her to be gone.
HADER: Yeah people like her so much, and people love Moss and Gene so much—which is a testament to how good Paula and Henry are—but she says it, “I’m a cop and you’re a fuckin’ murderer. It’s pretty simple man,” and I love that. All these things that he’s trying to tell himself she’s like, “You’re a murderer,” and he is! I think it’s a nice thing that people have picked up on the fact that there are a lot of these shows where crime is the release, it’s like, “Oh God, we’re getting away with this!” That’s a little how Walter White was, and I’m not criticizing it—clearly we really liked Breaking Bad. There’s some shots we lined up in Episode 6 where I’m like, “Oh God this is getting ridiculous. This looks just like Breaking Bad.” But he’s a killer. “Starting now,” there’s a lot of futility in it, but I like it when his emotions are relatable. I think that people say that a lot in their life, just not heightened to the degree of murder. Like, “I’m gonna stop drinking starting now,” or “I’m gonna stop eating sugar starting now,” or “I’m gonna be a better dad or husband now,” and that’s just not the way life is.
There’s something inherent in you that’s making it hard to change, and I think so much of the emotions of the show are very personal for me—not that I’ve killed anybody. But certain emotions you have, I mean it sounds corny but I do have a real problem with sugar. When you get older, it’s hard to change. It gets incredibly difficult to change, and I think that’s what all of these characters have in common. It’s why Cristobal is doing self-help books, or Goran wants to be a good father and family man, they’re trying to figure this stuff out.
And Hank wants everybody to get along.
HADER: He does! Because people who’ve been around a violent world like Hank has, the inverse is everyone getting along and people being positive, and you just get sick of it. You go, “God it’d be great if we could all just be friends.” It’s just hard to change.
So much of this show is heartbreaking, especially when it comes to those daydreams. As you get older you sit and think, “If I could things differently, this is how it would be, and this is what I would like it to be,” and then you have the cold snap back to reality.