Fargo: Palindrome

Posted on December 15, 2015


Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons in FX’s “Fargo.”


If we’re being honest, then we have to admit that our initial reaction to this finale was one of disappointment. Not because of how events played out, though. We didn’t necessarily come into the finale expecting fireworks or grand denouements, but we were surprised by how … quietly it ended.

In fact, looking back on the episode, we think everyone’s fate turned out to be emotionally or artistically satisfying in many ways. As much as the story made us want to see Ed and Peggy ride off into the California sunset and open the artisanal butcher shop of their dreams there, there was far too much setup about how deeply unhappy and dysfunctional their marriage was at its core. That desire to see them get out alive was almost certainly deliberately instilled in the audience just so we could experience the crashing disappointment of reality intruding on our fantasies, making us kin to Peggy in that one horrible moment. No, it wasn’t what happened that had us feeling underwhelmed at first, it was how things happened. Or more accurately, how it was conveyed. What we didn’t realize until we spent time pondering it was that this wasn’t the season finale. The season finale was last week, when flying saucers showed up and there was bloodshed and death on a massive scale. This was something rarer in television: the season epilogue. Even though the fates of several characters were still in the air, the story was effectively over by the start of this episode. This was an hour-plus devoted to the tying up of loose ends.

Of course, this being Fargo, plenty of loose ends were … if not left untied, they were certainly very loosely tied. The world of Fargo isn’t always a world where justice is meted out in a fair and tidy manner. While the violent and casually evil Gerhardts all got their comeuppances in ways satisfying or poignant (as reflected by that haunting opening montage confirming that pretty much the only Gerhardt left is poor Charlie, sitting in that jail cell), Hanzee, after going on a shocking killing spree and racking up the biggest body count of the show, is left to go build a better life for himself, even if it’s obvious in his final scene that violence will always be a part of it. The flip side of that (or the parallel, because this season was obsessed with the concept) is Mike Milligan, the other murderous man of color in the story who, like Hanzee, spent most of it striving or wishing for a better life than one in service solely to enriching and enforcing the needs of white men who disregard them. In an ironic and Coen-esque twist, he gets exactly what he wanted, not realizing until the last second that what he wanted was to be boxed in even further.

As for the sad, but momentarily triumphant tale of the Blumquists, it had to come to an end in the only way that made sense, death and truth-telling. The first because it was inevitable and the second because it was necessary. Despite Lou’s romantic insistence that Ed was just a noble warrior who died protecting his family, Ed pretty much died asking Peggy for a divorce and largely blaming her for his fate. Not that he didn’t deserve to have that moment of truth before he died, just that it stands in defiance of any attempts to romanticize it. Especially since that entire scene in the meat locker (how ridiculously appropriate) was all about Peggy’s delusionally romantic view of her life crashing down around her. It turns out she’s not, as she imagined, a heroine in her story. She’s just the flighty, self-absorbed woman who set off a string of events that wound up in mass death. And it was just and appropriate that she come face to face with that by the end of her tale. We’re not sorry we cheered for her to survive, but we have to admit it feels right that she has to pay for it. And Kirsten Dunst earned her Emmy nom if not outright win in this episode. Knocked it out of the park.

And while we’re handing out imaginary Emmys, we have to toss one Ted Danson’s way for that beautiful scene where he explains … basically his whole philosophy of life and his belief that if people could just communicate more openly and honestly with each other, the world would be a paradise. It was quiet, it was kind, and it was as devastating as a death scene because Danson imbued Hank’s words with a quiet embarrassment that his dream will never come true.

Perhaps it was the fate of the extended Solverson family that took so much getting used to for this episode to work for us. We never expected an explanation on the UFOs (and of course, never got one), but we really had to recalibrate our settings to accept a more or less happy and loving end for this family. Yes, we know Betsy’s going to die, but as Hank noted, it’s about the moments when a family is together that count more than where they might be down the line. And as Lou noted, it’s about doing whatever you can to protect those moments and make them last longer. And as Betsy noted in her vision of the future, this family will go on, full of happiness and love, regardless of what happens to her. That’s why it took so long for us to come around on the brilliance of this final episode of the season. We saw a murderous family ripped apart and destroyed. We saw an unhappy marriage and a husband and wife who had no idea how to communicate with each other come to its sad and tragic end after destroying or ending countless lives around it. No, we didn’t get justice or triumph. We got a quiet and beautiful reminder that love and respect and family bonds still exist in this world and will continue to exist no matter who tries to destroy them. It was a beautifully odd and brave choice for show creator Noah Hawley to go and it took at least half a day for us to come to terms with it, but now we can’t imagine it ending in any other way.

Picture Credit: Chris Large/FX


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