SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains details from the series finale of HBO‘s Barry.
Not only is this the title of the Barry series finale, written and directed by co-creator and star, Bill Hader. It’s also, naturally, the sentiment with which we, as an audience, are left.
By the end of the episode, Hader’s hitman-turned-actor is dead, even if he was about to turn himself in to the police, shot in the chest and head by his one-time acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Also dead is NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who’s shot after a stand-off with Fuches (Stephen Root).
Barry’s acting-class love Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and son John (Zachary Golinger) survive the shoutout at NoHo Hank’s offices, where they were being held captive, after Sally admits to John that both she and Barry are murderers, with Fuches disappearing into the wind. We then move forward in time and find an older John (Jaeden Martell) taking in a school play directed by his mother, who now works as a teacher in a snowy town that isn’t identified by name. After the play ends, she’s asked out by new teacher Robert but quickly rejects him and gets on her way, leaving John to go stay the night at a friend’s. And it’s there that John works up the courage to watch The Mask Collector, a film that casts Cousineau as the villain in Barry’s story, as society now believes him to be, explaining that Cousineau is serving life in prison for murder, and that his father was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.
Speaking with Deadline ahead of the airing of tonight’s finale was Goldberg, who in 2019 scored her first Emmy nomination for her breakout role as Sally. Here, the actress gives her take on the fate of Barry, Sally and John, also touching on an upcoming role on HBO’s Industry and more.
DEADLINE: When did you learn how the events of Barry‘s finale would play out? What was your first impression when you did?
SARAH GOLDBERG: They started writing [the final season] back in 2020 because we were due to go back to Season 3 when the pandemic hit, and when we couldn’t go back to set, the writers went back. So, some of the arc of the season was pitched to me back in 2020, including the time jump, which I loved, because I just felt like, “Oh, that’s going to open us up to so many possibilities.” But Barry’s ultimate death and all of the details of the finale were things that Bill pitched in pieces throughout the season, as we were shooting. Normally for previous seasons, we would get all the scripts before we started shooting, which is a real luxury in TV, to know your whole arc before you start shooting. But for many reasons, including making sure that we didn’t blab about it, we didn’t see that script until quite close to shooting it.
But yeah, there were details. Bill pitched out to me where we were going with the second half fairly early, and that was something that we wanted to do all the way back in Season 1. I’d hoped that we would go really dark with Sally’s storyline, and I was like, “I don’t care what we do. I just want to go full Woman Under the Influence or Opening Night, and do something surprising with her.” So, that direction was always there, but the final details, we found out very late.
I was pleasantly surprised by all of it, but also, everything in the story felt right to me, so it felt like it was ending where it should end. I loved the idea of the film at the end. That just made me laugh, and it felt so true to the tone of the show, and like a callback to previous seasons, as well.
DEADLINE: It is very funny, the kind of Hollywood movie where the actors are completely wrong for the real people they’re portraying, as is the characterization of events…
GOLDBERG: Exactly. And all the tropes and all the things we tried to avoid all these years for Sally, coming through in this Hollywood version, played so brilliantly by Louisa Krause, who I just think is genius. I’ve seen her in lots of plays in New York, and she’s so talented, and it was just so funny.
In terms of Sally’s final moments, I didn’t know anything about those until I read it on the page. And I remember thinking, “Okay, interesting. There’s no big fireworks, no murder scene, no suicide, no big, dramatic event. It’s just a very simple end, driving in the car with a bouquet of sh**ty flowers in the passenger seat. And she’s happy?”
Then, in the shooting of it, it just felt so lovely and so right, and I felt like, here’s this actress we met all these seasons ago who wanted to be a star, who wanted an Oscar, who had this kind of myopic narcissism. And we leave her in a place of, she’s working in a small town, she’s doing a high school production of Our Town. And the joy of that is so real for her that it may as well be an Oscar in that passenger seat, for what those flowers represent. I just loved that. I thought it was so poetic and simple, and yet we still see a glimmer of the old Sally when her son says, “I love you.” And instead of saying, “I love you, too,” she says, “Was it good? It was good, wasn’t it?”
She still needs that external validation. There’s still a callback to the old Sally, somebody who does have that twinkle of narcissism. That piece of her is still alive. The duality in her still exists, it’s just kind of muted. And there’s a real contentment there. I had hope for her, which surprised me. I wasn’t expecting any hope at the end of this show.
DEADLINE: What was discussed as far as that final moment, lingering on her in the car? There is the sense that she maybe has hit on a happy ending of sorts.
GOLDBERG: I felt that she’s in a place where she’s become maybe not a good mother, but maybe a good enough mother, and maybe she’s getting joy out of teaching. She’s turned down a date, so she’s finally out of the cycle of these abusive relationships. I feel like she’s changed and evolved. I don’t know whether she’s arrived to a place where her demons can’t still rear their head, with needing that external validation as an example. But I think that she’s definitely taken a huge leap forward and there’s reason to hope that she’s going to be okay.
DEADLINE: Do you see her fully swearing off of dating?
GOLDBERG: I think so, yeah. I feel sad for Sally. I don’t know that love is something she’s ever even really experienced. Her marriage was loveless and brutal, and her relationship with Barry was so toxic. They each saw what they wanted to see, and then by the time they let those guards down, they were in such a terrible situation, there was no room for love. It was survival. So, I don’t know that she’s ever had a healthy, loving relationship. I think she’s happy now raising her son and teaching these students, and I think that relationships are not on the cards for her.
DEADLINE: It is very fitting to see her come around to teaching, which Cousineau had suggested she explore.
GOLDBERG: It’s great. Definitely, love was not something that was real there either, but I think maybe the closest thing she’s felt to love was her relationship with Cousineau. It was a place where she felt seen, where she felt challenged, where she felt heard. He’s not a licensed therapist, so I’d say it was actually kind of a dangerous dynamic. [Laughs] But I think that she really loved that class, and teaching is something that I don’t think she ever saw…for herself. Certainly, not when she started out in Los Angeles. But I think there’s a contentment that’s come from taking on that role.
DEADLINE: Did you speak with Bill and co-creator Alec Bergabout how things played out prior to the show’s final time jump? How exactly Gene came to take the fall for Barry’s crimes, with Sally getting away scot-free and being able to start over, without looking over her shoulder?
GOLDBERG: We did talk about it briefly, and I’ve been asked about the other time jump as well. And I don’t want to sound like a lazy actor, but we didn’t write their journals for eight years, and go method on it, and figure out all the places that they’d been and things that they’d done. But just in terms of practicalities, I suppose, my big question was around, what did Sally do when she found out Cousineau was in prison for this crime? Because she obviously has such an averse response to it earlier in the episode.
So, we talked about that, that there’s multiple versions, and it would really be up to the audience to decide what they thought was right. But a few things we thought were that she did try to come to his defense and speak up, but she was so far gone at that time, no one took her seriously, which I think is a generous read that I’d like to go with. But the other version is that she was too afraid to come forward in any way because Barry was dead, and John would be left parentless if her crimes came out and she was in any way sent to jail for the man that she killed.
So, there’s different paths there, different story that the audience can fill in. Any way you cut it, Gene went down for the crimes, which is terrible. But I feel like Sally, where she was at, where we left her, and her trying to get Barry to see what was right in the world, I think she would’ve tried. I feel like she would’ve run in a frenzy to the police and maybe came off as just somebody who was hysterical in Los Angeles. But I feel like she would’ve given it a shot, to try to come to his defense.
DEADLINE: This was one of the big questions the episode left me with. She comes off as maybe a bit of a hypocrite after lecturing Barry for taking responsibility for his actions, given that she’s managed to evade doing so for hers. But at the same time, it feels like the show itself doesn’t view her as a bad person at the end of the day, in the way it does Barry.
GOLDBERG: It’s interesting because I’ve always felt that Barry is a morality tale, and the thesis has always been, am I a good person? And ultimately, Barry is not. He has the one moment just before he dies where he is about to do the right thing, and I thought it was such brilliant writing that it gets cut short, that he does have that sudden change of heart, and yet we don’t get to see the follow-through. I think for Sally, it’s interesting. I’ve always said I never wanted her to become the moral barometer on the show by virtue of being the only female series regular. I always wanted to keep her as morally bankrupt as the men on the show, and for her choices to be as ambiguous and self-serving. But I felt like I enjoyed coming to the end of the story and seeing the final pivots, her having these self-realizations in real time, in the face of death.
Ultimately, the scene with her and John, when NoHo has her captive, is the first time in four seasons, essentially, where we’ve seen Sally really drop everything — drop all masks, all performance, and be completely honest, and not in a self-serving way, either. So, I thought it was a beautifully written scene, and a kind of pivotal shift for that character. It’s in the face of death. She thinks that her and John are going to be killed at that poin, and with nothing left to lose, she does drop everything and has a genuine, honest moment. I think in that moment, she has a bunch of realizations in real time, and has a kind of moment where she is stacking up her life choices and going, “Am I a good person?” And ultimately deciding, “I’m not,” but looking at this human that she’s made, that she’s completely ignored and isn’t raising in any real way, and going, “Somehow, despite your two doses of crappy DNA, you’ve turned out okay.”
I think that after that moment, she’s changed. And I don’t think she’s become a saint. I don’t think that she’s necessarily making all the best life choices going forward, but I think that something in her has changed, and for the better. And she is not a bad person at that point. She is making better decisions that are about other humans, including her son.
You know, I didn’t want a bow on it, and our writers would never reduce this show to that, which I’m so grateful for. I didn’t want it to tie up in it in a way that was one thing. Sally’s never been one thing, and I wanted to keep it complex, but at the same time I was delighted that there was some peace for her.
DEADLINE: How did you prepare for that incredible scene where she drops the act and tells her son the whole, ugly truth of her situation?
GOLDBERG: Again, not to sound like a lazy actor, but I didn’t really prepare. I didn’t know how to prepare for that. It’s such a big moment, I felt like I had to take a leap and trust that we would find it on the day. Barry changes tone so much; the tone is very elastic, and within the tone there’s so many pivots. And over the various seasons, there’s been different ways to prep different scenes. Sometimes, it would require serious technical rehearsal, or being backwards-forwards, front to back with your lines. If you were doing a huge speech that’s all tight comedy beats, [there’d be a] precision you’d have to bring to the way you would prepare that. And then in the more dramatic moments of the show, or the more horror thriller moments of the show, it was almost like you couldn’t really prepare.
It sounds kind of cheesy to say, but you had to just be incredibly present, and I feel like with that scene, I liked Bill’s choice of shooting it with my back to the camera to begin with. I think that allowed for a real privacy in the moment…so to be able to be alone in that way to start the scene was really useful for me. Then, as it turned and I was able to look at John and speak just to him, it was really just about being incredibly focused in that moment and really looking at this kid who’s such a great actor and such a present performer, Zach, and just delivering it as simply as possible, just dropping all the performance. I feel like the fun of Sally has always been performances within the performances. She’s performing Shakespeare, or she’s performing some crappy TV script, or she’s performing herself, as an actress in Los Angeles. And to be able to drop all of that, I think the only way to prepare was to not prepare, and get out of my own way to let the story out.
DEADLINE: What was it like having Jaeden Martell come in, just for a couple of scenes, to bring to life an older John?
GOLDBERG: It was great. That’s something that is so good on Barry, where we were able to have so many different people come in and play different roles. And it was important at the end to keep us fresh. On my last day shooting, it was a scene in the snowscape outside the college, and that’s their first day. It’s my last day of Barry and it’s their first day, so you’re sitting at cast chairs just doing the regular chat. “Where are you from? Where do you live? Where’d you go to school?” That was, I think, really helpful in keeping the story alive and fresh, and not letting our nostalgia, as we were finishing the show, take hold and take over.
DEADLINE: Do you think John is going to be okay?
GOLDBERG: Questionable. [Laughs] I love the ambiguity of his response, watching the film. It’s like you’re watching his face move from relief… “Okay, this is the story that the world has about my father, and that’s a relief, to know the world see’s him as a hero, not a bad guy.” And yet you can see…He’s so wonderful; he’s such a brilliant, nuanced actor, you can see in his face he’s not buying it, as well. Obviously, he remembers. Like, “That’s not what happened when we escaped the Chechens.” He can remember what his mother told him, which is that his father was in prison for killing a lot of people. He’s old enough at that age. So I feel like what’s obvious is he’s a decent person — again, despite his DNA. So I hope he’s going to be okay. I feel like if he’s not, he got it honestly. [Laughs] Like, that’s a tough break, having Sally and Barry for parents.
DEADLINE: What do you see as the ultimate takeaway from the way this story ends?
GOLDBERG: Well, I’ve only just seen it myself as well, so I’m still digesting and trying to figure out words to articulate what I feel about that ending. I mean, I thought it was brilliant in that it just feels like such a bleak but humorous commentary on where we are, really, as a society. I feel like there’s the version of events, and then there’s the version that we want to believe, and I just felt like there’s something really twisted about that.
We’re in a world where the internet has become gospel somehow, and yet the technology is so new and our morality hasn’t caught up to the technology. I feel like we’re in a world where show business is changing, and what is presented as fact isn’t always the case. And we have leaders that lie. At least, thank God, [Donald Trump] is not in power anymore. But the world has changed in such an extreme way since we started Barry. We started in 2016, before Trump was elected. The world has changed [with] the pandemic, all of these things. And I feel like satirizing that, but also showing the bleakness of that, I thought it was pretty powerful.
It’s not a happy ending. I know that Sally has something adjacent to a happy ending, but I think that there is a bleakness to the ending, and that is sadly a little bit of a match for some things that are happening in our world. I thought it was pretty moving while being very funny.
DEADLINE: What has this show meant to you, personally and professionally?
GOLDBERG: That’s such a huge question. It’s difficult to even sum up, but personally, it was seven years, so it’s a full life cycle. We’ve become a family, and the friendships that I formed on that show are people I’ll have in my life for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful for that. And professionally it was a wild ride. It’s what you hope for. You read so many terrible scripts, and you audition for them anyway because you need to pay your bills, and then something like this comes along and it’s such a gift. The writing only got better and stronger as the seasons went on, and we made a point of never repeating ourselves, so the challenges within it were so satisfying.
I feel like I really learned to let go, as an actor. I came from a theater background and most of what I would do would be very rehearsed. I always joke that when we started out, I’d come to set having rehearsed in such a meticulous way, and Bill would come to set and he didn’t know his lines. [Laughs] And I’d be like, “Bill, I know you wrote it, but you’ve got to learn your lines or we’re not going to get to scene.” And equally for him with me, he was like, “Don’t worry so much about the lines, or don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just let it go and let’s see what we find.”
So, somewhere, we met in the middle. And I think I learned a lot as a performer. Going back to that scene when you were asking how I prepared, there’s something about trusting yourself that something can happen between action and cut if you’re with the right group of people who are as focused on telling the story as you are. And you can get out of your own way and just have fun with it. I think that was a big adjustment for me, and I hope I can bring it to other jobs. I felt like the freedom we found within the show, because of the trust we had in each other, was pretty profound and unparalleled. I hope I can sustain it. I mean, starting a new job you’re going to get first-day-of-school jitters, of course. But I hope that we can take what we found creatively onto other jobs.
DEADLINE: You’ve already found your next job, joining the cast of Industry for Season 3. What can you tell us about your experience with that show so far?
GOLDBERG: Listen, talk about preparation. That’s a show you’ve got to prep for. [Laughs] I’ve got to say a lot of things about money that I don’t understand, really quickly, and look like I do. So, that is not one you can phone in. It’s great. The character’s called Petra and she couldn’t be more opposite to Sally. Mickey [Down] and Konrad [Kay], the showrunners, are such smart guys, and there’s also a collaborative atmosphere on that set which I love. It’s very cool. It’s shot in a completely different way to Barry. Barry, this season in particular, it had such a cinematic scope, and we’d have these huge wides, or the landscape would be a character in the scene, [with] these locked-off shots and these oners.
On Industry, the camera plays a very voyeuristic role and is kind of roaming with you all the time, and catching things in real time as they happen. So, it’s a very different technical exercise, and it’s really fun. It’s a total change for me, and the cast are just so talented.
I do feel old. [Laughs] I got to be the youngest on Barry, and not on this set.
DEADLINE: What are your goals as you look ahead to the next stages of your career?
GOLDBERG: I’m really hoping to write and create my own work. I feel like one thing that I really learned on Barry was, it can take 10 s**t ideas to get to the 11th one that’s the good one, and you’ve just got to keep throwing muck against the wall and not have an ego about it. It was such a collaborative set and I was given a lot of creative freedom with Sally, which was such a gift, that it gave me a lot of confidence in my own writing. Sally was a brilliant part, and it’s not always the case for women. Things are getting better, but sometimes I look at my inbox and it can be a bleak Tuesday, when you’re looking at another worried wife role where every line she has is a question or a piece of exposition.
So, I feel inspired to write my own material. I’m not really supposed to be promoting Sisters, but I made my own show called Sisters, and I enjoy being on the other side of the camera so much. I love acting, and I’ll hopefully always be able to do that, but it was very fun to explore all the other sides [behind the scenes], and humbling. You just realize how much work goes into it for years, so that you might stand on a little mark and say a few lines. I’ll never approach acting the same way after understanding just how much blood, sweat and tears goes in before and after that moment.