Barry Berkman’s Moral decline

For a long time now I have just sat around while my friends talked about Bill Hader’s Barry. The show seemed to have popped out of nowhere and everyone claimed to have seen it. I thought I was being pranked! A month ago however, I finally took the jump and began to watch Barry. They weren’t lying, this show is fantastic! Watching Barry continually try and fail to act like a normal human being is always hilarious and when the show takes a dramatic turn it feels completely natural.

There are many things we could talk about with this brilliant crime comedy. Today though I would like to focus on one specific topic: Barry’s moral decline. Despite everyone in the show claiming he is a pure evil monster it’s clear he doesn’t start off that way.

At the beginning of the show Barry tells himself that he only kills bad guys because that’s what Fuches says they do. Now while this is obviously far from the truth as he’s a contract killer (Barry himself even acknowledges this when he says Ryan isn’t a bad guy), it does give us some insight on how Barry sees what he does. At this point he doesn’t consider what he does to be evil, it’s just a job from Fuches to kill some bad people every once in a while.

Barry during these first few episodes is at what we would consider his most morally good. Actively choosing not to kill Ryan himself, refusing to take another assassination request until Fuches life is threatened, and even taking a strict stance against killing Taylor. That last one is probably the most important for this article. When Fuches says that they need to kill Taylor, Barry completely refuses and states that “Once you kill a marine where does it end?”. Barry at this point in the show still considers some people to be completely off limits in terms of murder.

That all changes when Barry ends up on a speeding jeep charging toward some armed Bolivians with Taylor, Chris, and some other guy who doesn’t matter. Taylor and the other guy proceed to get killed with Barry and Chris surviving. After this traumatizing situation Chris tells Barry that he needs to go to the police and tell them everything that happened, causing Barry to shoot Chris in the head on the spot. In Barry’s mind this was something he needed to do, if Chris went to the police then Barry’s entire life would be ruined and he’d go to prison.

Barry has now killed a marine, an action that he himself described as the beginning of a downward slope. He himself realizes this and begins to have an emotional breakdown, but he insists that he’s done with the killing starting now.

Unfortunately that now doesn’t last very long. To start he has to kill a lot of Chechen gang members to save Fuches, but this can be argued as justified as it was a life or death situation. His next kill however wasn’t. When officer Janice Moss finally pieces together that Barry is behind all of these killings she attempts to arrest him and he remorselessly kills her. Once again justifying that he needed to do it and that he’s truly done with the killing this time.

This brings us to season 2, where Barry is easily at his most conflicted. He knows that he has performed evil action after evil action and despite claiming that everything is going to stop he keeps getting dragged into new situations that bring him only a step away from murder! Despite all of this opposition and people like Noho Hank telling him that he’s pure evil though, Barry does manage to tow the line for most of season 2, not killing anyone directly for most of it and trying everything he can think of not to kill.

Of course just because he isn’t killing any more doesn’t mean that Barry is an entirely good person. Throughout both seasons so far Barry has shown to have violent tendencies that lead to him shouting in public or worse, much worse. Midway through season 2 Sally has a reunion with her abusive ex-boyfriend and to say he dislikes him would be an understatement. Barry ends up grabbing a gun, marching up to his hotel room, and nearly shoots the guy on the spot. The only thing that stops him is that he sees Sally is in the same room.

Barry has consistently been able to justify murders in his head by saying that the people were bad or that he needed to do it to keep that half of his life a secret, but here no justification exists. He was about to gun this guy down for next to no reason. Sure he was an abusive boyfriend to Sally, but most people don’t try to shoot others for past relationships!

Barry’s violent tendencies get the better of him again at the end of season 2. After Fuches betrays and nearly ruins Barry’s life Barry charges into the monastery Fuches is in and begins to shoot every gangster inside. The most notable of these deaths is the team of Chechian hitmen that Barry had spent a third of the season training. In his anger Barry shoots them dead for no reason.

After realizing what he did, Barry walks away into the night and we transition into season 3. Barry in the beginning of season 3 is at his most morally depraved. To show just how much he has changed after the monastery shooting, the season begins with him on a job and being given the choice to spare a target. Not only does he shoot the target dead immediately but he always kills the person who hired him, enraged at him for even considering mercy. Season 1 and 2 Barry would have loved nothing more than the chance not to kill someone, but season 3 Barry welcomes the opportunity with open arms.

Barry can barely function as a person in the beginning of season 3, he is taking contract killings not for money but merely to distract him from thinking about his life. This seeps into his relationship with Sally too as he ends up yelling at her in public and offering to do things like psychologically torture her agent.

As Barry tries to live his life as normally as he can throughout the season the vengeful Fuches begins to send relatives of people that Barry killed in the past after him. While Barry is always able to escape death because he is a trained marine and these are just normal people the guilt within him slowly begins to build up. This guilt isn’t always obvious and sometimes manifests as something small like Barry giving a surprised look as he finds out the bikers he just killed knew Taylor.

Eventually Barry has a near-death experience and sees a vision of every single person he’s killed over the past few seasons. Their looks of silence affect him more than words ever could.

This all leads us into the finale of season 3. After a season of Barry at his worst we see him take the blame for a death caused by Sally and then bury the guy. As he’s burying him Albert Nguyen, the man he saved years ago, appears before Barry and begins to demand to know why he killed Chris.

While we, the audience, have seen Albert for almost the entire latter half of season 3 this is the first time Barry has seen him. After being hunted down by relatives of people he killed and literally seeing apparitions of people he killed in the previous episode having Albert stand before him like the ghost of Christmas past is the final nail in the coffin of Barry’s psyche.

Barry collapses on the ground screaming. Whether it be for his life or because of his guilt collapsing on him is ambiguous. No matter the reason, Albert puts his gun away and is the first person in the series to tell Barry that he isn’t evil, but the killing needs to stop for real this time.

And what does Barry do with this final chance? Why he immediately drives downtown and tries to kill a man who might know he’s a killer of course. Yes, just like in the season 1 finale Barry almost immediately cracks and thinks he has to kill someone in order to keep them from talking, and we all know what happens next.

Barry’s moral decline is very depressing to see. While he doesn’t exactly act like a normal person at the start of the show you can tell he has good intentions and is trying to be better. By the time season 3 rolls around though and he’s killing anyone people ask him to, shoving people into his trunk, and yelling at his girlfriend it becomes increasingly hard to root for the guy. At the end of the day it seems season 1 Barry was completely right, killing Chris was a downward slope that he hasn’t stopped going down. He may not have started out as evil, but it’s hard to say that he isn’t now.

It’s hard to predict what season 4 has in store for Barry Berkman. While we all want him to improve as a person every time he tries he takes one step forward and two steps back. Will Barry remain an evil person, or will he actually stop killing people? Personally I have a hard time imagining a scenario where Barry actually stops killing people. How many times does a person need to be given a final chance before they’re too far gone?

I’ll be anxiously awaiting the fourth season of Barry with bated breath. Thank you all for reading the Story Arc.

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