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ON TV: Fargo Season 2 Finale & Review

Article by: Frank Memmesheimer

 

Fargo S2 E10 Palindrom

That’s not fair! I was a victim first.

 

Okay then. This is it. The all-or-nothing moment. Fargo’s chance to go 10 for 10. After a brilliant season of TV, the final hour of dropped heartbeats and forgotten breaths is here. Will we once more witness steaming action, gut-wrenching denial, and blatant misjudgment? Nine episodes so far have made our expectations rise beyond measure – and left us hanging in the end, disappointed by what was supposed to be a grand finale. Disappointed to a certain degree – yes, but not entirely, though. Let me tell you why ‘Palindrome’ is not as bad an ending to this season as it feels the first time around.

“Stories used to be simpler, that’s for sure.” A complex story deserves complex answers.

‘Palindrome’ shoulders the unthankful task of having to tie the bag that is an unfinished story which cannot be finished right there and then. We, audiences and creators alike, have come together to share the lives of those in Fargo. Now, how does one satisfyingly put an ending to those unfinished events, in a manner that makes it okay for us (telling and listening to the story) to say our goodbyes to the characters and leave them be, although the repercussions of their actions will continue to unfold long after we’ve left?

Those are stakes that ‘Palindrome’ is up against. How does it do? Before I dive right into it, I would ask you to swiftly recap previous episodes in your mind, cast a quick vote in favor of your favorite episode, marvel at the results, and return here to read on.

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Body Count

Before all is set and done, four more unfortunate souls bite the dust. The final tally settles at 69. Sixty-nine lives lost. Season two, by far, has been the costliest. (The Coen’s original Fargo had left 7 dead, while season 1 had considerably upped the ante to 41.)

Prior to the second to last episode nine, I had asked avid viewers of Fargo on reddit, who they thought would certainly depart their life within this season’s last two episodes. We could hardly have been more wrong.

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Our collective imagination saw the Gerhardts and Kansas City ultimately clash in what would go down in Mid-West history as The Sioux Falls Massacre. Nobody did bank on the cops. The results are unambiguous. We were wrong. Not only do the front runners Mike and Red Kitchen not die, they thrive. Without having to do the actual work, the enemy’s kingdom simply falls into their lap. With the undertaker taken out and the enemies’ castle conquered, Mike celebrates his coronation day with an act of kindness and an act of cruelty, “so your subjects know you’re capable of both.” He returns to Kansas City in anticipation of praise and reward. He has great plans for what he assumes is now his. “In the old days, when a guy conquered a place, …” Remember Mike’s conversation with Lou about how they (the Kansas City mob) couldn’t leave because they were the future? Well, the future has some surprises for Mike in store. His earned promotion within the criminal organization lands him a suit-and-tie, nine-to-five type desk job, an electric typewriter (remember Skip “They’re not only for women anymore” Sprang?), health insurance, 401k, quarterly-projections and revenue statements, and a prospective golf-club membership. No more field work, no more mind games, no more projecting power, busting heads, or experiencing real fire power while getting one’s hands dirty. None of that, anymore. It’s ‘Accounting’ instead. Purgatory. Welcome to the world of tomorrow, where the real criminals sit behind desks and with an iron fist and ingenuity rule the only business that is left: the money business. Looks like the future pulled one on you, too, Mr Milligan.

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We were right in assuming Bear and Floyd wouldn’t make it. Even a broken watch is right twice a day. Sounds like Charlie, the only Gerhardt to make it out alive, is in for a lifetime worth of bad news.

 

The real tragedy, however, is Ed’s death. He dies from a gunshot wound to the upper chest. He dies, while Peggy goes on and on about how their life is just like the movies, how they will make it out alive and live happily ever after. In California, if all goes according to plan. After all, Peggy is fully actualized and knows what she wants, what she deserves. Reality won’t stand in her way. Not this time. How tragic her delusion. In yet another variation of the “You’re already dead, you just don’t know it yet”-talk Lou gave Peggy and Ed. The spouses face each other for the last time, right there at the pinnacle of ‘reality vs delusion’ and ‘acceptance vs denial.’

Peggy: “Ed, save your strength and we’ll figure this all out.”

Ed suffers silently as his wife blusters on. He, the butcher from Luverne, is dying in cold storage. And he knows it.

Ed dies, giving his all for his family, whom his all was never good enough for.

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With all the death and devastation in Fargo, I rejoiced when Betsy was spared and the Solverson family was granted more time. Betsy’s exchange of ideas with Noreen puts life and death back into perspective.

Noreen: “Camus says, ‘Knowing we’re going to die makes life absurd.’
Betsy: “Ach, I don’t know who that is but I’m guessing he doesn’t have a six-year old girl.”
Noreen: “He’s French.”
Betsy: […] Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord, well, you try telling him it was all a Frenchman’s joke.”

Eat this, Albert Camus.

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Rating

Having to rate this finale, to come up with a number for it, pitched my conflicting inner voices against each other. I could see myself muster feelings of both love and hate for it. A re-watch was in order. The second time around was completely different. Now, how to balance my two oh-so different impressions? One rating just wouldn’t do justice to it. So, fasten your seat belt. Here’s my rating for episode 10.

 

3/5 Stars and  5/5 Stars

 

Let me elaborate. It’s a great work of synthesized art, it’s just not great TV.

The writing of ‘Palindrome’ is tremendous. It is tantalizingly eccentric, philosophical – at times even poetic, painfully truthful, it feels alive, and it gives closure (almost to the full extent of one’s satisfaction). It’s enacted and narrated literature. It’s as perfect as anything can get in this regard. However, what episode 10 is just not, is an on-par example of visualized storytelling, even though things had started so promisingly.

 

Narrative Choices

The show’s epitaph, for the first time narrated by Lou Solverson (powerful voice acting by Patrick Wilson), is heard as images of each dead Gerhardt pass us by for a last farewell. A reminiscent sadness gets a hold of me. My heart sinks when Simone is among the deceased. I had wished for her survival (even at the price of banishment), as so many other did. Lou’s voice is brittle, as we see Betsy’s pale face, her eyes closed – and my heart sinks even further when the words “out of respect for the dead” are heard. My sadness intensifies. She’s gone, and so is Lou’s last chance to say goodbye to his love. But when Betsy opens her eyes… Goosebumps. Masterful visual storytelling at work.

It’s downhill from here. ‘Palindrom’ makes a few questionable choices story-wise and in regard to its arch of suspense. ‘Which arch?’ you ask. That’s problem number one. Episode 9 left too many characters in too different locations to bring them all back together. As the loose ends were dealt with consecutively, suspense went down the drain. Everything that hung in the balance was rather quickly resolved. No more ‘Fallhöhe’ (the height one can potentially fall from) for most of the characters. Additionally, too many fates were left open with not enough time to give every character the ending they deserve. We never got to see Charlie, Carl, and Sonny, for example. We don’t know what ultimately happened to Red Kitchen. On the other hand, I liked Betsy’s dream/premonition and the unexpected reunion with season 1’s Molly, Gus, Lou, and their family. I cherished the last few minutes of peace in the Solverson’s home. I loved that Betsy got more time with her family, and so did Hank (although his recovery seemed rather speedy after a gut shot like the one he suffered). One last familiar “Good night!” before we, too, go into the night.

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Betsy: “Good night, Mr Solverson.”
Lou: “Good night, Ms Solverson, and all the ships at sea.”

 

Hell-bent on painting the bigger picture

Other characters’ farewells I watched with growing unease. They were not as thought-through. They often felt forced. Hanzee’s furious chase of Ed and Peggy, for example, continues for only a few minutes before it simply dissipates. It seems so inconsequential that he wouldn’t see things through to the deadly end, even with the police on his heels. Granted, he needs a way out. The old Hanzee is no good to him anymore. He needs a new face and a new identity. “A Phoenix out of the ashes.” But Moses Tripoli? The obnoxious, smug, and bloated Fargo mob boss of season 1? That’s who Hanzee will turn into? No way. They are two different personalities. A lot can happen in 27 years – not that much, however. This tie-in is far-fetched. It feels forced. No matter how cleverly/obviously Hanzee’s last words on screen parallel Moses Tripoli’s first and only words on screen.

“Not apprehend. Dead. Don’t care ‘heavily guarded.’ Don’t care ‘into the sea.’ Kill and be killed. Head in a bag. There’s the message.” – Hanzee, 1979.

“Not apprehend. Dead. Don’t care ‘extramarital.’ Don’t care ‘not related.’ Kill and be killed. Head in a bag. There’s the message.” – Hanzee, 2006.

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Hanzees first act as self-declared leader of this ‘something of his own,’ is the second big quarrel I have with this season finale. Rescuing two boys from a beating. Then what? Does he abduct them? Make them the first muscle of his new organization? I wish the collectively creative minds behind everything Fargo had left Misters Wrench and Numbers out of it. That’s clearly who the boys are supposed to be. Fargo’s syndicate enforcers, dispatched in season one to find out who killed Sam Hess, one of their own. (Let’s go along with this line of thinking for just a second. Why then, I ask you, were they deployed by some incompetent mid-level hack and not by Moses himself? – seeing as they should be his guys, having been there since day 1 and all… Food for thought.)

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Not everything needs to be connected. Season one’s accidentally discovered case full money, which found its well-hidden resting place in the original movie and tied both installments together, was a connection of subtle enough nature to be appealing to audiences and their intellect alike. There’s a lesson here. Connections are fun but they’re spoil-sports once Captain Obvious hitches a ride. Not everything needs an explanation, not every character’s story needs a beginning. Ambiguity and origins that lie in the dark are the storyteller’s best friends. Subtlety is king.

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So, the much anticipated season finale turned out to be a non-event. Bummer. A reason to lose hope and abandon the Fargoverse for good? Far from it. The lows of Fargo still reside in different spheres than many of the highs of other shows out there.

If you’re still looking for answers as to why Noah Hawley did what he did in the final episode, make sure to read Noah Hawley’s 12 key answers to the gnawing questions of season 2.

 

What’s next? What do we do Mondays on 10pm until early 2017, when Fargo returns for its third year (which will be set in 2010 and deal with “our selfie-obsessed culture”)? We wait and we actualize. And take comfort in knowing we all push our own boulders on a daily basis – audiences and storytellers alike. “One day you’re ahead, one day your behind. In the end, the race is only with yourself,” as one Mary Schmich wrote. Whatever season 3 will have in store for us, Fargo will be Fargo. That’s for damn sure.

As for me, am I going to be around when there’ll be winter in Fargo once again?

You betcha.

 

Frank Memmesheimer
Aspiring teacher-to-be, he spends his time reading and writing, watching and making movies, and paying close attention to beginnings and endings. Ever curious. Strives to learn something new every day. Looking to meet people who can teach him a thing or two. Loves photography, traveling, and everything outdoors.

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