The following contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4 Episode 5.
After a jaw-dropping cliffhanger from last week’s “Barry,” the HBO series takes a hard left turn midway through its final season to offer something completely different: heaven. Or, at least, Barry’s version of heaven.
“Barry” Season 4 Episode 5 picks up eight years after the events of the last episode with Barry (Bill Hader) and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) now living on the run under different names, and as parents to an eight-year-old son named John. For Barry, this is idyllic: an isolated house in the middle of nowhere with the family he always wanted. For Sally, it’s hell: she’s working a waitressing job and can’t stand Barry, and has no interest in being a mother.
Hader told TheWrap in our latest episodic interview for “Barry” that the idea was to live in this time jump for a while before going back to business as usual. And once the idea for this Barry/Sally detour came about, he wrote the script in a single night.
“There are certain moments in the show where I’ve just kind of gone off and written it quickly,” Hader said, pointing to the “ronny/lily” episode from Season 2 or the sequence with the motorcycles from Season 3. “It was nice to do something that felt completely different from anything we’d done in the show so far, and that’s important to keep it fresh and interesting for the story but also for yourself.”
Still, Hader – who wrote and directed the episode – understands if some are flummoxed by the detour.
“It’s definitely an episode that I understand if people are like, ‘What the f–k was that?,’ but it’s my favorite. That and the finale are my two favorite episodes.”
Read on for our full conversation, which took place before the WGA strike.
When and how did the time jump idea come into play? Is it something you ever considered for previous seasons or something you thought about a long time ago?
I think it came along very early when we were writing Season 4, maybe the first day of talking about Season 4, when we had a Zoom room during the pandemic, the summer of 2020. Barry, in Season 1, has this daydream about himself with Sally and a little boy, and it was just the idea of what if he got that? And then if he got that, what if all the characters got some version of the thing that they’ve always wanted? When you’re writing this thing and you’re moving forward and you’re taking it step by step, you got to this place where Sally says, “Let’s go,” and then it’s like, “OK, so where did they go?” When we would talk about that, it just became uninteresting to me. It was all them on the run and Cousineau on the run and Hank sealing his own denial or emotional fallout from what happened with Cristobal, and Jim Moss trying to track them. There was just something about that image of Barry and Sally with a kid that I went, “Well what if he got that?” When we would talk about that, we would all get very excited. It was more interesting to us.
How did you hit upon eight years as the length of time?
Just because the kid’s eight. That also made sense to us in terms of the idea of a movie being made about them, which is something we talked about very early and that being the catalyst to bring all the characters back to LA. There’s something nice about that because if they’ve changed, a movie being made about them — especially someone like Gene — it brings up different things for all of them. But it was a very intuitively written episode. Initially, the episode, as outlined, you saw where everybody was at, not just Barry and Sally and Gene. I was talking to HBO’s Amy Gravatt and we were both saying it’d be nice to just live in the jump for a second. Because it’s a big jump, and it’s a thing you have to wrap your head around for a second. There was something in reading these scripts where picking up in the same pace as the season has been just didn’t feel right.
I remember we were in prep on the first two episodes and we were about to leave for a location scout the next day for Joshua Tree where we shot Noho Hank and Cristboal’s house at the beginning of the season. Duffy (Boudreau) and I were walking around talking about it and we just hit on this idea of what if the whole episode was Barry and Sally, and it’s just this quiet episode and then we both got really excited and we called Liz Sarnoff and pitched it to her and she goes, “Oh, I love this.” Then I wrote it that night. I wrote it pretty fast.
The whole thing?
Yeah, the whole thing. It was one of those things that just came out, and I wrote it and I go, “I got Episode 5,” and it’s pretty much exactly what you see. I don’t think we changed too much. He didn’t talk about religion that much. He was talking about God and they were watching the sermon and everything on the laptop, but there wasn’t the feeding of the 5000. And the stuff about St. Augustine and Gandhi came later.
There’s also a thing of not wanting it to be an indictment on religion or anything like that. I have a lot of friends and family who are deeply religious and it’s really a beautiful thing for them. So it was never about that. I also feel like that’s just too easy. It’s more about how Barry likes the idea of being redeemed. There’s no one else to redeem him but God, so he’s just decided, “I’m gonna be redeemed by God now. Why didn’t I think about this earlier?” (laughs). And then in normal Barry fashion, like you see with the Abraham Lincoln stuff, he got everything from the internet or watching videos on YouTube so he doesn’t fully understand what all this stuff means.
I wanted to ask about establishing Barry as a father. At the beginning of the episode, he gives this speech about taking responsibility and controlling your emotions and it’s all so ironic.
The whole show has also been very much about a guy between two fathers, and now he’s a father. The thing that was nice about him having a kid is Barry had a chance to be the person he always wanted to be in the eyes of his son, which is a hero and a guy who does the right thing and a guy who’s not violent. This kind of upstanding American guy, which is a character he’s playing. So they’re still acting. It’s this idea of him being this upstanding person, but now he has this kid, and this kid can see him and reflect back the person he wants to be, and that’s really important to him. It’s now, I think, more important than Sally’s love or anything else. It’s much more about John.
I love that that shot where Sally’s getting ready for work for her performance with the wig and makeup and everything, and Barry and John are trying to build a fence in the background.
She’s isolated from them. I always thought it was interesting that when they watch “Joplin” her mother says, “You don’t have a kid, you’re not married, what are you talking about?” I think making “Joplin” was always this version of Sally of what her life could have been. And now she kind of feels like she deserves that life. But the reason she stays, and I thought it was very important, is that moment when there’s a knock on the door and it’s like, “Thank God Barry’s here.” Their bond is as fugitives. That’s their biggest bond. They’re amazing at the fugitive business. They’re terrible parents. But she’s living his dream. It’s a nightmare for her, but I think there’s a part of her that feels like, maybe this is what I deserve.
You got QuikTrip in there, a Tulsa staple.
Yeah, a Tulsa staple. Might give you an idea of where they’re at (laughs).
Do you wanna say explicitly where they are?
No, I don’t know where they’re at. We just kind of said somewhere in that part of the country out in the middle of nowhere. It’s all shot in Lancaster, which I was excited about because that’s where Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart grew up and I’m fans of theirs. We had a great time in Lancaster, and then in visual effects we just took out all the mountains.
Did you build that house?
No, the house was brought out there, and then the interior of the house is a set on a stage and then the other set is the bathroom at Sally’s work. Then that’s an actual diner that’s in the Mojave desert.
Tell me a bit about Sally’s job and this performance that she’s putting on, and bringing Emily Spivey in who’s hilarious.
I like it when she says, “I’m not gonna lie I thought about tappin’ that till, but I got such a guilty conscious I’d just blow my f—kin brains out.” (laughs) Emily Spivey, we worked together on “SNL” so we’ve known each other for years. She’s one of my favorite people and an amazing writer and just a great human being. And Sally, she’s the one working. I think Barry probably has some money stored away and saved up so they’re living on that a bit, but Sally’s working and she still gets to perform. It’s the closest she gets to acting, she gets to perform every day. I really liked what Sarah does, she’s playing that character just a little bit too much. Sarah’s really smart, she can do a really good Midwestern, southern accent but she’s playing it up a little bit because Sally’s playing it like she gets to be in a play or something. She’s tapping the till and getting some extra money for booze and she’s being lusted after by a dishwasher named Bevel, which is a name straight out of Flannery O’Connor.
The Bevel thing, him lusting after her, it’s creepy, but this guy’s liking her and even when I was writing that I didn’t know where that was going. Then I wrote the scene of them talking at the booth and he’s bragging about what a hard ass he is and there’s a moment where she goes, “How’d that make you feel?” and he goes, “What do you mean how did that make me feel?” and for some reason, as I was writing it, I was going, “Well if I’m Sally, I’m gonna make an example out of this guy, because he doesn’t realize he’s talking to an actual killer, and he’s talking to somebody who’s married to a serial killer, he has no idea what he’s talking about. I’m gonna make an example out of this asshole. Because this is the kind of guy that I probably would have hooked up with in my ‘20s, and this is the kind of guy that makes me feel like s—t and this is kind of the guy that I’m attracted to, and it drives me crazy.” So then when they went into the bathroom together, I was still like, “What is she going to do?” She should choke him because that’s what was done to her. I really like that scene. He’s seeing the real thing, he’s seeing the real deal.
Did you always know that would be shot in one like that, on him?
Yeah, I kind of wrote it where I was like, “Oh, this is all going to be kind of a slow push-in shot.” The trick with that one was getting them in the corner. Don and Jim, the dolly grip and the camera operator, did a great job. It’s really funny because we do these screenings for people in the in the office, sometimes we bring everybody in and say what do you guys think? Beforehand I’m going, “Please give us all the notes you have. Any notes. I just wanna hear what you guys have to say.” We showed them that episode and when that scene came up, afterward, everybody was like, “I think you need a close-up of Sally” and I was like, “Are you crazy?!” I immediately clammed up (laughs). “It’s got to end on the back of her head! What do you get from seeing her face?!” They were like, “You asked us to be honest!” and I was like “I’m sorry.”
Then Sally gets him fired, and that scene feels like it’s straight out of “No Country for Old Men.”
Oh yeah, 100%. It’s almost embarrassing. That clean living speech was given to me by a super sweet older guy who was my landlord when I first moved to LA. My neighbors had skipped out on rent and he was so disappointed in them and basically gave me that exact speech. I remember it so well.
Let’s talk about Barry and John’s relationship. I love when they’re walking and talking and Barry just keeps on walking.
That’s one of the hardest I laugh at, when Barry’s walking with John out in the middle of this desolate landscape and he’s like, “Look at everything God’s given us.” (laughs)
It feeds into this idea of religion for Barry that you were talking about earlier, but one of the big revelations is that Barry has found God and God is making him feel good about his life choices and himself.
Yeah, I think Barry doesn’t want to feel bad. He just doesn’t want to feel bad anymore. I think that’s why he’s reading stuff about Abraham Lincoln and all these people in American history, because it makes him feel less alone. He thinks, “Well, maybe I have a chance.”
The whole baseball thing is also extremely funny.
Barry wants this perfect American life, but he’s kind of corrupting these American institutions to have the thing that he wants. So it’s like Abraham Lincoln, you can’t get any more American than that. It’s him trying to recreate heaven. And heaven for him is alone in a desolate landscape where he can see anybody coming from miles away. Then the baseball thing, it was just this idea of what if kids were playing baseball and John wanted to play baseball, and how would Barry dissuade him from that? I really like when he finds the glove it’s almost like he’s finding drugs (laughs). And then yeah, again, the internet you can find kids getting killed by baseballs. If you just have the internet raise you, you wouldn’t ever want to leave your house. You’ll find whatever you want to be scared of. It’s there.
There’s also the idea of Barry fabricating his time in war as this hero when he’s telling the story to John.
Yeah he tells the story of Albert and it’s totally wrong and it’s like, “Oh my God this guy f—king sucks.”
But John really loves him.
Yeah, again he’s trying to be the version of himself that he always wanted to be and this kid can reflect that back to him.
It’s so interesting because Sally is what he always wanted that to be, and now she hates him, she can’t stand him, but he’s got John who’s this ideal version of that.
Yeah and Sally, she’s living Barry’s dream. I don’t think she wanted a kid. This is not for her. It’s kind of like her own prison. It’ll be interesting to see what Sarah thinks about it, but there’s always a part of me that felt that because she killed somebody and she tried to come back to all this stuff, the acting teaching and all that, that this is where I deserve to go is with a bad guy. A violent man. It’s what she said in Season 2.
And she’s watching “Just Desserts” be this global phenomenon almost as a punishment.
Yeah it’s like flogging yourself. There’s a part of it that’s flogging yourself about it and another part of her going like, “This is s–t.” But I think that’s the problem for her. She has integrity (laughs). Even her going in there and possibly hooking up with Bevel, and then she chokes him because it’s like, “No f—k ths guy.” (laughs) I think she’s also a victim of assault by men, and I think that’s really why she’s going after Bevel. I don’t see that scene as a virtuous thing. I think it’s born out of trauma. The reactions to that scene are interesting. Some people are really uncomfortable with it, other people are like, “Oh it’s a great revenge moment.”
I think the key to that scene is the scene in Episode 1 with her mom, where you realize that she has never dealt with any trauma in her entire life and never will. So it’s just gonna fester and it’s going to come out in weird and terrible ways.
Tell me about the scene where someone knocks on the door and Barry goes out there and you hear some footsteps.
This was my thought while I was writing it: You could take it literally, but I never took it so much literally. It was kind of the idea that the darkness plays a lot into the show of people coming in and out of darkness and Cristobal sinking into darkness and Barry coming out of it at the end of Episode 4. The whole show has had that, so for me it was this kind of this idea of, no matter where they’re at, that thing can find them. That thing, whatever that is, is just gonna knock on the door at some point and I think Barry just goes and stares it down. That was the feeling behind it at least, but people can have their own interpretations of it.
What about the decision to cut to Hollywood instead of just staying with Barry and Sally for the whole episode? Did you consider not cutting to Hollywood at all?
No, for me that was important because I think you still wanted to know what was happening and the story needed to keep moving. There was an entire beat-it-out of what Cousineau was doing during the eight years and then that scene of him showing up at the studio was the last scene of it. I said, “Well what if we just do all Barry and Sally and the last scene of Cousineau showing up to the studio?”
Larry Chowder the Magical Boy came from this guy Oliver who is our gaffer who’s very funny and I can’t remember if it was him or a friend of his that worked at a video store and this woman came in and said, “I want to rent Larry Chowder the Magical Boy,” and he didn’t know what she was talking about, and he figured out after a while that she meant “Harry Potter.” He told me that and I laughed so hard, so that’s where that came from. And the guy in the poster is Mark, he’s Alec Berg’s assistant and he’s kind of our script guy, he correlates all the scripts and keeps the continuity together and he’s also the guru of “Barry” where he can tell you anything off the top of his head. He just has interesting knowledge about everything, and he’s the one that gave us the idea of the monastery in Season 2 and he’s also the one that gave us the idea of the sand. He’s been a really great person to work with, so I wanted to give him a little moment. He’s also the guy that when I’m editing the show, ever since Season 1 I always bring Mark in, and during Season 3, Mark and Alyssa Donovan who’s also a very funny writer and works with me, they come in and they’re usually the first people to see cuts of the show. I like to get their feelings on it. And “Mega Girls 4” is a joke that if Sally would have stayed with it, it probably would’ve worked out.
By the end of the episode, Barry finds out there’s a biopic being made and he decides he has to kill Gene.
So that idea came about very, very early on. The idea of Episode 5 to me was at the end of Episode 4, you see the moment Barry and Sally decide to leave Los Angeles, and then it was kind of like Episode 5 should be here’s what their life has been like, and then it should end with the moment they are pulled back into Los Angeles and back into that world of Cousineau and Hank. So that and then the idea of the biopic we just thought this is what would happen. Someone would try and make a movie about them. The important thing was how do you do that without it being kind of winky and cheesy.
Overall, this is a very different episode for “Barry” and I can attest it gets even funnier on rewatch.
It’s definitely an episode that I understand if people are like, “What the f–k was that?” but it’s my favorite. That and the finale are my two favorite episodes.
It’s like you made a Coen Brothers move in the middle of “Barry.”
I was happy that HBO were not just into it, they were really into it. As opposed to, you know, “Can it just be Hank being silly?”
I remember you told me “ronny/lily” came together where you just went off and wrote it by yourself. Did this one come out the same way?
Yeah it’s very much that way, or the sequence with the motorcycles. There are certain moments in the show where I’ve just kind of gone off and written it quickly. One was that whole sequence with Barry and that Taylor guy going into the stash house and there’s a shootout and everything in Season 1. Sometimes it’s just fun to think up sequences and the pacing of it, but it was nice to do something that felt completely different from anything we’d done in the show so far, and that’s important to keep it fresh and interesting for the story but also for yourself. I don’t think it would’ve been interesting to bring back other things or bring back the karate girl for some reason.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
“Barry” airs Sundays on HBO.