Barry: HBO's Great Must-See Show Is Driven By Big Plot Hole

HBO's Barry is that little show that could, beginning as a modest satirical comedy about a hitman who decides to be an actor in Hollywood and becoming a grand epic of Crime and Punishment and the impossibility of redemption, and the darkest, most uncompromising comedy on American television. The show is the brainchild of Bill Hader, who has transformed it into a metacommentary on acting and morality, stretching its plot beyond genre tropes into character studies and boundary-pushing emotional authenticity and honesty that reflects the most intense acting classes. Barry Berkman is not a cool hitman from the movies but a broken, sociopathic ex-soldier with PTSD. Hader even calls him a "big dummy", a sad sack desperate for companionship and redemption but driven to kill for either money or self-preservation where the two become a never-ending cycle that sends Barry deeper towards damnation.

Barry is a Great Must-See Show Driven by a Big Plot Hole
"Barry" image: HBO

The third season of Barry takes it beyond its format into an emerging auteurist vision under Hader's direction. He directs with a precise, detached eye that's a combination of Jacques Tati and "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, his detached camera turning violence into farce while he pushes his actors, including himself, deeper and deeper toward Method intensity. The show's tension between genre and emotion made it the most unpredictable show on TV.

But Barry has its plotholes. One big one is how the hell does Barry keep having a working car when it gets wrecked virtually every episode this season? Maybe that's just a running joke we're not supposed to think about too much, despite Hader wanting us to think a lot about the moral questions over Barry's work as a paid killer and how his actions destroy the lives of the families and loved ones of his targets.

The biggest lapse in logic, however, is the one that drives the entire story of Barry: the death of Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) at the end of season one. In season one, Janice was the cop investigating the spate of killings Barry was involved in, starting with the struggling actor that Barry was hired to kill that he met at Gene Cousineau's (Henry Winkler) acting class. Cousineau falls in love with her and shamelessly courts her until she relents and starts dating him. The end of the season has Janice spending the weekend at Gene's cottage with his favourite students Sally (Sarah Greenberg) and Barry. Janice finds a picture of Barry on Facebook with one of the victims and realizes Barry is the killer she's been hunting all along. She attempts to arrest him out in the woods in the middle of the night, and Barry kills her in a panic and hides her body in the woods. The rest of the series uses Janice's murder as the ticking timebomb that will eventually bring Barry down. Movies and shows about hitmen insist on a moral outcome where the antihero gets caught at the end, and Janice's death is the McGuffin that will bring it about.

For dramatic writing, it makes sense and it is so common in crime fiction that it's practically a cliché by now. The only problem is that it doesn't ring true. Janice was supposed to be a smart and savvy homicide cop. The one photo she finds of Barry with his dead buddy is circumstantial at best and did not warrant an arrest. It would never hold up in court. Janice decides to arrest Barry in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere without backup or her colleagues knowing where she is or what she's doing because it's a weekend. It goes against all police procedures and in real life, no cop would go rogue like that and arrest a suspect for the flimsiest of reasons and without any backup. A cop as smart as Janice would have waited till she and everyone returned to the city and then told her superiors and then gone with her partner to arrest Barry either at home, his workplace, or the acting class. Why was she so desperate to arrest him in the middle of Sunday night in the middle of nowhere and put herself at the worst kind of risk? It made no sense for her to do that. It's the most stupid thing any cop could do. And yet her death is the shadow cast over Barry for the next two seasons that finally came home to roost during the third season finale that everyone is raving about.

These lapses in logic or plausibility are a common occurrence in screenwriting, either because the writers missed it while in the heat of plotting or they couldn't' find a better way to achieve their dramatic goals and just left it in. Janice's actions that led to Barry killing her is a major lapse that uses a common trope in cop thrillers but almost never happens in real life. An Implausibly  Stupid Action That Nobody Makes in Real Life used to Make Story Happen should be considered a plot hole. The question is should we accept them in the stories we consume once we know about them or should writers work harder to get it right?

Barry is on HBO.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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