Note: the finale was not made available for review.

A star rating of 5 out of 5.

HBO's Barry could have bowed out with season 3. Had its co-creator and star Bill Hader, who also writes and directs on the dark comedy decided to leave it there, the show's modest but enthusiastic faithful would have understood. The finale was perfect, bringing a much-needed end to the titular hitman's bloodletting when he was arrested for the murder of detective Janice Moss, and once again forcing viewers to confront Barry's trail of destruction, this time in the form of Janice's father Jim, who lives a solitary life following his daughter's murder.

The last image we see is of him standing alone, head bowed, his grief palpable. A lone photograph of his daughter, cut down in her prime, is all that now remains.

It's a hushed, reflective moment that encapsulates the beating heart of this narrative in a matter of seconds. The man responsible for Jim's pain is gone, but his hand is felt long after.

Barry has always served as an antidote to the glamorised violence that has long been a staple of stories about gangland retribution and war, taking care to expose how taking a human life – in Barry's case a seemingly never-ending string of human lives – warps a person, and how everyone and everything around Barry is also sucked into his vortex of ruin and damaged, often beyond repair.

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Heading into season 4, the question of whether Barry is capable of looking inside himself in search of change looms large.

With Barry now behind bars, he has more time than ever to think long and hard about his extensive rap sheet. In the past, he's refused to go there, refused to stare into the abyss, but it's become increasingly difficult to run away and hide – and even more so now that he has been apprehended.

Gene describes him as "irredeemable", which is fair. If you've struggled to keep tabs on all of Barry's hits, asking "What?" and "Who!", you're not unobservant because that's the intended effect. He's unleashed tsunami levels of bloodshed on the orders of Fuches and Hank, and acted of his own accord, too. The "Who?" and "What?" no longer matter. The "Why?", however, remains paramount.

While there can be no happy ending for Barry, regardless of what his life looks like at the series' end, with forgiveness firmly off the table, there's one door still left open to him: accountability. And that's something we've yet to see.

"I'm a good person, that is who I am," he tells himself, and he takes steps in season 4 to become the person he so desperately wants to be, with the show experimenting with its format in a bold and unexpected way. But he knows, deep in his soul, as we do, that the easy road will not bring him the peace he craves.

As a viewer, I want Hader to allow Barry that moment of honesty, even if it's only a flash. Character development is the backbone of good storytelling, after all. But if he remains entrenched in his ways, unable to claw himself out of the bog, it would be a depressing yet realistic depiction of what it means to be Barry Berkman.

Then there's Sally, who returns to her hometown of Joplin, Missouri, where we meet her parents for the first time and gain further insight into why she is the way she is. While suffering a panic attack after learning that Barry was the one who had killed Janice, and while she was just a stone's throw from the crime scene, her mother, who is sitting right beside her, doesn't console her daughter, unable to muster a comforting squeeze or even acknowledge her pain. Instead, she stares blankly ahead, more concerned with ordering her chilli cheese tots.

Her dad is a glass-half-full man whose only concern appears to be keeping the peace rather than grappling with what's happening between his wife and daughter (an approach that's worked extremely well for everyone in this show). He's transformed Sally's room into a "man cave", with the rainbow stickers and posters from her younger, simpler days replaced by deer heads and other dead creatures from his hunting escapades – talk about a metaphor! It's not the welcome home she wants or needs, with her mother rubbing further salt in the wound with her comments about her daughter's relationship history.

"You sure can pick 'em," she says cooly.

There's a weariness to Mrs Reed and as season 4 progresses, we see that take hold in Sally too, albeit in a more dramatic fashion, with Barry once again showing us how destructive behaviour cycles are born and sustained.

Season 4 also spends significant time with lovers Noho Hank and Cristobal, who embark on a fresh venture together in a bid to take back LA. But working with a spouse can be risky and the pair clash over their divergent business strategies and worldviews. In the past, external factors have threatened their relationship but on this occasion, the pressures are internal, which adds an interesting dynamic to the duo.

And lest we forget Fuches, Barry's former handler who shaped him into the killing machine he is today. He's also in the clink alongside him and goes on quite the emotional journey in season 4, arriving quickly at a place of repentance for using his status as a father figure within Barry's life to prey on his emotional vulnerability. But as we have seen throughout, committing to change is far easier said than done.

We also see that with Gene. The acting coach spent much of season 3 atoning for his sins, attempting to build bridges with his son and those he'd wronged over the course of his career. But when an enticing opportunity rears its head in season 4, Barry once again asks the question that continues to plague all of its characters: are people really capable of fundamental change?

After a lifetime of centring himself, unattuned to the impact it has had on those around him, is it too late for Gene?

Understandably, you're probably of the opinion that season 4 is a horribly grim affair, with the final chapter continuing in much the same vein as season 3, which provided fewer gags than Barry fans had been accustomed to. The subject matter has always been challenging, but the penultimate season ramped up the intensity tenfold. But while the writing is as unflinching as ever, with horrible moments scattered liberally throughout, I found myself laughing more this time around, particularly when it came to the scenes involving incompetent gang members, which have always been the show's light relief. There's a conversation about the Fast and Furious franchise among a group of grisly crooks that's particularly brilliant and helps lower the audience's collective heart-rate in the midst of near-constant tension.

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When Hader was asked by Vogue what he planned to do after the show had wrapped, his first port of call was a holiday, which is both wise and deserved when you consider what's required to create something of this magnitude.

Barry season 4 is Hader's pièce de résistance. There's simply nothing like it.

Barry is available to watch on Sky Comedy and NOWsign up for Sky TV here. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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