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Bill Hader Breaks Down ‘Barry’ Season 4 Premiere

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Episodes 1 and 2 of “Barry” Season 4, now streaming on HBO.

If you thought there was no hope left for Barry Berkman, you’re wrong. He’s still on the path to finding what he’s searching for — because he’s no longer searching for redemption.

When we last saw Barry (series creator Bill Hader), he was finally getting his comeuppance: Mr. Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and Jim Moss (Robert Wisom) worked together to get him arrested for killing Janice (Paula Newsome), who was Cousineau’s girlfriend and Jim’s daughter. The handcuffs were a jarring cap on three seasons that spent so much time and effort questioning whether Barry was capable of finding a good person within himself and committing to a nonviolent lifestyle for good. But as Season 4 opens, Barry is a miserable shell of himself, scavenging for a reason — any reason — to live.

(Yes, HBO still calls this a comedy series, though when Hader hears that I’ve watched seven episodes of Season 4 he says, “Oh. How’s your mental health?”)

Despite the acts that got him caught, Barry doesn’t seem to spend a second thinking about Janice or his other victims. Rather, while behind bars, he fields desperate phone calls to Cousineau and Sally (Sarah Goldberg), who broke up with him in Season 3, and reconciles with Fuches, who’s imprisoned along with him. He seems intent on his right to companionship with at least one of them, even though no part of him has committed to changing for the better. Season 4, it seems, might hinge on how the people in Barry’s life receive his new amorality more than it does on Barry himself.

As Season 4 will be “Barry’s” last, Hader spoke to Variety about the beginning of the end.

Where did you want Barry to begin the season emotionally? He feels almost childlike at the start of Episode 1 when he calls Cousineau from prison to ask if he’s angry with him.

He doesn’t understand what he did wrong. It’s kind of like your dad just turned you in to the police. He’s in a lot of denial throughout the season, and then as the two people he really holds onto — Cousineau and Sally — ostracize him, he becomes a feral animal. He gets really angry. It spins out, and he’s just left with himself.

The denial is really interesting, because Barry has spent so much of this show hyperaware of his wrongdoings and trying to find a good person within himself, but the pursuit of accountability dissolves. Where does that jump come from?

It’s like if you go to therapy, and learn, ‘Oh wow, I do this, I do that. I should work on that.’ And just because you’re hyper-aware of your issues doesn’t mean they go away; you still have to manage them. And I think Barry just got tired of managing them. There’s a lot of pride there, a lot of id. ‘I want this. Why can’t I have this?’ If he was in therapy or if he had friends who were real with him, they’d be like, ‘If you want to get this, you might have to act this way. Taking responsibility, changing your behavior.’ That’s too hard for for him. And for people! As you get older — I’ve seen it with people very close to me — you have a choice, whether it’s to better yourself or just go, “Hey man, life’s short. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.” In Season 3 he got to this other place. Call it selfishness.

Cousineau is completely silent on that phone call until Barry says “I love you,” which seems to finally allow him to access his anger.

He’s saying something that he said to him in Season 3, when they were sitting on the couch and he says, “I love you, Mr. Cousineau. Do you love me?” And the threat is, I’ll kill your grandson if you don’t say this. Now Cousineau is in a safer place to say what he wanted to say, which is, “I got you. You’re in prison.”

After the call with Cousineau, and a quick one with Sally where she says to never call again, Barry sees Fuches in prison for the first time and apologizes, saying, “If I hadn’t tried to understand myself, we wouldn’t be here.” Does he really regret spending the last few years with Sally and Cousineau seeking redemption?

In that moment, what he wants is a point of connection. It’s like you have a parent that you don’t get along with, and so you say, “Fuck you! I’m gonna move to the big city!” And then you move the big city and it all goes horribly, and now you’re back at the farm going, “Hey, I’m sorry, and you’re right. I should have never tried to see my dreams, which you told me not to do. Please take me back.” He’s just been told to fuck off by two the most important people in his life. So you retreat back to those people who are hard on you. Fuches also, like a parent, has unconditional love for Barry. It just shows in a very weird way.

There’s a way you could take it where Barry is just telling Fuches what he wants to hear so he’ll like him. Or Barry is genuinely saying, “Man, if I had never tried to quit drinking, we would still be friends, because all we did was go drinking together. But you’re right. I shouldn’t quit drinking. Let’s have a drink and be friends.”

The prison guard who catches Barry having a mental breakdown and punching himself on the face seems like a good guy, telling Barry he’s more than his crimes, until Barry isn’t receptive to the attention and the guard beats the shit out of him. What does that scene represent?

Barry is famous now. If you’re seen on TV, they control the narrative on you. “Hey, that guy was on TV, and he’s a vet, so he can’t be that bad of a guy.” And then Barry is like, “I am! What are you talking about? Don’t believe what you see on television.” I thought that was an interesting turn for Barry. And I thought that actor was really great. It shows that everybody has this dual nature within them. He’s so sweet, and then Barry says that to him, he turns on a dime. Everybody can be triggered like that.

Why does seeing Barry beaten up finally get Fuches to embrace him again?

Barry said the right things. In Season 3, Fuches just wanted an apology. He apologized to Barry, and he says, “Is there anything you want to say to me? Maybe sorry?” and Barry refuses. But because Barry’s at his lowest ebb, he comes back and gives Fuches what he wanted to hear. And it shows where Fuches’ — I think — legitimate feelings for Barry lie.

Then in Episode 2, Sally visits. Barry is so apologetic, which Sally seems to be ignoring, until she says, “I feel safe with you.” It seems like she’s surprised herself, because she can’t speak after that and just leaves. What happens to her there? Was she not aware of how much she still cared for him?

Sarah and I talked about it a bit, and I do think she couldn’t help herself. Barry calls it: “Why did you come here? Why aren’t you leaving?” She has to admit it to herself. And then she takes the phone away, which was Sarah’s choice, which I really liked. It gets such a massive response from Barry, of hope. He was really surprised by that, and then it becomes his new narrative in his head. He never knew that until she said it, and it gives him a new way of identifying himself and what kind of person he is.

That idea came from Sarah. We were talking about why she comes to the jail, and there was the obvious reason: She killed somebody and she wants to know if Barry handled it. And he says, “I told you what I did,” and she says, “No you didn’t,” but he knows, “I did tell you, so why are you here?” When we were talking about it, I said, “He makes her feel like a star. She’s very much the star of the relationship.” And Sarah was like, “Yeah, and also she just feels safe with him.” A switch went off. That kind of applies to a lot of the characters. We just want to go to a place where we feel safe and held when we’re out of our element or things aren’t going the way we want. You retreat: “What will make me feel safe right now?” For instance, for me, it’s cookies.

It seems like Barry has started to prioritize safety and comfort over the idea of becoming a good person, which he used to be obsessed with.

Yeah. He’s not that bright. He’s very surface, like, “That’s all I needed to do? OK! I can do whatever I want now. As long as I make you feel like that, great!”

Is that why it’s so easy for him to forget about the amends he just made with Fuches and start snitching in order to get into witness protection and have a new life with Sally?

With Fuches, it’s like going back to the way things are in Season 1, building an army. But suddenly, Sally is there. We’re with Barry in how surprising it is that she’s just sitting there. He doesn’t need all this other stuff with Fuches anymore. She’s like a beacon of hope. She always has been. Barry has always been like, “I want a family. And a dog. The whole thing.” He wants the American dream. In Season 1, there’s a scene where he has a daydream of him and Sally and a kid, and they’re getting their family photo taken. That is his North Star. That’s what he feels like he’s owed, for some reason. “Why can’t I just have that?” And at some point he stopped doing the work to get that. “It’s too hard, it’s too ugly inside, I don’t wanna do that, I just want that.”

Fuches isn’t the only one screwed over when Barry starts working with the feds — so is NoHo Hank, who has shown Barry so much love over the years, but Barry is unaffected. Why doesn’t Hank get through to him emotionally the way Sally and Cousineau do?

They represent, to him, another world. The world of acting and emotion. Hank is still a crime guy. So it’s kind of like, for Barry, you work in a grocery store but you wanna work in a bank, and someone from the grocery store is like, “Let’s go grab a beer!” You’re like, “Ugh! I don’t wanna fucking work here anymore!” If Barry did spend time with Hank, maybe he would see that Hank has a lot of the qualities that Barry wants. But Barry has a very clear view of family. Sally Reed looks like the girl next door, the perfect picture of what the American dream is to a guy like him.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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