SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the series finale of “Barry,” now streaming on Max.
Sunday night on HBO featured the end of two major series after four seasons apiece: “Succession” and “Barry.” The shows launched just a few months apart in 2018, and now they’ve ended their runs on the same night. After “Succession” wrapped up less than an hour earlier, now Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root and Anthony Carrigan have delivered a blood-soaked farewell to their characters.
After loading up on guns, Barry (Hader) drives furiously to save Sally (Goldberg) and their son John (Zachary Golinger) after NoHo Hank (Carrigan) kidnapped them in the last episode. On the way there, Barry prays to God, hoping that his past sins will be washed away and that he’ll be redeemed after his life of violence. But when he arrives at Hank’s hideout, he’s missed all the action. Before he gets there, the potential peace offering between Hank and Fuches (Root) to team up against Barry has fallen apart, and their gangs have massacred each other. Fuches wanted Hank to admit he killed his own boyfriend Cristobal (Michael Irby) in his quest for power, but he refused. Hank dies against a golden statue of Cristobal, and Fuches helps John and Sally escape before he disappears.
Barry, Sally and John are finally reunited, but Sally wants Barry to turn himself in after she reads that Gene Cousineau (Winkler) has been named the prime suspect for the murder of Janice Moss, which took place in the Season 1 finale. Barry doesn’t think that’s what God wants for him, even though he is — of course — the one who killed Janice. The next morning, Sally and John leave without telling Barry. He drives to Gene’s house, thinking that Sally and John are hiding there, but only finds Gene’s talent agent Tom Posorro (Fred Melamed). Right as Barry tells Tom he’s giving himself up to the police, Gene barges in from his room and shoots him in the head and chest — “Oh, wow,” Barry says as he dies. With Barry dead, Gene sits on the couch in chilling silence.
And then the finale takes an even more shocking turn. There’s another time jump, and “Barry” cuts to an audience clapping for a stage performance. An older Sally takes a bow as the director of a high-school play, and a teenage John (now played by “It” star Jaeden Martell) is in the crowd. After the show, he asks his mom if he can go over to his friend’s house. With his friend, John illicitly watches a movie called “The Mask Collector” — a film depicting the “true” story of Janice’s murder. Actors playing Barry, Gene, Janice, Sally and even young John show how Gene murdered Janice, framed Barry and killed him. Now Gene is serving life in prison and Barry was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.
It’s a shocking reversal, with the whole world believing that Gene was Janice’s killer and that Barry was an innocent veteran who just wanted to be an actor. John finishes the movie with a concerning smile on his face: Does he believe the movie’s propaganda, or does he know the truth about his father?
With Variety, Winkler explains how he and Hader shot the pivotal scene of Gene killing Barry, what Gene’s life in prison looks like and how he interprets that final shot with John.
Has it hit you yet that this is the last weekend of “Barry“?
It is just hitting me now that I’m not going back to work with this group of human beings. This great character now is part of my history, not my present. I am sad. I understand it was time for Alec Berg and Bill Hader to move on. They had different fish to fry, and you have to respect that. I am grateful that I had this.
When did you find out that Gene was going to be the one to kill Barry?
They rewrote the scripts as we were going, so halfway through the season, Bill said, “Hey, you want to know how it ends?” I said sure. He said, “You shoot me,” and no words came out of my mouth. I had no idea how to process that I killed the man who shot the woman I loved, and the man I thought was my more my son than my son — who I also shot. I was just like [Winkler mimics his mind being blown].
That’s a good impression of what happened to Barry’s head, too. How many takes did the shooting scene take?
I shot him twice, and I think we only did it twice. I shot him once, and he said, “You don’t have to do this, Mr. Cousineau,” and I shot him a second time. But in the final, he went “Wow.” Just wow. It is still jaw-dropping.
Why do you think they went with the shorter line?
Until the last few moments of the season, he always believed that he was my son and that I loved him and he loved me. He never put together that he killed the woman I loved and that that would have affected me. It never dawned on him. When I was brought into that room and I was blamed and somehow they piece together that it was me, I just went insane. I think at that moment, at the end of that scene when I have no words, the switch flipped. I think the light went out in my brain.
After Gene kills Barry, he just sits there in silence. Was there ever any dialogue written for that moment?
I always just sat down. I imagined that I didn’t even process what happened and what I had done. I just sat there and stared into the abyss, which would become my prison cell.
There’s a scene before Gene kills Barry, where he grabs a gun in his room and it looks like he might turn it on himself. How close was Gene to making that decision?
It never entered my mind. I never thought about really taking my own life. I’m too valuable. Gene and his own mind were just too valuable to kill himself. There’s always another student to Barnum and Bailey.
How would Gene feel about his portrayal in “The Mask Collector”?
Gene would not have cared for the way he was portrayed, that he was merely a prop and a cog in a wheel. He is the wheel.
I’d love to know your opinion on the last scene where John watches the movie. Do you think he understands the true story of what happened between Gene and Barry, or does he believe the movie’s version?
He saw enough. He was aware that his mom gave him vodka to put him to sleep so he wouldn’t bother her. He saw his father and heard him talking craziness in the desert. He saw his mother slowly disintegrate in front of him, taking him to L.A. and having this plan that didn’t exist that put him in enormous danger. My instinct is, of course, this is what it was. This is what he was living.
Barry ends up dead, but is portrayed as a hero, while Gene is in prison and his reputation is destroyed. Who has a worse ending?
It’s amazing, isn’t it? He’s dead, he has no more life, what kind of life would Barry have had? Gene has no life, he’s in a prison and not able to defend himself. He will be beaten into a pulp. Somebody is going to put a collar around his neck and lead him around. Except, if he ever comes back to his sense, I see him starting a theater club in prison. And I would have to say that cigarettes, fresh coffee, candy can all be bartered.
Do you think he gets any visitors?
Who’s going to visit them? Maybe Sally will get comfortable in her life and take pity on him, because I think she did love him. I think she did get something from him, because the first time she starts her acting class, she becomes him. So he must have entered her essence in some way.
After Gene accidentally shoots his son, where do you think their relationship goes from here?
I wonder if blood is deeper than hate, because every time I approached him, no matter what season, he put up a wall and I was able to chisel it down. Maybe he brings my grandson to visit, so now I have three visitors.
Is there any story left to tell with Gene? Does he just live out the rest of his life in prison?
Well, he’s a killer and it’s his first time. I don’t know the law, so I don’t know if he gets out for good behavior and then he would go back to what he knows.
Gene was so close to hearing Barry say that he was going to turn himself in. What do you think would’ve happened if he had heard Barry say that?
He would have been happy. He would have been there at the door of the courthouse when Barry walked through it. But you are where you are. So I cannot imagine that he would be any different. He’s a huckster with limited talent, and I think that if he didn’t go to prison, that’s the way he would have lived his life.
This interview has been edited and condensed.