If for some reason you forgot that Barry was a TV series about a hitman, the Season 2 finale was a stark reminder. The half-hour comedy wrapped up its critically acclaimed second season in striking fashion, as the final minutes saw the titular Barry going on a murderous rampage that left a number of criminals—from both the Chechen and Burmese gangs—dead, as Barry shot his way through their hideout looking for Fuches (Stephen Root). Season 2, at heart, has been about the question of whether you can truly change your nature, and after doing everything in his power not to kill anyone all season long, Barry finally relapsed and revealed his true self—to devastating results.
Barry star, executive producer, writer, and director Bill Hader has been kind enough to speak with Collider at length about each individual episode of Barry Season 2 for the past eight weeks, and during our extensive chat about the finale—which he directed—Hader shed some light on how this conclusion came to be. Hader revealed that the final 10 minutes of the episode came to him in one fell swoop while stuck in traffic, and discussed the challenges he faced in directing such a complex, character-centric episode. Thematically, Hader also discussed how the Barry Season 2 finale could alternatively be titled “Fuches Is Right,” as everything he’s been telling Barry all season long came to pass.
The co-showrunner also revealed how they hit upon the idea to end the season with Cousineau (Henry Winkler) learning the truth about Barry, why that long tracking shot was inspired by Hader’s days on SNL, why they finally decided to make Noho Hank’s (Anthony Carrigan) feelings for Cristobal explicit, and how the conclusion to Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) arc this season rings so true.
Personally, it’s been a joy to get to talk to Hader at length about each of these episodes this season, and to really dig into the filmmaking and thought-process behind major storytelling decisions for one of the best shows on TV, so my gratitude goes out to Hader for being so eager and willing to shed light on the Barry team’s creative process. And also to everyone who’s been reading these week to week. I hope they’ve been as enlightening and fascinating for you as they have been for me.
Check out the full interview with Hader on the Barry Season 2 finale ending below.
So broad strokes, when did you guys hit upon how you wanted to end the season?
BILL HADER: It was probably about a month into writing. We had that Barry was trying to not kill someone all season and we knew that the class had this truth exercise, and then it was this whole thing of what’s Barry’s truth, what would his truth exercise be and he keeps on wanting to change it because he doesn’t like who he is. He doesn’t like the truth of who he is. And then he finally settled on like, “Well I’ll play Sam in Sally’s scene and not do my own truth exercise.” And then we said his truth has to come out, and so we have to have his performance in the scene somehow. I just said, “What if he just goes and kills all the guys at the monastery?” We talk about it in terms of drinking. He doesn’t drink all, he’s an alcoholic, and he hasn’t drank all season and then he finally goes on a bender in the last ten minutes of the show. What if we do that? And then the other writers were like yeah, that would make sense.
Initially, he just went to the monastery and just started killing people. We just had that, there was no reason for him to be there and then once we figured out the Fuches of it all, it was like, “Oh, Fuches should go to the monastery!” Barry finds out Fuches is there and he’s trying to kill Fuches, which makes him less of a monster. It’s like he’s there for a reason. He’s there to kill Fuches, everyone else is just in his way.
It just kind of pops off. And in the way you shoot it too, you’re not endorsing it. It’s very upsetting. Barry is the lead character of the show and he can be very charming and we obviously have empathy for him. But you just feel really sad when he’s doing it and you feel kind of disgust. I think Barry, after he comes out of that fugue state, you see when he realizes he’s killed that young Chechen that he trained, he just kind of lost himself for a minute there.
HADER: Yeah, it’s like the saddest moment. He killed that Chechen but he also killed the kind of younger version of himself. So we had the idea, he’s going to kill Mayrbek, let’s go back in Episode 4 and set that up, so that’s why he yelled at Mayrbek and says, “Kill, kill, you gotta have that written on your forehead,” or whatever it is. It’s like this isn’t fun and games, you gotta kill somebody and then you’re like, “Yeah, Mayrbek can’t be Barry.” You know what I mean? He sees Barry and he smiles, he goes, “Oh there’s my friend. There’s my mentor.” I wanted a thing that was upsetting. Even though we put in those drums and had the rain over it and all that stuff to give it an atmosphere, it’s sad. It’s a guy disgusted with himself.
And by the end of it, he’s literally descending into darkness.
HADER: Yeah, and he’s also trying to kill the guy. He’s yelling, “Fuches!” Which to me, was always a way of—he’s going after the guy that’s right. Fuches is right about him. Fuches says, “You’re a violent piece of shit, I built the whole world around you that will support that. I’ve given you a life that will support that” and you have Cousineau over there going, “No, you can change your nature,” and it’s Barry proving that Fuches is right. And he wants to kill him not because of what he did to Cousineau, not only because of that but I think on some level it’s like, fuck you for being right about me.
It’s super striking that Barry is really upset that Gene is in prison and he clearly cares a lot about him, but as Fuches says, he could fix it all by turning himself in.
HADER: Yeah, he cares about himself. He still cares about himself. He’s like, this could all go away if you turn yourself in and say “Hey, it was me.”
This season has all been about telling the truth and that’s his ultimate truth, which is that I am a criminal. I’m a murderer. And he can’t own up to it.
HADER: We tried to get that he was going to kill Sally, and he is no different than Sam was kind of the idea that we were playing with in that moment. And then how those two things intersect whereas like, by her being afraid of her truth, she ends up inadvertently saving her life in a weird way. It was always like, is he going to kill Sally? I don’t know, but he’s definitely hyped up in a place. And this episode was really hard to direct because you had to tie up all these storylines but then you’re also really in the characters’ heads. How do you show that Cousineau is out of it so he’s not going to remember what Fuches whispered in his ear? So you have him kind of staring at the floor.
I love that shot.
HADER: You just try to find these little moments that help it, you know? That was a tough episode. It was way tougher than Episode 5. In Episode 5, the story lends itself to being cinematic. With Episode 8, it’s harder to figure out what’s interesting coverage and what tells the story the best without getting in the way and all that.
I was curious if after Episode 5 this would be kind of a more tame episode, but directing-wise, I thought you kind of stepped up your game. I really liked the use of color, the handheld, and even some of the iconographic shot composition that kind of really drives home the themes of the season. Like I said, it literally ends with Barry descending into darkness.
HADER: If you watch that, when I knew the last shot was him descending into darkness I went to Hiro [Murai, who directed Season 2 Episode 1] and I said, “Hey in Episode 1, he needs to come out of darkness.” So that’s why you see in the first episode he comes out of backstage like, “Alright everybody let’s go!” He’s coming out of darkness. And then he descends back into darkness.
HADER: I wanted to bookend the season that way. And then the idea of those lights in the hallway of darkness and light and this idea—again when you talk about it you sound like a pretentious asshole, but it’s like he’s short-circuiting. How do you show he’s short-circuiting? Well what if he blows out the lights and the lights are short-circuiting around him and it gives you this feeling that he’s blinking off? That Barry Block is dying and Barry Berkman is taking over.
I really loved the red that you used backstage at the performance and everything. I thought that was really striking.
HADER: I told [cinematographer] Paula [Huidobro] I would love to have some colored lights back there and just making it feel kind of unreal. And the long one take, the handheld shot that takes them back to the stage and Sally’s slapping him and all that. You know what the hardest scene actually to map out was that scene on the—everyone was like, “Oh, it’s the gun fight, right?” No, it’s the scene on the stage when they walk out on stage, because I wanted it to feel like when I was on SNL and you would go out and it would just be dark and the people would set things out for you and it’s very kind of nerve-wracking and the lights come on and there’s a go and everything. But it was going from Barry’s point of view then you have to switch to Sally’s point of view. That was really hard to figure out how to make the transfer the point of view mid -scene.
I definitely got the SNL vibes from that tracking shot that follows them the backstage and then her slapping him and then the kind of handheld that brings them out on stage.
HADER: That was definitely inspired by my anxiety of going on and just my own stage fright that I have. That’s the kind of feeling you get, you’re walking backstage, everybody else has already done their thing, they’re all hanging out, they’re all relaxing, having fun, and now it’s your time to go out there and do it and it’s nerve wracking.
It made me super nervous. I think the way you shot this episode really drives that tension through, and the score as well. I thought the score was really great in this episode.
HADER: David Wingo did an amazing job. I was really happy, my very last thing I had to do on Barry was the shot where it comes around him and they walk out on stage and then the camera comes around to his close-up and then the lights come on and you see the audience behind him. That is all visual effects. The visual effects put in the darkness and then when the lights come on, that’s all tile, so there’s no people behind me when we shot that.
HADER: They put in all the people and had to put them out of focus. So that was on Monday [May 6th]. That was this Monday. So we got it, and that was my final, like, are we done? And they went, “Yeah, we’re done.” It was like, “Holy shit!” (laughs) Oh my God, it was only 14 months of constant work.
That’s insane. So, you finished this Monday?
HADER: This Monday was officially, like, I’m off the clock. They moved me out of my office on Monday. It was a lot. But you still try to be funny in there. I still think Stephen Root, them not being able to hear him when he’s trying to talk to Cristobal and then when they make up when Cristobal and Hank meet up and you kind of fully just get it, like yeah they’re in love with each other.
I liked that moment that it finally kind of made it explicit.