SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 5 of “Barry,” now streaming on HBO Max.
Last week’s episode of “Barry” ended on one of the show’s most bizarre cliffhangers: Barry (Bill Hader) and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) appeared to be several years older and living in a house in the desert with a young son. The HBO show has toyed with flashbacks and dream-like sequences before, and Sunday’s newest episode didn’t reveal what was going on until the final minutes…
…and it’s a time jump into the future!
The end of last week’s episode actually moved ahead eight years, during which Barry and Sally have evaded public recognition after he escaped prison. They’re living under brand-new identities, Clark and Emily, and raising their son, John. Barry, newly religious and peaceful, homeschools John but is too afraid to teach him how to play baseball because of the sport’s violence. Sally wears a brunette wig, dons a Southern accent and works at a rinky-dink diner, where she gets sexually harassed by a biker.
In the episode’s most harrowing moment, Sally seduces the biker, brings him into the bathroom to make out and then nearly strangles him to death. He promises not to tell anyone, but the next night, Barry and Sally get a mysterious knock at their door. Nobody is there, but it’s enough for Barry to dig out a gun and keep watch until the morning while Sally and John hide in the bathtub.
The time jump is then revealed when the show cuts back over to Los Angeles, where a bearded Gene (Henry Winkler) has re-emerged after going off the grid hiding from Barry. The actor has been presumed dead for the last eight years. He arrives at a Warner Bros. studio, where he takes a job as a consultant for a movie about his and Barry’s lives. Back in the desert, Barry sees an article announcing the biopic, and he decides he needs finally to kill Gene.
With Variety, Goldberg explains that bonkers time jump, why Sally, now an alcoholic, is at her “darkest depths” and how there’s no chance any of the “Barry” characters will get a happily ever after.
What was your first reaction to reading the time jump in the script?
Bill had told me we’re going to do an eight-year flash-forward before I’d read the whole season. I was really excited, because from the beginning of the series, I just wanted to push Sally into the darkest depths that we could. I was curious to see her as a full-blown alcoholic; that was my hope. Bill promised me we’d go all the way there by the end of the series, and he held true to his promise. It’s a full departure from anywhere we’ve been in the show.
I could already imagine cinematically it was going to be really elegantly shot, which it was, and there were “Paris, Texas” references and inspiration from Bill. I was thrilled and very shocked. The moment that dropped in my stomach the most was the bathroom scene. That was something they hadn’t talked to me about before reading, and I just had no idea where that was gonna go. Is she going to sleep with him? Is she going to kill him? That was exciting not to know, even as Sally, where we’re going.
What are Sally’s darkest depths?
I think it’s the darkest place we’ve seen her in the whole series. That’s not to say she won’t go darker in the next episode! There’s a combination happening of all the trauma we’ve seen Sally through, and the things we know about her family and her marriage. Now she’s trapped, quite literally, in another abusive relationship of a different kind, living a lie with a child that she seemingly had no interest in having, with a major drinking problem and pretending to be religious.
I mean, do you want me to go on? The list is long! She’s in this false sense of security. She’s hitched her wagon to Barry thinking that this is the place of safety, being with this person is where she’s most secure. But actually, she’s in the belly of the whale. She’s not in a safe place at all.
I didn’t see the twist coming until the end of the episode. Then I was trying to do the math, like “Does this kid look eight years old?”
I can’t imagine what Sally’s labor was like. That would have been a curious episode. I can’t imagine that went very well or they were in an actual hospital.
Did you and Bill talk about what else might have happened in those eight years before Barry and Sally were living in the desert?
The idea is that they’ve been on the run, so they’ve been in various locations under various identities, and this is where they’ve landed and have been for a while. The end of Episode 4 was actually the very first thing that I shot for Season 4. It was the “Let’s go” scene, so it was a hard place to start. We thought with Episodes 1-4, how are we going to get Sally to a place where this tracks, and she’s wanting to go with Barry?
That’s why there’s the moment in Episode 2 when Sally says, “I feel safe with you.” The idea is that she’s been through so much in her life and she’s been through abusive relationships. Barry was the one person who witnessed her crime and her most animal self in this terrible thing that she did, and he chooses to love her anyway. Sally’s the only character in the show who murders someone when murder isn’t a part of her regular life and isn’t her career. She’s in his terrible trauma state from what’s happened, and Barry, for some reason, is the only person that makes her feel safe because he was there. It’s like him being around her annuls the experience. It makes it all quiet. It’s tragic, really.
Did Sally have any other personas before Emily?
We got a little lazy as actors; we didn’t write our journals of the last eight years, but we did talk about being on the run. For Sally, it’s the last little drop in the jug of who she used to be, and at least she still gets to act. In this life that they’ve got on the run, she’s gonna give Emily her full Meryl Streep. It’s the one piece of her old self that she still holds onto; she goes to work every day and gives this performance. At this point, they’ve been on the run so long and they’re truly in the middle of nowhere, there’s no real reason for her to be doing the accent and wearing the wig. There’s some element of her old self still kicking and screaming, wanting to give a performance.
We met Sally’s parents in the season premiere, and they didn’t have the healthiest relationship. How did Sally’s upbringing influence her dysfunctional parental style?
It’s something that we definitely thought a lot about. Some of the choices that we ended up making in Episode 1, particularly performance-wise, were decisions we made after reading Episode 5 and knowing where we were heading. Initially, Sally’s mother was written a lot more bubbly and Midwestern and then there’s a flip-side to her. Ultimately, they decided on this really cold, detached parent who doesn’t listen and isn’t taking Sally in. It felt like that would help us understand Sally’s behavior in Episode 5. She hasn’t had any examples in her life to draw from, in terms of a parent or maternal figure. She’s also been duped into this faux family, and Barry’s in this delusional state. In his mind, they have this perfect, nuclear, Christian family. And Sally knows the whole thing is kind of a lie.
So I think that she’s struggling to accept her reality, because it doesn’t feel like a reality, hence the drinking and the persona. Her own upbringing definitely has colored her ability to not just be compassionate to her own child, but in life Sally struggles to connect with other people. We’ve seen that over all the seasons in her myopia of her career obsession, and when she wants something so badly she just can’t see past it. I think that comes from an upbringing where nobody was ever listening to her. She’s literally screaming to be heard and having a panic attack, and nobody’s there. It explains a lot about Sally, and her more belligerent side and inability to fully take in other people.
Was there ever a discussion of Sally going full Barry and killing the guy in the diner bathroom?
She’s gonna go right to the edge. She doesn’t know where that moment is going to end when she starts it. I think she has a lot of pent-up rage toward men, with good reason. She’s so trapped in this dynamic with Barry, and his delusion is so stifling. You can’t reason with somebody who’s not seeing reality. With all of this built-up rage toward Sam, toward the man who attacked her, toward Barry, it’s all coming out. There is a moment where she’s on this precipice of a moral tightrope and she could kill him.
Ultimately, she’s not that person. She’s not Barry, or a bad person at her core. She makes very bad decisions and has done some bad things, but her impulses don’t come from that place. She wants to scare him because the way he’s behaving at work is predatory, and she’s had enough of that in her life. She wants to have the power, and instead of being afraid of his predatory nature, she wants to attack him. But I don’t think she would have ever killed him.
Being with Barry must have rubbed off on her. Are there other aspects of Barry that have seeped into Sally’s personality?
Without him, that type of violence wouldn’t have been in her life. That’s the effect of dating a serial killer. They used to be this sort of perfect, disastrous match in the way that they saw each other. It was a relationship based on projections. Barry was obsessed with Sally, and that’s all Sally needed to hear, that she was going to be a star. But he never saw her. Even in the fantasies that Barry had in Season 1, we always had Sally in these pink costumes, but Sally never wore pink in life. It was supposed to be this subtle nod to the fact that he doesn’t see her for who she is at all. He sees this idea of a woman and had this projected version of her.
And then for her, it was the idea of being worshipped by someone who thought she was going to be a star. They were two people who never really listened to each other, or took each other in. By the end of Season 3 when their pact is made in blood, and they’re now complicit in a crime, that’s really where Sally becomes wed to Barry — and it’s too bad. There’s a knowing quality to Sally we can see in Episode 5, she’s not being fooled by him in every way or buying into the religious charade he’s posing. She’s not going to play happy family; having this child was very much Barry’s idea, and an agenda he pushed.
I don’t think Sally ever wanted to be a mother — she wanted to be an actress. There’s a self-preservation in there somewhere, a bit of resilience. Even the drinking is a form of rebellion.
The episode jumped ahead eight years. So where do you think Sally is in the next eight years?
Well, I don’t think I can answer that. What I can say is I’d hope for Sally to find some peace, and find a way to make just one selfless choice.
Hopefully she and Barry end up being happy parents.
I don’t think there’s a happily ever after for these two. I don’t think it’s ever been a love story between Barry and Sally. At worst, I’d say it’s been convenience, and at best it’s been survival — but never a love story. There’s not really any character that has a happily ever after. All the characters are so morally bankrupt, and we all walk this line the whole time, it’s challenging for anyone to be in any kind of meaningful, loving relationship when they’re constantly making the selfish choice.
This interview has been edited and condensed.