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Barry’s Season Finale Brings Horror Movie Thrills and Shocks

The following contains spoilers for Barry Season 3, Episode 8, “starting now,” now streaming on HBO Max.

The Season 3 finale of Barry, “Starting now,” was not only a suspenseful ride for viewers but also an intense horror show. It managed to pack all the thrills and shocks of a full-length horror movie into a mere 29 minutes. Not only was Bill Hader’s Barry put through the wringer, but so was his former acting teacher and mentor Gene Cousineau, whose career was on the way up — at the expense of him becoming the show’s worst character. Meanwhile, Barry’s ex-girlfriend Sally Reed saw her acting and writing career crashing and burning. Chechen gangster NoHo Hank also endured terrors after being captured in Bolivia while searching for his kidnapped lover Cristobal.

The various storylines in “starting now” evoked a horror movie through various storytelling techniques, such as giving both its characters and the audience a false sense of security and including a scene of slasher-level violence. Hader’s writing and direction inspired genuine scares throughout. While Barry may be intended as a dark comedy, its final episode of the season was much more in the horror genre.

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One character who thought he was safe was Gene, who struggled in Season 3 to free himself from Barry and inadvertently rebooted his career in the process. Just when things were going great, he was forced to lie to Jim Moss – the father of his late girlfriend Janice – and tell him Barry was innocent of her murder of her as Barry tried to keep his numerous enemies at bay. Gene was later summoned to Jim’s house, where he endured a rigorous interrogation. Using repetition and intimidation, Jim emotionally tormented and frightened Gene, who realized that he was not even close to being free and clear of Barry.

The finale also depicted horror movie-level violence. Sally — one of its least violent characters — had to fight to survive a traumatic ordeal, much like the “final girls” seen in a slasher film. When a member of a biker gang who tried to kill Barry attacked both of them, Sally had to stab the biker in the neck before bludgeoning him to death with a baseball bat. Although Barry tried to alleviate Sally’s guilt while she was in shock, her face and her shaking voice showed that she knows the horrible truth, and this will be an emotional trauma that she will have to deal with. She may find temporary relief, however, as she abandoned Barry and her eleven-successful career for Joplin, the hometown that her failed TV show was based on.

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NoHo Hank also had to fight to save himself and Cristobal in the finale. Having gone from living his best life to being shackled to a radiator in a cell, Hank heard the horrifying sounds of Yandar and Akhmal being killed by a wild animal in the next room. When the animal started to break through the wall, Hank broke free and stole a guard’s gun to kill it. This sequence was similar to an approach in classic horror films: it showed very little and relied on the imagination of the audience. Barry never showed Yandar and Akmal’s deaths or the animal itself, but only what Hank could see from his cell. The viewer filled in the gaps with terrifying imagery in his or her own mind.

When Hank finally rescued the tortured Cristobal, they embraced. Hank seemed relieved for a moment, until an unsure look came over his face. Was he in shock over the mayhem that had happened or was he unsure of their safety or future as a couple? Like any great horror movie, the plotline left the viewer disturbed and on unsteady ground.

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Barry himself had the rug pulled out from under him at the end of the episode, and it felt like the shock ending that many horror movies use to leave audiences gasping. When Gene called Barry and told him he intended to kill Jim, Barry raced to Jim’s house and took away Gene’s gun. He then goes inside — only to find that he has walked into a trap that Jim and Gene set with the police. The episode ended with the shocked and betrayed Barry under arrest.

Even though Barry has been renewed for a fourth season, the Season 3 finale made it difficult to predict where the series could go from here. This type of ending felt like a series finale instead of a season finale. The only thing that seems certain is that Hader and his team will continue to surprise and shock their audience in future episodes.

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