Last week’s episode of Barry is not the first that star Bill Hader has written and directed, but it stretched the limits of just how weird and stylistic the show can get. Hader’s script is more ridiculous than previous episodes, but not without the intense image-based reflective scenes that give comedic moments weight in Barry’s character arc. The coverage of scenes is unlike other episodes as well, especially with the uncomfortably long fight scenes. What Bill Hader put together for “ronny/lily” is unlike anything else on television and proof that he can get away with anything in this show.
“ronny/lily” is the fifth episode in Season 2 of Barry and it finds Barry on the mission of killing Detective John Loach’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend to avoid jail time for killing Loach’s partner at the end of Season 1. Barry, on his journey to becoming a better person despite being an assassin, offers the man he is supposed to kill a chance to get out of town instead. In typical Barry fashion, nothing goes as planned. His hit is a pro at martial arts, and so is his almost inhuman daughter, and they both fight back and make Barry’s life a living hell. The episode ends with Barry escaping the police once again, with both his hit and Detective John Loach dead on a grocery store floor. He no longer looks at Fuches as his father-figure but someone he has to get away from if he ever wants to be the person he thinks he can be.
Bill Hader has long been outspoken about his love for classic and foreign cinema. He’s been featured on Criterion’s “Adventures in Moviegoing,” campaigned to save Filmstruck, and attended the TCM Film Festival this year. His love for filmmaking in general, especially cinema that approaches storytelling in revolutionary ways, is evident in his direction of “ronny/lily.” With the coverage of the first scenes in which Barry tries to kill his hit, Ronny Proxin, the camera does more than we usually expect in this show. The show fades in on Ronny returning home, which is a transition that is sparsely used in modern moviemaking let alone television. The camera then pans around Ronny’s living room, following him with the slowness of a Wim Wenders movie as he moseys through the house smoking a joint.
The unhurried tone of these first moments builds such wonderful tension, especially since the show has established that Barry needs to kill this guy to stay out of jail. In a remarkable sequence, the camera lingers on Ronny’s face, smoke floating in the light behind him, as Barry talks to him. We watch Ronny’s unemotional response throughout their conversation without ever seeing Barry until he enters the shot in a hilarious disguise of a ski mask and ski goggles. It’s a style shift in the way the show is shot and is just the beginning of how different this episode is.
The ensuing fight scene has almost zero cuts as Barry and Ronny demolish each other while destroying Ronny’s bedroom. The camera pans in the same unhurried way as before, even when Barry and Ronny wrestle each other out of frame or travel to other rooms. The way this scene is covered reflects a scene that Bill Hader discusses in his episode of “Adventures in Moviegoing.” He talks about the effect of a scene in Taxi Driver where the camera dollies away from Robert De Niro’s character as he has a sad conversation on the phone with Cybill Shepherd’s character: “It’s just awful, awful. And then the camera dollies off of him and just frames up on the hallway and just stands there. I went, ‘Oh, the movie doesn’t want to watch this! The filmmaker, the movie can’t watch this. The movie’s like let’s just go over here for a second. This is too hard.’ And I went, ‘Oh wow, you can do that.’ It just unlocked a thing in my head.” The fight scene that Hader directed takes the time to do the same thing he admired in Taxi Driver. The camera takes a break from the fighting to dolly around the room, highlighting a frame falling off the wall or Ronny’s disheveled bed. This trick is magnificent in a fight scene where the audience desperately wants to know what is happening off-screen. There are so many surprisingly artistic choices in the camerawork of this scene that it’s hard to remember it’s just the first major scene of the episode.
Hader’s script also lends to a more stylistic approach to the direction, since it includes an extended fight scene that takes up half the episode but includes a dream sequence as well. The show has had flashbacks to Barry’s time in Afghanistan and references to how Fuches helped him when he returned home, but none have had the dreamy quality that the sequence in this episode has. Instead of showing Barry returning to the U.S. and running to Fuches in an airport, the sequence is set in a vast, desolate desert. Hundreds of civilians and soldiers reunite from opposite sides of a gorgeous wide shot, and then the camera hones in on Barry and his reaction to seeing Fuches. The dream is cut between multiple scenes throughout the episode, always before or after an event during the episode timeline reflects or contrasts the feeling in the dream.
In the after-episode extras, Hader explains that “ronny/lily” is about Barry’s changing relationship with Fuches. It’s clear throughout the episode that Barry is tired of being treated like a murderous robot by Fuches, who has no concern for Barry’s safety anymore. It’s the dream aspect of the show that drives that home for the audience; it shows, abstractly, how their current dynamic differs from what Barry thought their relationship was going to be like when he came home from war. It does this without any words. These dream sequences are just one example of how this episode goes beyond its predecessors to create an exciting way to tell Barry’s story.
Along with the seriousness of Hader’s script, it takes the ridiculousness of the show and amps it up to overdrive for this episode. Hader is able to combine the artistry of his fight scene or the seriousness of Barry’s resulting injury with comedic moments, a combination that demonstrates why the show itself is so different and brilliant. This episode not only has jokes residing in serious conversations but the obstacles that Barry and Fuches encounter are hilarious as well. The last thing anyone expects to see after Barry thinks he’s killed Ronny is the latter’s young daughter, who is just as capable of kicking Barry’s ass as her father was.
The daughter character is weird. The kind of weird that, if not played right, could turn the audience off from believing it’s happening. The show doesn’t shy away from the strangeness of her character, or the fact that Barry and Fuches keep encountering her; in fact, it embraces how odd she is and focuses on it. Similar to the way the jokes are delivered in the show, the ridiculousness of the script doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Hader has done such an excellent job of streamlining the comedic aspects of the show and the plot of the episode so that they’re inseparable. The script of this episode is a clear example of Hader’s ability not just to be funny, but to write comedy and drama alongside each other brilliantly and effortlessly.
This episode of Barry pushes the boundaries of what we expect from television with cinematic camerawork, dream sequences, and weird comedy. It proves that Bill Hader is remarkably talented, not just as an actor but as an artist in general. If there is such a thing as a television auteur, Bill Hader qualifies for that title easily. “ronny/lily” feels like it will be the best episode of the season already, but anyone who watches Barry knows that it just keeps getting better, and the main reason for that is Bill Hader.
Barry airs on HBO Sundays after Game of Thrones.