Television’s best contract killer is back. HBO’s “Barry” (2018–) returned over the past two weeks to debut its second season and the television world was excited to see what the show had in store.
Viewers of the show finished their premiere season excited and concerned. The show ended last year with such a strong decision — for Barry to kill Detective Moss — that there was no coming back from. Critics and viewers alike were gravely concerned: was it such a good idea for a show to be backing itself into such a plot corner after just one season? Some even thought “Barry” was so good and ended on such a grave cliffhanger the show should just call it.
Just from the first episodes, it seems like “Barry” took these concerns and tossed them aside. Barry continues to suppress his growing conscience and in turn presses on to achieve the better life he believes that he deserves. Despite all of this, Barry still cannot outrun his past and the walls; however close they were in the first season, the walls seem to only be closing in more.
What made the ending of “Barry” so great was choices. Television series often leave viewers on such a cliffhanger with such little information that it gives them the room to take the story whatever direction they please. “Barry” left viewers with plenty of questions, but that was because it decided to have its main characters make incredibly monumental choices. Now, rather than try to backpedal or renegotiate the consequences of these choices, “Barry” has continued down these narrative paths and not looked back. For the show to commit to this choice despite the initial concern, and still prove its high quality, is quite impressive and deserves praise.
Even though one cannot assume intent, it is probably safe to say that “Barry” was in no way constructed as a series of mental exercises for viewers to debate the constructs of television as it relates to narrative. Yet this is the case. The indictments of “Barry’s” premier season should really be an indictment of its viewers.
Due to the large increase of high-quality television, viewers have become incredibly learned in the mechanics of television and are now able to think about a character’s arc and story plotting in ways that previous generations would not. Thanks to shows like “Breaking Bad”(2008–2013), the Sopranos (1999–2007) or even Game of Thrones (2011–2019), viewers of premium cable television have been imprinted with this idea on how the narrative arc affects the ending and how valuable that end is. Simply put, viewers of “Barry” are spending too much time worried about the end result, and not focusing on the entertaining journey in front of them.
Ultimately, it seems like “Barry” is better off not listening to any of these concerns. Watching the start of the season, it is clear how well constructed and thought out Barry the character is. The show is both still incredibly well directed and written. The first episode reveals depths of Barry’s character that were not visible before and more complications arise for him that should make for entertaining television. Rather than asking what will be the end result for the main characters of “Barry,” viewers should spend more time enjoying the ride.