This post contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Barry, “Tricky Legacies.”
Last week’s “It Takes a Psycho” ended on a startling transition. One moment, we were seeing Sally deciding to run away with Barry; in the next, we were in a desolate Midwestern location where an older Barry and Sally now lived with their son, John. Was this a fantasy? Another of Barry’s metaphysical trips to Hell? Or had Barry become the latest 21st-century series to unleash a big mid-episode time-jump on us(*)?
(*) We arguably have Battlestar Galactica to thank for this idea, since a 2006 episode shocked viewers by leaping ahead a year in between scenes. It wasn’t the first show to try it, but the device became much more common in the years after, on a wide variey of shows including Parks and Rec. And that’s not counting shows like Mad Men that make big between-season jumps, or something like House of the Dragon doing it from one episode to the next.
“Tricky Legacies” quickly establishes that this is not a dream, not an imaginary story, but a straightforward 8-year jump in time. Barry and Sally are now living under the names Clark and Emily, living deliberately quiet and isolated lives, with Sally waiting tables, and Barry homeschooling John to keep him away from other children. Are they doing this to lower the risk of “Clark” being outed as infamous mass murderer Barry Berkman? Or because they have so thoroughly bought into their own self-justifying bullshit that they don’t trust anyone else with their child? It seems to be a bit of both. Barry is fixated on teaching his son about upright figures from the past like Abe Lincoln, and also on keeping him isolated; when a neighbor encourages John to try out for baseball, a panicked Barry whips out a series of YouTube videos showing Little Leaguers being horribly injured or killed on the field(*).
(*) It’s even more horrifyingly funny than the baseball blooper reel from The Naked Gun.
Superficially, Barry comes across as much more human than he was in the show’s earlier seasons. He seems to have a greater understanding of basic emotion, both his own and that of other people. But like the new name and the modest house, it’s all a façade. Through a combination of religion, desperation, and sheer denial, Barry has convinced himself that he’s a good person now, and Sally has played along to justify her choice to throw her life away for him. (While she’s been in hiding, Natalie’s Joplin rip-off has become a huge, enduring hit, while Kristen is now the headliner in a Mega Girls sequel.) But she’s miserable, and finds an emotional outlet in getting to choke a co-worker during sex, reversing the victim role she’s felt herself trapped in for so long. But if Barry can’t recognize the damage he’s doing to his fragile son, there at least seems to be some buried understanding that he’s still a monster, which is why he can’t stop himself from watching YouTube videos about Lincoln’s less flattering attributes, and working that into his lesson plan for John.
All of this is interesting to some degree, but “Tricky Legacies” does too good a job of making us appreciate the misery and boredom of the life these two fugitives have built for themselves. In addition to the time-jump, this fits into another prestige TV trend: the departure episode(*), which either focuses on relatively minor characters, or else deviates wildly from the usual format. Often, these are among my favorite episodes in a given season of those shows. This one, though, was a tough sit: making its glum points again and again, until I was incredibly relieved to see the action cut back to Los Angeles for a glimpse of a bearded Gene Cousineau returning to town to get involved with a planned Barry Berkman biopic(**).
(*) Not to be confused with a bottle episode, which is shot on preexisting sets, usually with minimal guest stars, to save money for other episodes.
(**) Say that five times fast.
Barry’s declaration that he has to kill Gene speaks to how little he has actually changed over the past eight years, and it sets up the series’ endgame. He may have pretended to find peace in his new life, but both he and the series named for him are much more comfortable back in Hollywood.