This week’s episode of Bill Hader’s drama-comedy series Barry was one of the most painful and agonizing television experiences I have ever had. That may read like a negative statement, but it isn’t. This show is a work of art that wants to bring that emotion out in the viewer, and it succeeds in spades. I, and many other viewers, watched this nightmare scenario where Barry actually gets to live the life he wants with horror as the show peeled back why this scenario is awful layer by layer for thirty minutes. So today on The Story Arc I want to take a few minutes to analyze ‘Clark’, how we got to this situation, and what Barry seems to be leading into with this persona it’s given its main character.
To begin analyzing Clark, though, we need to turn back the clock and first look at some moments from the previous season. “Forgiveness has to be earned.” This quote was said by Barry Berkman in the first episode of the third season. This moment isn’t thought about much, as it is entirely surrounded by other moments of Barry’s complete and utter moral decline. However, the theme of forgiveness appears to be a running theme in the third and fourth seasons of this show. Later in season three, Barry is dying in the back seat of the car of Ryan Madison’s dad. The episode takes careful measures to establish that Ryan’s dad is a man of faith. One of the base principles of Christianity is forgiveness. Ryan’s dad talks at length about how he never wanted to hurt anyone until what happened to Ryan, and that all he needs to do is walk away and let Barry rot. However, he can’t. Ryan’s dad may not have forgiven Barry in an emotional sense, but his actions of driving his car with the dying Barry in it to the front door of a hospital before shooting himself could be interpreted as a twisted form of forgiveness, and Barry Berkman is nothing if not twisted at this point.
Cut to season 4 episode 5, Barry is now a very religious man living in the middle of nowhere. He seems to read the Bible regularly as he is able to quote and summarize stories from it. However, the story he does quote is used in the completely wrong context and means nothing. Barry is wearing a religion that exemplifies forgiveness without actually understanding it. He is a man who thinks he has earned forgiveness, but that is far from the truth.
Barry’s new persona has way more layers than his newfound religion, of course. He’s decided to become a completely new man right down to his name! Barry spends a lot of this episode, building himself up as an ordinary everyman hero to his son. Placing his marine memorial where his son can find it, teaching his son about a completely fabricated backstory about being a medic for the marines as opposed to his actual position, and instilling in his son what he believes are good virtues and stories any chance he gets. Even the new name Barry has picked, ‘Clark,’ may be derived from ‘Clark Kent’, the epitome of a seemingly everyday man who is a hero.
I’ve seen people claim this is egotism from Barry and that he’s telling these lies solely to make himself feel good. While that is certainly partially true, I find there is more meaning to these actions beneath the surface. At the start of the episode, Barry is on the phone with Sally talking about how he taught their son that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and how inspirational of a person Lincoln was. Barry then spends a portion of this episode reading a book about Lincoln for the sole purpose of breaking down Lincoln’s heroism with harsh reality at the dinner table. He then proceeds to do the same with other historical figures, which can be seen as heroes.
The way I see things, the message Barry is teaching here can be interpreted in two ways. Barry is either trying to teach his son that there are no heroes in this world at all, OR he is trying to further instill in his son that the only person he can look up to is Barry. Regardless of how you interpret this scene, Barry is building his son up for disappointment. By instilling the idea that seemingly perfect people can perform evil actions, his son is being prepared for the inevitable reveal that his father is an evil person.
To turn our analysis back to ‘Clark’s’ present situation. Perhaps the grimmest part of this episode is how everyone’s current situation is a twisted version of what each character wanted at the beginning of the series. Gene Cousineau is back in the spotlight, with the mere fact that he’s alive being big enough news to make several headlines; Noho Hank has become the head crime boss in LA, but has lost the love of his life; and Barry is living a life that, from an outside perspective seems completely normal, with an ideal family unit. The worst part of it is that Barry is the only person who is happy with the ways things turned out. He doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with his current lot in life. Of course, we can’t talk about this horrible present without sparing a few words for the most tragic figure in all of this: Sally Reed.
Sally has spent the past 8 years under Barry’s thumb. Their relationship in the earlier seasons has only gotten worse, with her being living with and having a child with a man who is plagued with anger issues and toxic masculinity. Any step she takes out of line, such as drinking at work, results in Barry getting angry and ‘calmly talking her down’. In a way she has also achieved her dream of being an actress, and she now acts every moment of the day, taking the role of being a different person in public, and the role of a content wife at home. What makes this especially tragic is that Sally has always been a proactive person, with her whole arc this season being about her taking any method she can to take control of her life again after the mistakes she had made in the previous season. Now, though, she has no control; how could she when her husband is a mass murderer who may turn on her if she leaves?
There is one moment in the episode where Sally is able to take some control of her life. When she learns that a co-worker of hers, Bevel, masturbates while thinking of her, she chooses to create a situation where he will get fired both for assaulting her and for stealing money from the store’s cash register (an action Sally herself did). This, of course, leads to a very uncomfortable scene in the bathroom. All of the Sally moments in the episode made me uncomfortable, but this moment especially did with its imagery. However, it may be the most important Sally moment of the episode, from a character perspective, as it is one of few proactive moments she has in her new, miserable life.
That is all the analysis I can gather for Barry’s newfound situation. It’s hard to predict where the show will go from here as each and every episode this season has thrown a major curveball at our expectations, but I am certain that at one point or another Barry’s ideal family situation will come crashing down. Everyone is miserable with their current lives except him, the worst of them all. He’s prepped his son’s mind for the idea that seemingly perfect people can do horrible things, so it’s time to see that happen. I will be watching Barry in anticipation every Sunday until it happens.