Do the most epic fight scenes only include muscle-bound superheroes? Can they also have skinny, low-level hitmen?
Check out their reasons why in the video below.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xZFQjeZwaw
Not only does "ronny/lily" provide an exquisite example of how television can be exciting and fresh, with writing and direction from star Bill Hader, but it is an episode-long fight scene that gets everything right from start to finish.
Surveying the battlefield
The episode opens with the introduction of Ronny (Daniel Bernhardt), a seemingly harmless stoner bro in pajama pants. The first shots of the episode also establish the space where the fight will take place, with even more character information about Ronny shared wordlessly (he's messy, he likes kitschy art, he owns a skateboard).
A few minutes later, there's a hilarious cut to reveal that Ronny is actually much more threatening than he initially appears—he has tons of martial arts trophies. Like, tons.
Not only is this a much-needed comedic beat, but it's extremely effective as a storytelling tool and helps increase the level of tension. Nerdwriter calls this "Chekhov's trophy room." Much like Chekhov's gun, audiences know this will come into play at some point.
Finally, these opening shots establish the episode's tone. The takes are long, with smooth, slow pans across the space, with no musical score. It's suspenseful and gripping as well as unique.
The fight choreography
One thing I immediately loved about this episode was the gritty, sloppy fighting style. This does not look like a highly choreographed action scene. This is two guys fighting for their lives.
Nerdwriter points out that this fighting style is in line with Barry's tone as a show overall. The entire series premise is about both the reality and the absurdity of violence. Barry kills people, and his actions have consequences.
So as he and Ronny are punching and grabbing at each other, the stakes are extremely high. When Barry slams Ronny in the throat and injures his windpipe, this sets the direction for the rest of the story.
Surrealism can work
Hader has talked about The Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens" as being an inspiration for "ronny/lily." That episode finds characters Paulie and Christopher confronting a Russian mobster with similarly unexpected violence, eventually cracking the Russian's windpipe. Paulie and Christopher think he's dead, but the man is actually alive and manages to escape, leading them on a chase through freezing woods.
Like "Pine Barrens," Hader allows "ronny/lily" to feel almost otherworldly at times, especially after Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi) appears and is able to fight Barry with almost animalistic furor.
As Nerdwriter points out, this surrealism works because it is speaking to the larger themes of the show. Barry has made choices in his life that have brought him to these ridiculous moments.
The sort of edge-of-death dream sequences he experiences throughout the episode reinforce this. The dreams show his younger self returning from deployment and meeting handler Fuches (Stephen Root) to become a hitman. Now he is fighting off a feral child because of that choice and more recent choices—he has agreed to do what Fuches asked of him.
Why "ronny/lily" is effective
Nerdwriter acknowledges that Barry is not about big-budget action sequences and months-long night shoots. There are no superheroes involved, and the struggle here isn't against White Walkers who want to make the entire world into ice zombies.
But what the episode does have is masterful, human storytelling, with beats that somehow move effortlessly into one another in realistic ways while also being totally unpredictable. Fight scenes like the ones from Barry work without being on a monstrous scale because their violence is realistic, the cinematography is appropriate and respectful of the episode's tone, and the plot ties into the show's larger themes beautifully.
Which universe contains your favorite action sequences: Avengers, Game of Thrones, or Barry? My choice is probably pretty obvious.