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Emmy Watch: Barry co-creator Alex Berg chats about season 3
By Danny Munso
Spoiler Warning: This excerpt discusses plot points from Season 3.
The finale of Barry’s third and best season looked to be ending in a similar way to previous ones: with Bill Hader’s title hitman approaching someone with a loaded gun, ready to commit yet another murder. A voice rings out…and then another one. Figures emerge from the shadows. Barry has been set up, and he’s going to jail. It was a stunning conclusion to an unpredictable season that saw the series graduate from a dark comedy to an occasionally funny drama with all the tension and visual flair of a Scorsese film. While the audience may have been taken aback, Alec Berg, the series’ co-creator and co-showrunner alongside Hader, says it was one of the first ideas the pair had for the third season. “It felt inevitable,” Berg says. “The reality is with the number of crimes he’s committed and the number of cops swirling around and the number of people who know what he’s done, the idea of not having the whole house of cards collapse was just getting harder and harder. At a certain point, the overwhelming gravity of everything is pulling you toward the fact that he’s going to get caught. It’s just what would happen.”
This season of Barry sent its characters in new directions. Barry is back performing hits full-time until he discovers that his acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), knows he was the one who murdered the love of his life, Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), at the end of season one. Gene is made aware of this by Fuchs (Stephen Root), Barry’s former handler who spends season three informing the families and friends of Barry’s past victims of his protégé’s transgressions in the hopes that one of them will take Barry out. And Barry’s girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) has become the creator and star of a streaming show and is forced to confront some harsh truths about her and Barry’s relationship.
Barry and Gene are tied together the entire season, and so it’s fitting that Gene aids the police in finally catching Barry. Gene convinces Barry that the former is about to kill Janice’s father, Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom), because he discovered the truth. Barry shows up to commit the murder himself, only to find out Gene—notoriously a horrible actor—has duped him into a trap. “Using Gene to do it felt right,” Berg says. “At the end of season two, he knows that Barry killed Detective Moss. It was very, very important to us that we didn’t undo that in season three. We played that card in season two, and we have to own that. It wasn’t a dream. He didn’t mishear. He knows Barry did it, and we have to go from there.” The writers wisely used Gene’s story as a way to motivate Barry’s own. At the beginning of this season, the hitman is lost and unsure of himself. Once he discovers Gene knows what he did, Barry attempts to make it right by reigniting Gene’s acting career through a puff piece in the trades. Gene starts getting roles, and his star is once again on the rise. “Then you get into Gene, where he’s flooded with everything he’s ever wanted but it’s all poisoned by the fact that it’s all happening because his girlfriend was murdered. We thought that temptation was great for Gene since he’s somewhat narcissistic and selfish and loves adulation and attention. We thought it would be really fun to watch him struggle with getting all this stuff he’s always wanted but knowing it all came from a tainted source.”
Berg and Hader enter the writers’ room each season without an overall outline for the upcoming season but with certain tentpoles and major events in mind. “We always try and have a few landmarks,” Berg says. “We know where we’re starting, and if we look out at the horizon and see a mountain, we know we want to head there. Sometimes during the writing process you get there and end at the place you thought you would, and sometimes you come to a ravine or cliff and realize you can’t get to where you thought you could. But oftentimes that ends up being a much more interesting direction than we thought we were headed.” The writing process for season three was drastically different than others simply because of circumstance. All eight scripts were written and Berg and Hader—who between them directed all of season three—were two weeks from shooting in early 2020 when COVID shut everything down. Rather than be unproductive when everyone was on lockdown, they got the greenlight from HBO to put together a writers’ room to commence writing on season four. That allowed them to look at their scripts with a new eye. “Based on what we learned [when we started] writing season four, we went back and rewrote some of season three with an eye toward that. We had time to really scrutinize things. So these two seasons are really much more of a companion piece than typical seasons would be. [And while] season four is still being changed, the huge benchmarks are all in place and a lot of that had to do with what happens in season three.”
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