Recap: Barry (S4, Ep5) — Barry Moves to God’s Land in a Quiet, Creepy Episode

Since Barry began, Barry’s (Bill Hader) primary goal has been to start over. At first, this meant finding new purpose in Gene Cousineau’s (Henry Winkler) acting class, then it meant giving up killing entirely. The term “starting now” has been used often throughout the series to signify Barry’s attempts to restart, but all of them have ended in failure. When Barry is given a bullet with a target’s name written on it at the beginning of season two, the season where he gives up killing, he kills that same target with that same bullet at the end of the season. Barry has always made it clear to us that Barry Berkman’s attempts to start over are a doomed cycle.

So of course what happens in “tricky legacies” can’t last forever, much as its opening scene wants us to think it can. Eight years after his escape from prison, Barry takes his son John (Zachary Golinger) to go apologize to the kid he was fighting with at the end of the last episode.

“You can’t control other people, bud. We can only control ourselves,” he tells John, trying to make him feel better about the seemingly genetic rage building inside of them both. John doesn’t play video games, and he’s frightened off playing baseball when Barry shows him videos of other kids dying in the sport. Anything that could trigger competitiveness or anger is quickly banished from his life, replaced with Barry teaching him about well-regarded historical figures like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, only to “suddenly” discover that they weren’t all they appeared to be. Throughout the first three seasons of Barry, Barry had been let down by his two father figures, his handler Fuches and Gene, and that feels like the lesson he’s (maybe unintentionally) trying to teach his son. Your heroes will betray you, whether they’re alive or dead.

It’s worth noting that Barry named John after his own father, (if I’m remembering correctly, we learn his name in the flashback from “bestest place on the earth“) as though he’s trying to create a better Berkman than he could be, one that’s free from the anger that is boiling inside of them. But of course, this is Barry we’re talking about, so he doesn’t think about what John actually wants. When John complains about him being cold at night without the comforter Barry supposedly ordered, he deflects by telling him the story of Jesus (they’re a religious family now) and the feeding of the multitudes, claiming the point is that “God gives you exactly what you need.” When Barry and John are walking outside and they pass by a group of boys playing baseball, John stops to look at them as Barry’s voice fades away. He just wants to be normal.

Somehow, he’s even more oblivious to Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) condition. The mother of his child and the woman who agreed to spontaneously throw her life away and evade the law for him is now a miserable shell, isolated from Barry and John as shown when they play in the yard outside in the background of the shot while she prepares to go to work in the foreground. We watch as she almost strangles her pervy coworker after leading him to the bathroom to supposedly have sex with him, as well as watching all the way through her old assistant-turned-showrunner Natalie’s (D’Arcy Carden) show, both with the same amount of emotion. In a way, she and Barry have switched places—while he is completely oblivious to the neglect he’s demonstrating for others, she is hollow-eyed and tries to fix herself with acting. The cheesy accent she puts on to pass her “Emily” alias off to her coworkers isn’t just because—Barry isn’t doing one—it’s because that’s what she thinks she should do. (Interesting, by the way, how Barry is “Clark,” a name fairly commonly known as Superman’s alter ego, as though he, too, is hiding his true power behind his attempt at a fatherly demeanor and glasses.)

“tricky legacies” is not an episode that is buzzing with activity like the rest of the episodes Barry has given us this season, but therein lies what makes it so effective. Even though anyone familiar with who Barry is as a character knows that this episode is one big trick, it’s as though we’re living with him as he continues to fool himself into believing that things are actually working, that he’s doing a great job as a father, that he was the army medic that saved his old friend’s life when they were in Afghanistan together. Near the end of the episode, John “accidentally” finds Barry’s old war things, and Barry tells him stories of being a kindly medic when we know that he was a soldier who killed an innocent man and was promptly discharged. We see glimpses of the “old” Barry—when pranksters knock on his door in the middle of the night, he pulls no punches and guards the house until dawn—but surely things are better, right?

And then the final scene comes, and Barry is forced to accept that he can’t live in denial forever.

Before Barry can continue convincing John of his heroic status, Sally urgently calls for him from the kitchen, where he is greeted with the news that Gene, missing since he shot his son, has resurfaced and is consulting on a movie about Barry himself. And with no preamble whatsoever, Barry’s face sags in a familiar expression of vacant darkness and he murmurs that “I’m gonna have to kill Cousineau.”

So yes, even this attempt to change, as long as it was and as hard as Barry thought he was trying, was meaningless, and now here we are again. It could be argued that “tricky legacies” is a little pointless, considering that Barry ends up back in his hitman state of mind, but I feel as though it perfectly serves as a half hour demonstration for what this show is about. There’s only three episodes of the entire show left, so maybe, for once, we can see the cycle come to a definitive end this time.

This episode of Barry is now available on HBO Max.

Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.