Spoilers for Season 2 Episode 1 of Barry follow below.
If you’re a frequent reader of Collider, you may recall that last year, Bill Hader was kind enough to speak to us at length about the final four episodes of his HBO series Barry each week as they aired. And despite the fact that Barry is now an Emmy-winning hit series, and Hader is now a Directors Guild of America Award-winning director, the SNL veteran was gracious enough to not only speak with us again this year, but for all eight episodes of Barry Season 2.
Each week, after each new episode of Barry’s excellent second season airs, we’ll have an exclusive breakdown of the episode with Hader himself. Hader co-created, stars in, executive produces, writes, and directs episodes of the series, so he’s got plenty of insight to offer. As with last year, with these interviews I hope to not only dig into the story twists and turns, but also the filmmaking of Barry since the show really does feel like a uniquely director-driven comedy (Hader directed episodes five and eight this season).
So what follows is a breakdown of the Barry Season 2 premiere, in which Hader’s hitman-turned-actor is trying to put the past behind him and really focus on his acting. The snag, of course, is that Detective Moss is missing and presumed dead, and her absence has a serious (and dark) ripple effect on those around Barry.
During our interview, Hader discussed alternate ideas for how the show would handle Moss in Season 2, how populating the behind-the-scenes team with film geeks manifests onscreen, and the way he and the show’s writers plan out and write each season—and wildly change course if a better idea arises. He also broke down the episode’s final sequence, and how a change in the edit re-ordered the way that big revelation was handled. Check out the interview below, and check back on Collider next Sunday night for our chat about Episode 2.
Detective Moss is presumed dead and everyone’s upset over it except for Barry, who kinda just wants everything to go back to normal again, which is not working out for him. Were there scenarios pitched where Barry didn’t kill or dispose of Moss?
BILL HADER: Yeah, you don’t really know, everyone thinks she’s dead. It’s interesting for Cousineau to say we don’t know what happened to her. For Cousineau to be the voice of the writers basically, to say, “We don’t know what happened!” (laughs). I think that was interesting to us. There is one idea where we were like, well let’s just see what happened right at the beginning. You see what happened with Barry out in the woods with Moss and that’s the opening of Season 2. Then Liz Sarnoff, one of our writers, was just like, “I don’t care about that. This is Season 2. Let’s do something new.” Like, “Hey, it’s a new world now,” you know? Let’s just focus on the new and not be holding on to this other thing. To back up, I came in and wrote up on the board like Fuches’ tooth, Loach new partner, and Fuches gets a new Barry, like a new hitman guy. Then this tends to be how things will go, is that Liz will say, “What if we just start the season with Fuches’ new Barry botching a hit?”
Which is a great opening sequence.
HADER: We went, oh, what if he gets killed? Then it was like, “Oh, what if he gets killed and Fuches gets processed, and so they put his DNA in the database and that’s how they get the hit and that’s how Loach finds out where Fuches is?” Then so the end of the episode forever was Loach looking at his computer going, “Oh wow. Cleveland.” And you see Barry’s Facebook page, Cleveland. And it’s like, aha. We kept looking at that and we got all the way to the edit. We’re editing, we do a sound mix, we do everything and we’re just kind of looking at it and I kept saying to Alec, “I just feel like Cleveland isn’t enough for him to go, ‘Whoa.’” A lot of people could be from Cleveland. Why does that mean anything? And then Alec and I just were talking and we both were like, “He should bring up the lipstick cam photo,” and then it was like that would be a better way to end the episode. I go “What if we just end the episode with Loach figuring it out? Just end the whole episode with Loach figured out it’s Barry. That’s way more of like, ‘Oh shit!’”
Which is something you would expect to be at the end of the season in any other traditional serialized show. That’s another question I wanted to ask you, is how did you hit up on that idea? Because you end the Season 2 premiere essentially with Loach picking right up after Moss and putting it together.
HADER: Yeah, it’s like if Loach is a cop and he’s good, he would figure it out fast. You just have to be hard on yourself and go, “No, don’t push this off to get us more episodes. What would actually happen? Well, he would figure it out.”Then you go “Okay, well where does that leave us?” And then we have to do a bunch of maneuvering.
So when you start out there and when you’ve broken episode one, do you kind of know where the season finale is going to take Barry? Or are you kind of taking it episode by episode?
HADER: We don’t know. We didn’t really figure out where the season would end for about a month after we started writing, or the idea of where it would end. And it’s just following a trajectory. But as opposed to going, “Okay, Episode 1. Okay, we got that. Perfect. Okay. Now let’s move on to Episode 2,” I tend to write eight columns up under a big white board and and they’re like buckets that I just started throwing stuff in.
Like Season 1 it would be like, “Okay, we all liked this idea of Chris and his old army buddies showing up. So I’m going to put those in the Episode 4 bucket, and we all liked the idea of them taking Barry out someplace and they all get killed except for Barry and Chris, so I’ll put that in the Episode 6 bucket. We liked this idea that Barry kills Chris, let’s put that in the Episode 7 bucket,” and then you just talk about that storyline for like a day.
You’re just kind of looking at how it can lay out through the season. And then as the season goes and starts to shift—for instance, how Episode 1 ends in Season 2 with Barry’s realization of that when he first killed someone was like one of the best moments of his life, initially the way I outlined it, it was a scene that happened in episode four.
HADER: And Alex said, that should be the ending of Episode 1. That should set up what the season is.
That’s really cool. It’s a really arresting scene and I think your performance in particular is really strong there. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about kind of the construction of that scene because, again, I think this is a really director-driven show. You have the visual contrast between what he’s telling the class and then what actually happened.
HADER: Yeah, and I like this idea of being an artist is being truthful. It’s like, well, if I told you the truth, that’d be terrifying. It’s easier for me to see the lie of what you wish it was, which is, yeah, I shot them and I cried, but it just doesn’t work that way. That’s not what happened. That was written that way, that it would be cross cutting and that the past would be answering the present and the present would be talking to the past, and it was all written to be specifically like that. Then you get someone like Hiro Murai, who you don’t even question will know exactly what to do with that, and he did. Hiro’s just the best. I mean you say it’s a director-driven show, and I think it’s because I’m a big film nerd, and so you get other film nerds. Hiro is a big film geek and Kyle Reiter, who also edits Atlanta, and Jeff Buchanan who’s Spike Jonze’s editor, they were editors last season and they’re back this season, and they are massive film geeks and so it’s like, you want to use those tools.
I remember at the very beginning of the season, Criterion came out with that Midnight Cowboy disc and I re-watched it and I just was like, “You guys have got to watch it. The editing in this is so good and I forgot how great it is about the past, and how it shows someone’s past through flashbacks, but how it melds with the present and everything.” We started talking about that. I’m very proud with the way that sequence came out. I really like when the voices of the guys chanting Barry Berkman come in, which is a line—I don’t know if you picked up on this, but it was the Ryan chant from episode one in the pilot. The “Bar-ry Berk-man!” So it’s a callback to that. But when he does that, when it plays over Cousineau’s class looking at him, I love it. And that’s an accident. Initially it was cut and written where you saw Barry kill the guy and everyone cheered for him, and then you cut into the present and it was Sasha saying to Nick, “You killed him soldier.” And Nick starts crying. And then Cousineau says, “Is that what happened?” And he goes, “Yes.”