So, like many a “Barry” aficionado, Goldberg speculated where the finale might carry her character, the ambitious actress turned on-the-lam accomplice Sally Reed. The penultimate episode set the scene: Sally and her young son, John (Zachary Golinger), are being held hostage by NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), the Chechen mobster with a vendetta against the father of Sally’s child, contract killer Barry Berkman (series co-creator and finale director Bill Hader).
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Goldberg says. “I was thinking: ‘Is she going to kill Barry? Is she going to kill herself? Is she going to kill her son? What’s going to happen?’”
None of those scenarios played out. After Barry’s ex-handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), fatally shoots Hank, Sally and John escape the ensuing carnage, then abandon Barry for good. It’s ultimately Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), the acting teacher Barry long tormented, who unceremoniously puts a bullet in his former pupil’s head. As we learn in the show’s final moments, Gene takes the blame for Barry’s crimes, the hit man and former Marine is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and Hollywood’s retelling of events lionizes a monster.
Sally, meanwhile, gets a serene ending. After a time jump — indeterminable, but long enough for her son to suddenly be played by 20-year-old Jaeden Martell — we find Sally directing a high school production of “Our Town” and driving home through a snowy landscape, peacefully glancing at a bouquet in the passenger seat.
“I thought: ‘Huh. Interesting. Okay,’” Goldberg says of reading the scene. “It wasn’t until we shot it that I realized the beauty and the simplicity of it and the poetry of it. This is someone who, when we met her four seasons ago, the dream would have been to be a movie star and have an Oscar on that front seat rather than a bouquet of supermarket flowers. What I thought was so beautiful was the contentment that she’s found in the simple joy of putting on a play.”
Speaking over video chat last week, the Emmy-nominated actress did a deep dive into the “Barry” series finale, reflected on her journey with the show and looked ahead to what’s next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Hello, Sarah. Thank you for joining me. Where are you calling from today?
A: I’m in London, where I live. How about you?
Q: I’m calling from Arlington — which, as we now know, is where Barry Berkman was laid to rest.
A: That’s right! Correct. The final scene of the crime.
Q: Let’s start with Sally’s ending. What did you make of her final scenes at the high school?
A: Sally’s always had this duality where there is an artist with integrity in there, but she was also sort of battling her more narcissistic, ruthlessly ambitious tendencies. There’s something about this ending that really is beautiful, because she has found peace in the pure art of it. However, we still see this tiny snippet of when her son says, “I love you,” and instead of saying, “I love you, too,” she asks for validation and needs to know that the show is good. So I feel like we kept that duality in a kind of muted way all the way to the end.
Q: Hank has kidnapped Sally and John when the episode begins. Were the scenes at the end of Episode 7 and start of the finale the first time you’ve worked with Carrigan?
A: Yes, which is devastating for me, because I love Anthony, and he’s so talented. It was just such a joy for us to actually be able to look into each other’s eyes and act together. There was a pitch for Season 2 that NoHo and Sally ended up in the same Pilates class and they bonded and became friends. They were talking, like, “My Barry does this,” and, “My Barry drove me crazy because of this,” and they never know [it’s the same Barry]. But, unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead end.
Q: Early in the finale, we get a scene in which Sally confesses to her son that she killed a man and admits that she’s a bad mother. What did that moment mean for Sally’s arc?
A: It’s actually, if you think about it, the only scene in the entire four seasons where we see Sally being completely honest and dropping all facade. I felt like it needed to be very, very, very simple. And I really liked Bill’s choice to film the top half [of the scene] with my back to the camera, almost like it’s too much for her to be that honest face to face, and she has to build up to it. It was beautifully written, and it felt like an important turn for her. I mean, she thinks they’re both going to die. So that’s what it took for Sally to be honest: a gun to her head, literally.
Q: For a show that’s purportedly a comedy, you played your fair share of trauma.
A: I’ll tell you, I signed up for a comedy, and I never thought I’d have to cry and scream so much. But I knew there was going to be an emotionality to this character that was going to require the full spectrum. For me, it’s where the gold is.
Q: How did you react to Barry’s death?
A: I was just as shocked as any other audience member, even though I had read it on the page. It was such a mundane death, in a way. Obviously, there’s the shock that Gene makes this choice, and I thought it was interesting to have it be Gene, who, in many ways, would be the least likely character to kill him. To just let it be this quick, clumsy moment — the way it would be in life — I thought was a brave choice. How did it land for you?
Q: I echo your thoughts. For a character who had stumbled his way through so many similar situations and survived, at some point there was going be a split-second moment when his luck ran out. So it felt fitting. And on a callback level, I love that it was Chekhov’s Rip Torn gun that killed Barry.
A: Yes! Love the Rip Torn gun. It’s like “The Seagull”: You put a gun in Act 1 …
Q: What did you think was going through Barry’s mind in that scene?
A: For a split second, he finally realizes he needs to do the right thing. He is going to turn himself in, and that’s what he’s about to say. Then it’s over. If “Barry” is a morality tale — which it is, for me — that’s the thesis of the show: “Am I a good person?” And he just makes bad choice after bad choice; they all do. In the finale, everybody’s confronted with a moment to make a good choice or a bad choice, and it’s the final tipping point for each of the characters.
Q: I was going to ask about that. Fuches and Sally are confronted with their sins, and they both repent, in a way. Barry has the chance to repent, in the scene with Sally at the hotel, and doesn’t. Hank has the chance and doesn’t. Barry and Hank each get a bullet, and Fuches and Sally do not. What do you make of that?
A: I love that nothing is complete. Gene’s in jail for something he didn’t do. Barry has a myth around his heroic status that is a lie. Justice hasn’t been served. But it is interesting — I actually hadn’t drawn the parallel. I mean, it’s quite obvious, so I’m surprised I didn’t think of it, because it’s really good that, of course, the ones who actually own up to their darker parts survive, and the ones that can’t, don’t. But I’m not sure that there’s supposed to be a clean-cut message there of, like, “You shall be absolved.”
Q: After the time jump, we see Sally turn down a date with one of her fellow teachers. How did you play that scene?
A: We’ve seen Sally go through multiple abusive relationships in the show, with men and with her parents, and it feels like an active choice on Sally’s part to be finished with that part of her life, at least for now. There’s no malice; there’s no drama to it. She’s quite content to just decline.
Q: The show concludes with Barry and Sally’s son watching the movie version of this story that gets the facts wrong, as we learn that Gene is serving life in prison and that Barry is publicly lauded as a hero. How did you feel about that ending?
A: I thought it was brilliant, honestly. That ending is so bleak, but it tracks with the tone of the show and with the commentary that we’ve made from the beginning around Hollywood. I think that, in popular entertainment, there’s a real push for heroes, and we want to know: “Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy?” We want binary storytelling for simplicity to put order in a world that there is no order in. What I love about “Barry” is it has never catered to that at all. All the characters sit in the gray. And I feel like this ending is really fitting with that.
Q: You co-created and star in “SisterS,” which just launched on IFC, and have joined the cast of HBO’s “Industry” for Season 3. Beyond that, what do you want to do going forward?
A: I really want to continue to create my own work. Making “SisterS” was a labor of love. It took seven years to get it made; we made it on a shoestring, and it feels like only the beginning. It’s not that I’m out of love with acting; I love acting, and there’s a freedom in acting. But something kind of woke up in me. On “Barry,” it’s not every show that actors get asked for their input. Alec Berg and Bill Hader were always so collaborative that way, and it gave me a lot of confidence in my own ideas.
Q: That’s all I have. Thanks again for your time.
A: Enjoy the rest of your day. Go visit Barry’s grave!