Henry Winkler explains Gene’s ending and aftermath

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for the “Barry” series finale, now airing on Max.

Sunday evening, HBO presented the end of two major series after four seasons each: “Succession” and “Barry”. The shows launched a few months apart in 2018, and now they’ve ended their broadcasts on the same night. After “Succession” ended less than an hour earlier, Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root and Anthony Carrigan bid bloody goodbyes to their characters.

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After stocking up on weapons, Barry (Hader) drives furiously to rescue Sally (Goldberg) and their son John (Zachary Golinger) after NoHo Hank (Carrigan) kidnaps them in the final episode. Along the way, Barry prays to God, hoping his past sins will be washed away and he will be redeemed after his life of violence. But when he gets to Hank’s hideout, he’s missed all the action. Before he got there, the potential peace offer between Hank and Fuches (Root) to team up against Barry fell apart and their gangs slaughtered each other. Fuches wanted Hank to admit that he killed his own boyfriend Cristobal (Michael Irby) in his quest for power, but he refused. Hank dies against a golden statue of Cristobal, and Fuches helps John and Sally escape before he disappears.

Barry, Sally and John are finally reunited, but Sally wants Barry to turn himself in after reading that Gene Cousineau (Winkler) has been named the prime suspect in the murder of Janice Moss, which happened in the Season 1 finale. Barry doesn’t think that’s what God wants for him, even though he is – of course – the one who killed Janice. The next morning, Sally and John leave without telling Barry. He drives to Gene’s house, thinking Sally and John are hiding there, but only finds Gene’s talent agent, Tom Posorro (Fred Melamed). Just as Barry tells Tom he’s turning himself in to the police, Gene bursts out of his room and shoots him in the head and chest – “Oh, wow,” Barry says as he dies. With Barry dead, Gene sits on the couch in chilling silence.

And then the finale takes an even more shocking turn. There is another time jump, and “Barry” cuts to a cheering audience for a stage performance. An older Sally bows as the director of a high school play, and a teenage John (now played by “It” star Jaeden Martell) is in the crowd. After the show, he asks his mother if he can go to his friend’s house. Together with his friend, John illegally watches a film called “The Mask Collector” – a film depicting the “true” story of Janice’s murder. Actors playing Barry, Gene, Janice, Sally, and even young John show how Gene murdered Janice, framed Barry, and killed him. Now Gene is serving life in prison and Barry has been buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.

It’s a shocking reversal, with the whole world believing Gene was Janice’s killer and Barry was an innocent veteran who just wanted to be an actor. John ends the film with an ominous smile on his face: does he believe the film’s propaganda or does he know the truth about his father?

With VarietyWinkler talks about how he and Hader shot the pivotal scene of Gene killing Barry, what Gene’s life is like in prison, and how he plays out that final shot with John.

Has it ever struck you that this is the last weekend of barry?

It strikes me now that I am not going back to work with this group of human beings. This great character is now part of my history, not my present. I’m sad. I understand it was time for Alec Berg and Bill Hader to move on. They had different fish to fry, and you have to respect that. I’m grateful to have had this.

When did you find out that Gene was going to be the one to kill Barry?

They rewrote the scripts as they went, so halfway through the season Bill said, “Hey, you wanna know how it ends?” I said of course. He said, “You’re shooting me,” and no words came out of my mouth. I had no idea how to deal with the fact that I killed the man who shot the woman I loved, and the man I thought was more my son than my son – who I also drawn. I was just like [Winkler mimics his mind being blown].

It’s also a good impression of what happened to Barry’s head. How many takes did the shooting scene last?

I shot him twice, and I think we only did it twice. I shot him once, and he said, “You don’t have to do that, Monsieur Cousineau”, and I shot him a second time. But in the final, he went “Wow”. Just wow. It’s always breathtaking.

Why do you think they went with the shorter line?

Until the last moments of the season, he always believed that he was my son and that I loved him and that he loved me. He never imagined that he had killed the woman I loved and that it would have affected me. It never occurred to him. When I was brought into this room and blamed and they figured out it was me, I went crazy. I think at that moment, at the end of that scene where I have no words, the switch flipped. I think the light went out in my brain.

After Gene kills Barry, he just sits there in silence. Was there ever any dialogue written for this moment?

I always sat down. I imagined that I hadn’t even analyzed what had happened and what I had done. I just sat there and stared into the abyss, which was to become my prison cell.

There’s a scene before Gene kills Barry, where he grabs a gun from his room and looks like he might turn it on himself. How close was Gene to making this decision?

It never occurred to me. I never thought about actually killing myself. I am too precious. Gene and his own mind were just too precious to kill himself. There’s always another student for Barnum and Bailey.

What would Gene think of his interpretation in “The Mask Collector”?

Gene wouldn’t have cared how he was portrayed, that he was just a prop and a cog in a wheel. He is the wheel.

I would like to know your opinion on the last scene where John watches the film. Do you think he understands the real story of what happened between Gene and Barry, or does he believe the movie version?

He’s seen enough. He knew his mother had given him vodka to put him to sleep so he wouldn’t disturb her. He saw his father and heard him talk about madness in the desert. He watched his mother slowly disintegrate in front of him, taking him to Los Angeles and having this plan that didn’t exist that put him in tremendous danger. My instinct is, of course, that’s what it was. That’s what he was going through.

Barry eventually dies, but is portrayed as a hero, while Gene is in jail and his reputation is destroyed. Who has a worse ending?

It’s amazing, isn’t it? He is dead, he has no more life, what life would Barry have had? Gene has no life, he is in prison and unable to defend himself. It will be reduced to mush. Someone will put a collar around his neck and lead him. Except that if he comes to his senses one day, I see him setting up a theater club in prison. And I must say that cigarettes, fresh coffee, sweets can all be exchanged.

Do you think he receives visitors?

Who will visit them? Maybe Sally will feel comfortable in his life and feel sorry for him, because I think she loved him. I think she got something from him, because the first time she starts her acting class, she becomes him. So he had to get into his essence somehow.

After Gene accidentally shoots his son, where do you think their relationship goes from here?

I wonder if the blood runs deeper than the hate, because every time I approached him, no matter the season, he put up a wall and I was able to chisel him. Maybe he’s bringing my grandson to visit, so now I have three visitors.

Is there a story left to tell with Gene? Will he spend the rest of his life in prison?

Well, he’s a killer and it’s his first time. I don’t know the law, so I don’t know if he goes out for good behavior and then he would come back to what he knows.

Gene was so close to hearing Barry say he was going to surrender. What if he had heard Barry say that?

He would have been happy. He would have been there at the door of the courthouse when Barry walked through. But you are where you are. So I can’t imagine it would be any different. He’s a peddler with limited talent, and I think if he hadn’t gone to jail, that’s how he would have lived his life.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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