[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Barry, Season 4 Episode 5, “tricky legacies.”]
There’s nothing like a well-executed time jump, especially one that successfully elevates the stakes for the endgame to come. Now that Barry has leapt forward eight years in its own timeline, there’s so much to uncover about the status quo, but first, in “tricky legacies,” director/co-creator/star Bill Hader focuses in on Barry and Sally, and what life on the run can look like after you’ve spent enough time running in place.
Earlier this season, we’d gotten glimpses of the desolate landscape where Barry grew up via flashbacks to his childhood, which made last week’s reveal all the more surreal — rather than the flat dry horizon signifying a trip back to the past, we find ourselves in the future. Episode 4 only provided us with just a scant few details as to what kind of existence “Clark” and “Emily” have been experiencing, though: a desolate house on the edge of nowhere; a fridge stocked solely with canned beer, white wine in bulk, and a partially-eaten single donut; a little boy with a lot of questions and the innate knowledge that he shouldn’t ask them.
Then Episode 5 dug in deep, revealing so much with such economy. Maybe there were details buried in the production design that revealed whereabouts Barry and Sally have been living beyond “I dunno, the middle somewhere?” but honestly, that’s not essential knowledge. Whether they’re in Texas or Missouri, they’re in a place where it’s easy to get lost. And that’s exactly what they’ve done following Barry’s escape from prison, with Sally wearing “hair on top of her hair” to go to work at a crummy diner, while Barry homeschools their son John via YouTube videos.
Everything about Clark and Emily’s life is remote, in a way — large-scale online shopping brings them most necessities and they attend church on Sundays via online sermon. Even when John somehow manages to make a new friend (after previously getting into a fight with the kid, after Travis made fun of him for not being familiar with Call of Duty), Barry does his best to sever that real-life connection by targeting John’s newfound interest in baseball, scaring him with videos of children getting hurt while playing. As father tells son, his job is to protect him, and in Barry’s world, that means trying to keep things as under control as possible.
Barry’s natural reserve has calcified around him as “Clark”; a degree of tight control that feels like a rubber band about to snap. Meanwhile, Sarah Goldberg’s stunning performance in this episode is a haunting portrait of what it means to be broken, to have surrendered fully to a meaningless life. Watching Sally get ready for work at her vanity table — the careful application of makeup and wig — reveals that at least for some portion of the day, she’s approaching her life in the wilderness like immersive theater; a role she’s playing even in front of her own son, with some liquid assistance as the days stretch on.
For, as numbed with alcohol as she is, Sally still can’t let go of what she left behind, torturing herself by tracking the success of her former assistant Natalie (D’Arcy Carden), whose streaming series Just Desserts has become a cultural touchstone over the last eight years, quoted by the President during the State of the Union.
(Maybe it’s a side effect of covering both Succession and Barry at the same time, but I could totally see President Connor Roy quoting a cheesy streaming sitcom during his own SOTU address. The timeline matches up! Even if the polling numbers don’t.)
The final moments of “tricky legacies” don’t just include verbal confirmation that this is an eight-year leap, enough time for the Mega Girls franchise to really take off. We also discover that Gene Cousineau is alive and well, and ready to be involved with the inevitable movie about a hitman-turned-aspiring actor that happens to be based on real events. (Perhaps the Hollywood of the future has shifted away from limited series being the preferred medium for true life tales of scandal and crime.)
In some ways, the family portrait we get from this episode is the literal definition of the thesis statement from Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom: A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. It’s the existence Sally signed up for, when she told Barry they could run; an existence she now seems to regret — and maybe even yearn to end. Perhaps that’s her real reason for keeping an active Google alert for Barry’s name; the unconscious knowledge that she and Barry can’t keep hiding forever, and that with exposure might come some kind of escape.
Deeper into the future we’ll go in future episodes, as Barry (at least) plans to exit exile, to once again protect his family. For the moment, though, it’s worth appreciating just how good a choice it was, to push the story so far into the future. What a time jump enables is the opportunity to fast forward to a point in the story where the weight of time passing can still be felt, but with the immediate gratification of discovering what consequences were waiting for these characters.
The biggest question being explored by Barry, since the beginning, is simple: What kind of fate does a guy like Barry deserve, and is that the fate he’ll ultimately face? “tricky legacies” doesn’t answer that question — instead, it allows us to skip right to the hack happy ending a lesser show would give the character, before revealing one last chapter to this story, one where at least one innocent soul is now at stake.
New episodes of Barry premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.