Barry is irredeemable. He murders people for a living, he follows orders seemingly without questioning them first. He takes hits on people, he kills them in the most brutal ways. He is never going to be able to have a normal murder-free life. He is never going to be able to form a family, he will never escape the ominous threat of a life he chose because it was easy, comfortable and known to him.
Barry is a psychopath.
Except maybe he is not.
Chapter Five: Do Your Job is just right up the Barry alley. Five episodes in and the show has given us a stable set of expectations that every 30 minute story proves, more or less. Despite its ups and downs, despite its turns and surprises in the narrative, there are a few things we can always count on a Barry episode to do. One of them, is the embodiment of the word ‘except’.
This week, Barry sets out to accomplish the Colombian hit that the Chechens ask him to carry out, but he has to deal not only with another Marine, Taylor, accompanying him on the job, he also has to try and figure out how to fix his relationship with Sally. Emotions are high and so are stakes, except that’s nothing new on Barry.
BUT HE’S A NICE DUDE THOUGH, RIGHT?
Because deep down Barry follows a structure, the first scene perfectly summarizes the moral and emotional dilemma Barry is going to have to go through on this chapter of How To Redeem Yourself When You’re A Hitman. As he follows his old buddy and his family on a trip to the carnival, he asks him all sorts of questions about Taylor, the Marine who has asked him to participate in the job. Barry never wants to know if he’s a good mark, or a good shooter. All he’s interested in is whether he’s a decent guy after all or not.
Whether Taylor can take down two or three guys in half a minute is unimportant. His skills as a professional assassin fall second in comparison to his emotional and psychological strengths and weaknesses. Barry needs to know that this other guy, this other Marine who is so close to what he is himself, is deep down, a nice dude.
He isn’t. He is exactly the opposite.
But that’s exactly what Barry needs. During the entire episode, the question of morality plays as a rather loud undertone. It’s the theme of the episode. Is Barry worthy of redemption? Will he ever be allowed to have a normal life? Is he a psychopath?
Here’s the deal. The acting scene in which the morality of Lady Macbeth’s actions are put in doubt is the key to Barry’s doubts this week. When everyone agrees that “once you start killing you can never go back”, it triggers a reality in Barry. A harsh reality he’s been trying to escape from but that always seems to catch up with him. A harsh reality that he is in denial of.
By all natural standards, if we think of a standard hitman, he should not be redeemable. Except he carries out orders, so how guilty is he really? Except he murders people. So he’s definitely guilty.
Except this time, we know the hitman. Except this time, the hitman is Barry.
We are aware of his moral ambiguity, we are aware of his struggles. Barry is a hitman who is great at his job. But he’s also conflicted by his job.
Here’s how and why Taylor comes in. Taylor is the exact opposite. While Barry thinks a plan through to carry out a hit, Taylor goes straight in, eyes closed, no plan. While Barry constantly questions the consequences of his actions, Taylor thoroughly enjoys what he does. While Barry is constantly battling his remorse, his regret, how much he’s starting to hate his job, Taylor is always looking for the next hit.
There’s a clear difference between these two eerily similar hitmen. And within this difference, this fundamental essential element that makes them almost completely opposite, lays Barry’s potential redemption. A guy with no beliefs, who doesn’t question his actions, who isn’t morally conflicted about having to put a bullet through someone’s skull is definitely a psychopath. But someone who is conflicted, who is trying to escape this life, who has been thrust in it without another way out, is maybe not a psychopath.
Whether that remorse and doubt is going to be enough to ultimately save him is still up for debate. The show seems to promise with every episode that the future Barry keeps imagining —one where he’s married to Sally and has a kid with her— is never going to be anything more than exactly that: an imagination, a dream. It seems to prove to us constantly that there really is no way back, that there is no version of Barry’s story that ends well, that ends happily. It seems to prove to us constantly that Barry either ends up dead or in prison.
But, once again, we don’t want that to happen. We, the audience who constantly struggle to understand his actions and his thoughts, we the audience who voluntarily sit through his pain and his failures, we the audience who want to believe in his capabilities to become something more, want nothing more than to see him succeed. So we will undoubtedly be heartbroken by the end of the show.
Except, maybe we aren’t.
CAN WE RESET?
There were a lot of questions in the air in last night’s episode for there to be roughly only three episodes left. It’s a good thing we’re thankfully getting a second season. But one of the questions we are most intrigued about is whether Sally and Barry can, actually, reset.
Their relationship took a pretty hard hit last week when Barry’s toxic masculinity got in the way not only of their friendship, but also of Sally’s life. It proved not only that Barry still had a long way to go, but also that Sally was a strong female character that wasn’t about to be stepped on or limited by a man who was jealous. And, as if last week’s episode hadn’t been vocal enough about the negative aspect of Barry’s actions, this episode literally called out Barry on his bullshit. Sally literally appealed to his “toxic masculinity issues” and effectively put some distance between them, for her own sake.
Whether her anger towards him later on in the episode was misdirected or not is a completely different topic of conversation, but it is admirable to see a resolutive woman who is definitely now learning to stand up for herself without apologizing for her actions. The first Sally we saw back in Chapter One is almost gone —there is barely a trace of her in the angry, stubborn, strong Sally we see in Chapter Five. She is much more complex, much more dynamic, much more outspoken. She is owning her thoughts and actions. She is becoming a person.
And we’re still rooting for her.
However, it seems like Barry and Sally patching things up won’t happen anytime soon. Barry still has a lot to learn in regards to human and social interaction, and Sally still has to become her own person. They still have to develop to be able to overcome the obstacles together, to be able to kind of have an assured future together. A certain part of us is sure they will get there, at some point.
Except maybe they don’t.
All of this is brilliantly accomplished through the constant parallels in the writing and through the dramatic tonal contrasts. If Barry deserves to win every single Emmy out there, it is precisely because of its acute writing and directing. So when we boil it down, the entire episode, the lesson that Barry struggles to learn this week, can be summarized in three different aspects:
1. The title: As always, the title of each episode is essential to understand either the contradictions in Barry’s life or the life lesson he learns. Do Your Job refers specifically to what Barry is trying hard to avoid: carrying out hits without questioning them. Doing his job without giving it a second thought. Because at least if he doubts everything, it proves he isn’t empty and that he can actually accomplish what he set out to do through his acting lessons: feel.
2. The carnival scene: The entire time Barry’s friend’s son is playing at the shooting range game we know the scene has to end with Barry shooting for him. And for a scene that had, at its center, the questioning of whether Taylor was a decent guy or not, Barry winning the prize with a perfect shot not only reminds the audience of Barry’s somewhat true nature, but it also reinforces how incapable he is of letting that part of him go. He has to shoot for the kid. He has to win the prize.
And both of these aspects are masterfully mixed with:
3. The metalinguistic aspect: Here’s where “except” plays in nicely one last time. Every Barry episode spits out affirmations that are then proven wrong. Sometimes it assures you that Barry and Sally won’t sleep together, and then they do. Sometimes it affirms that Barry is an actor, and then he isn’t. Sometimes it tells you Barry is irredeemable. And then, possibly, he isn’t. The moral of the story is never trust what a character seems to know for sure. It is in the question, in the doubts, where the real truth of the show lies. It is in characters being wrong that they ultimately end up being right. It is in the “except” where they are able to grow.
So if Barry doesn’t shoot Taylor in the end, it is because he is a hitman, except he isn’t. It is also, undoubtedly, because he is growing, because he is developing as a character. Because he’s really actively trying to change his present to be able to shape his future. Him not killing Taylor means he’s progressing. It means we have the tiniest sliver of hope for him.
Except, maybe, we don’t.
Barry airs Sundays at 10.30/9.30c on HBO.