Sooner or later in our lifetime, whether life-changing or inconsequential, we inevitably reach a crossroads where what you do comes into conflict with what you love. Should you take a job at a soulless office with cubicles that double as prison cells, but pays well, or spend your days painting, with joy, but consistently struggling to come up with rent? What if you’re really good at that first thing and very mediocre at the latter? What if that first thing is killing people?
Barry, HBO’s new dramedy that aired its season one finale last Sunday, centers on Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), a Marine-turned-hitman-turned-actor. While on a routine hit, Barry follows his target to an acting class, gets mistaken for a new student, and realizes that acting might just be that thing that gives him purpose, something he has been without since his time as a Marine. The thought of being an actor makes Barry smile, even after he realizes his particular set of skills makes him more suited to be a hitman than a stage actor.
Most of the show’s drama, then, arises when these two things are put into conflict, forcing Barry to choose between them. Yet, while that conflict is interesting, the best moments of Barry are moments where killing people, something Barry is comfortable doing and can aptly compartmentalize, but ideally would like to stop, becomes the one thing that can fuel his acting, taking him from a meh actor to okay. It’s not a coincidence that Barry’s two best performances — the monologue he delivers to Gene in the pilot and his line in the class’ performance of Macbeth — are the result of his two lives, as a killer and an actor, coalescing.
Conversely, we have Oksana Astankova, aka Villanelle (Jodie Comer), and Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) of Killing Eve. Eve is the instinctive agent who regularly, and happily, takes her work home with her, and leaves her home to go to work in the middle of the night when she can’t sleep. Villanelle appears to enjoy the immersive experience of stalking a target, then toying with him or her before taking their life, like a devious child who manipulates a magnifying glass under sunlight to burn a captured critter.
There are four permutations here. If you’re lucky, you love what you do and you’re also good at it. On the opposite end, you’re indifferent about what you do and you’re not particularly good or bad at it (presumably, you stay because of the money). What you have in between, then, is loving something you’re not good at, and being good at something you don’t love.
Eve is clearly the first. Villanelle is the opposite. She gets some pleasure in the moment, but she seems just as content pushing and playing with Konstantin’s buttons, and she shows a knack for stalking and killing, but can also be impulsive and undisciplined, which balances out to make her an average killer. Barry, then, is both of the cases in the middle. Barry the actor loves what he does, but while he’s getting better, he’s not great at it. Barry the hitman is great at what he does, more professional and composed than Villanelle, but he doesn’t enjoy it at all.
Barry is completely stuck in the middle, caught at a crossroads between doing what he loves, but isn’t good at, and what he’s good at, but doesn’t love, so, naturally, he tries to get away with doing both, which culminates in the season finale, when he’s forced to do what he’s good at, again, so he can continue doing what he loves. He kills so he doesn’t have to ever kill again.
Doing something you don’t love is a losing proposition. If you’re good at it, it may become harder for you to step away, even as it chips away at your soul, as we see with Barry, and if you’re bad at it, then you’re just plain miserable. The take-away, then, is this: Do what you love. If you happen to be good at what you love, then you’re golden. If you’re terrible at it, you probably won’t be for very long because of how much you love it. Let’s just hope that thing you love isn’t killing people.