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‘Barry’ addresses mental health in absurd ways


Photo Courtesy of HBO

As HBO’s hit series “Barry” enters its fourth and final season, the show takes what could be its darkest turn yet: sentencing Barry to the confines of prison for the entire season. But behind the constant action and tumultuous plot lies a thorough examination of mental health and trauma.

Without spoiling too much, the series follows its lead character Barry Berkman, a former marine who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, as he tries to find purpose in life through his second career: being a hitman. But after following a target to Los Angeles and trailing him into an acting class, Barry finds that he has a passion for acting and must continue to hide his dark past while trying to accept his new life. 

The show makes it extremely clear that Barry’s struggles with PTSD come as a direct result of the violence that he was forced to go through during his time with the Marines, despite the fact that he has no real desire to do so. Even the opening shot of the show depicts Barry becoming physically ill after having to carry out a hit. 

Throughout the series, Barry struggles with symptoms of depression and anxiety. He has trouble sleeping, experiences panic attacks and has a general sense of hopelessness regarding his life. These symptoms all line up with a person who has a distinct mental illness, and the show does an excellent job of portraying them in a realistic and relatable way.

One of the most powerful aspects of the show’s portrayal of mental health is the way it depicts the role that trauma plays in Barry’s struggles. In flashbacks, we see that Barry was traumatized as a child by his abusive father, which is what led him to seek control over his life and environment and join the Marines in the first place. 

However, the violence and trauma he experiences in his work only serve to worsen his existing mental health issues, creating a vicious cycle of pain and suffering. Barry struggles to really connect with anyone because he fears that they will find out too much and he will be forced to kill them. 

Despite the serious subject matter, “Barry” is also a very funny show, and this is where its brilliance really shines through. The humor is often dark and absurd, but it serves to underscore the seriousness of the themes the show is exploring. By combining moments of humor with scenes of intense violence or emotional turmoil, the show highlights the absurdity of Barry’s situation and the lengths he will go to in order to cope with his struggles.

Series showrunner Bill Hader (and the actor who plays Barry) commented on this combination of comedy and drama by stating that it is similar to real life, compared to most other shows. 

“Bad things happen to you, and you go through it. When I see a thing that’s just like, ‘Everything’s great,’ I get very annoyed. Then when I watch something that’s sad, or watch a drama, and it’s humorless, I also get annoyed, said Hader. 

Another key aspect of the show’s portrayal of mental health is the way it depicts the importance of seeking help. Throughout the series, Barry is encouraged to talk about his feelings and seek professional help, finally realizing that he is unable to solve his problems on his own. 

Though this dark comedy creates a situation that might be one of the most absurd on television, the ways in which it deals with mental health struggles and addresses them might be the most realistic. 

And as Barry’s final chapter begins to end, it will be interesting to see how the show deals with the finality of his struggles. Will he eventually find peace with the life that he has created, or will it result in an ending unlike anything the show has ever portrayed?

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Jack Kyle, Print Managing Editor
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