What a Time Jump Could Mean for the Barry Finale
Barry season 4 reaches into its bag of TV tricks for something that will effect the show's endgame.
This article contains spoilers through Barry season 4 episode 4.
That’s been Barry Berkman’s (Bill Hader) unofficial mantra ever since he killed detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) and shattered his chance at a new life. Barry hoped that closing his eyes and pressing an invisible reset button would wash away the sins of his past life as a contract killer, but the cyclical nature of violence, how it seeps out and infects everyone that it touches, has kept Barry in a spin cycle from which there is seemingly no escape.
The fourth season of HBO’s Barry has immaculately shown the costs that Barry and everyone in his web must pay for the hitman’s crimes. Those costs have proven to be particularly meaningful for Hank (Anthony Carrigan), Fuches (Stephen Root), Sally (Sarah Goldberg), and Gene (Henry Winkler), but in “it takes a psycho” perhaps the reset that Barry had been pining for since the season one finale has come to fruition? After escaping from prison during a botched attempt on his life, Barry appears from the shadows of Sally’s apartment, and after a day taking stock of what the new ceiling for her career looks like, Sally agrees to run off with Barry. We then witness a time jump that finds Barry and Sally living in the middle of nowhere with what looks to be their preteen child.
Time jumps are common television storytelling devices that have been used for good and for ill throughout the decades, but most prominently during our Peak TV era. At their best, a time jump can add new dramatic stakes to inert or concluding storylines or add a sense of closure to a series ending its run. Other times, time jumps can be used a lazy handwaving to get writers out of a tight narrative spot and into a new status quo.
J.J. Abrams-affiliated shows like Alias, which used a time jump to jettison its main character out of “happily ever after” territory and back into drama, is a famous example, as is Lost, which shocked viewers with a time jump so unexpected that the phrase “We have to go back!” still reverberates with TV aficionados. Other excellently deployed time jumps have come courtesy of The Americans, which jumped ahead 3 years in its final season to not only get to a more interesting place in history, but to a more narratively juicy point in its lead characters’ relationship, and of course Battlestar Galactica, which essentially reset and rocketed the stakes of its series in legendary fashion.
Examples of when time jumps have felt cheap or uninspired are easier to come by. The Walking Dead season 9 jumps ahead in time to avoid having to deal with the departure of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and to age up his baby girl so that she can meaningfully participate in the story in Rick’s absence. Similarly, NBC’s The Blacklist had to navigate the departure of its lead actress, but instead of using a time jump to start a fresh new narrative, it quickly settled into its old structure without retaining the tension of its central relationship.
Based on season 3 and what we’ve seen so far of season 4, Barry’s time jump does not seem to be the product of Bill Hader and his team giving themselves an easy way out, if we are to believe that the end of “It Takes a Psycho” is real and permanent. Actions have consequences on this show and characters are always held to account for their decisions. The time jump feels less like a way of waving away the issues that have arisen since Barry’s arrest and more like a way to examine whether normalcy or happiness is possible for a character like Barry. Will getting the happily ever after that he dreamed about bring serenity to Barry’s dark and largely empty soul? Further, will Sally feel content walking away from her dreams of stardom on her own terms, without compromising her integrity? Also, how will Barry’s complicated history with paternal figures figure into the way he approaches fatherhood?
These are questions that may not seem as exciting as the version of this show that stayed rooted in the aftermath of Barry’s prison escape, the version that goes full manhunt, but they’re fascinating avenues that relate back to the series’ chief theme — do people have the capacity to change? If Barry is given what he thinks he wants, can be break the cycle of violence?
The time jump could also lead to fascinating new insights on Hank and Gene. Noho Hank was left forever changed after he was kidnapped by Elena and forced to escape in brutal fashion. The fear of being in a situation like that again motivates Hank to abandon his plans for a “legit” business with Cristobal (Michael Irby), sending him crawling back to the security and familiarity of the Chechens. The betrayal effectively ends Hank and Cristobal’s relationship, and due to his knowledge of their operation, Hank must have Cristobal killed. It’s a heartbreaking conclusion to one of the series most tender relationships and its impact could lead to Hank fully losing his sunny, whimsical demeanor, finally pushing him into become the ruthless crime boss it once seemed like he would never become. But is a kingdom worth ruling without someone by his side?
Likewise, Gene ends the fourth episode with his own nightmare scenario. Due to his own hubris and attention-seeking behavior, Gene is forced into lockdown at the very same cabin where Janice was murdered so that he does not feel compelled to talk to more press. Knowing that Barry could potentially track him to that cabin, Gene reckless fires warning shots into the door when a figure approaches at night. Little does he know, Gene ends up shooting his own son, who was stopping by with groceries to comfort his father. The pair had just repaired their relationship, but now Gene may experience another tragedy at his cabin. What would Gene’s life look like a decade removed from another example of his ego and need for validation inadvertently leading to a life-altering accident?
Only time will tell what sort of time jump Barry season 4 will turn out to be, but the potential for greater exploration of human nature and morality is ripe. Bill Hader has created a show that is so propulsive and allergic to complacency that maybe a time jump was inevitable. For a show that is always cleverly upending its status quo, this shift is its greatest gambit yet.
New episodes of Barry premiere at 10 p.m. on Sundays on HBO.