How HBO’s Barry Subverts Male Dramatic Expectations

Primetime television has no shortage of male anti-hero protagonists at the forefront of a momentous conflict in recent memory. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men and countless others have all spawned the self-centered alpha male archetype that seems to spiral into this conflict due to the nature of the character. If you go back and re-watch any of them, you’ll quickly notice that the narrative is presented with a solution very early in the run.

For Walter White, all he would have to do to resolve his main conflict would be to accept the job offered to him by Elliot Schwartz to avoid destabilizing New Mexico’s meth economy and support its treatment and recovery. family. For Tony Soprano, it’s just about being open-minded. The therapy tries to help him with this notion, but the preoccupation with lust and the refusal to see the world differently from his peers would prevent him from doing so. Going back to one of those male dramas, it’s obvious that instead of the conflict being initially presented in a clear way, it’s presented simply because of its main character’s temperament, which ends up creating or exacerbating the conflict. . That’s because, in the case of our previous hard-headed stalwarts, that temper values ​​his pride above all else.


Enter Bill Hader as Barry Berkman, an ex-Marine turned hitman who, despite his job title, is rather unassuming and would rather it be that way, not thanks to circumstances. The show barry focuses on its namesake whose occupation brings him to Los Angeles to kill an actor; Barry stumbles to join his acting class and find fulfillment, but in his search for meaning, he discovers that his demons from the past have followed him on his journey to Hollywood.

Barry is tasked with eliminating this member of his acting class, which proves difficult as Barry continues to pursue what he thinks is his true goal outside of the one told to him by his boss, Fuches. , and the dark past that leads his peers. associate it with violence. As the series progresses, his two occupations begin to grow closer to each other, even as our protagonist attempts to distance himself from his history of violence.

barry is a show about redemption

barryThe ultimate conflict, for both the character and the audience, is that of redemption. The core of the narrative presents this idea immediately, with the first real exposure to Barry’s occupation coinciding with the solution to the version of the character presented to us in the pilot episode. Barry is almost painfully aware of his tendencies and the flaws he automatically brings to the table, but it’s this awareness that acts as the driving force behind his development. Redemption and proving his own worth to others is at the forefront of Barry’s priorities throughout the show, doing whatever it takes to prove he can be a really good man while being forced to smear his ledger growing over time.

How barry Manages anxiety

However, his line of work isn’t exactly one that likes its workers leaving while he’s alive, and while Barry isn’t all bad, he’s far from a hero. Rather than pride hindering progress like our aforementioned leading men, for Barry, it’s actually submission. It becomes painfully clear that once he finds his true purpose, acting, his motivation begins to wane when it comes to his current job. However, to put it simply, Barry has no limits at the start of the show. This changes over time as the relationship with his classmate Sally Reed (played by Sarah Goldberg) progresses, but in principle he’s just not a guy used to saying the word “no”.

Related: Barry: How The HBO Show Questions If Psychopaths Can Ever Change

This is partially attributed to Barry’s anxiety disorder, which Bill Hader said The Hollywood Reporter was based on his time on Saturday Night Live, which leads him to let others speak for him. His “manager”, Monroe Fuches, is seen as setting Barry’s boundaries to him in order to ensure that his aspirations do not get in the way of ongoing operations. At first, outright forbidding Barry from acting, Fuches reluctantly accepts the promise that he’ll still be doing the dirty laundry.

Along with a lack of purpose, Barry Berkman starts out not entirely knowing what he wants, until the opportunity steps in. Far from the likes of Tony Soprano and Walter White, who instead of shunning controversy put their agendas at the forefront of the narrative no matter who it hurt, including their family and friends, only to realize the consequences of their pride. after the deed has been done.

Corruption and its relationship with male protagonists

The other major subversion this male drama takes from its predecessors is its take on corruption. breaking Bad isn’t a show about a man “just trying to do good with his family”, it’s a horrifying introspection into how pride, and more specifically male pride, can affect its victims in the most extreme. We see mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White become the Greater Southwest’s most notoriously cruel drug kingpin. We see him using meanness as almost an escape from the hell he seems to have trapped himself in, only to inflict more pain on those he loves in the process. He even gets a pseudonym, Heisenberg, probably the most villainous nickname a drug dealer can have. At this point, the writing isn’t just on the wall, it’s a 6-foot neon sign.

Related: Breaking Bad: Why Skyler White Is Unfairly Naughty

Barry’s relationship with malevolence is very different. For him, this is seen as a component of his own neuroses and isolation, so desperately wanting to be loved by those around him, but conflicted if they even should. His corruption is not something that developed, it is inherent. Rather than letting him control him, his whole life revolves around trying to free himself from the chains imposed on him by his mental problems and those who exploit him. One of the main conflicts of the series is whether he can ever overcome this inherent corruption (anxiety, depression, violence, psychosis); Can Barry ever change?

How Barry treats his co-stars

But danced enough, the real test of any protagonist is how well they play with those around them. As the show progresses, Barry proves fierce in his loyalty (something the season three finale certainly punctuated). This is seen most poignantly in his relationship with his acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (played by The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler). Cousineau, without knowing it, makes the mistake of falling in love with the chief detective of the case in which Barry is the elusive culprit. Naturally, the nature of mercenary work takes its course, and Cousineau is heartbroken, and later filled with rage upon learning the identity of his killer.

Where most in his profession would shrug his shoulders, Barry solidified his character by spending the majority of season three trying to reconcile with his mentor. Again, trying to prove his worth not only to himself but to those he loves, only to have the prison of his mind and actions tighten its grip on him even more.

Contrast that with Tony Soprano, another character whose morality is constantly questioned under different reasoning. Through The Sopranos, Tony faces threats to his family or his profession, both of which are met with an exciting desire for revenge. Rather than making his profession a requirement for trouble, Tony relishes the idea of ​​getting revenge on those who hurt those around him. For him, it doesn’t matter who else gets hurt in the process as long as justice is done.

How Barry Handles Violence

At the end of the day, barry falls under the television umbrella which focuses on the male figure’s relationship to violence and escapism. In previous iterations, our proud front men seemed to lead unfulfilling lives from their perspective. Merely living an uneventful life was not enough satisfaction, and so the need for escape in the most corrupting ways is pursued. barry takes those same central themes and simply inverts their importance.

For Barry, the life of corruption he has been given and gifted is his own personal hell. He craves simplicity, dreaming of grocery shopping with Sally, having children, all aspects of existence considered bland and “not enough” by his thematic predecessors like Walter White. This relationship again paints a new picture of the viewer’s relationship with Barry. Unlike watching a descent into madness unfold as audiences would have before, Barry relentlessly tries to fight his way out of the madness. The ultimate battle is not to defend the stocks in order to redeem the man, but to defend the man to redeem the stocks.