FARGO: “Palindrome”

It’s a quiet finale, but no less excellent.

I don’t even know how to write this thing up. Where to begin?

–Ben

Well like anything, I guess: start at the start, and continue to the end.

–Lou

James Poniewozik of the New York Times made the observation on Twitter that Fargo may or may not be TV’s best show, but it’s more likely TV’s best-made show. And I’m inclined to agree: it operates with a watchmaker’s precision, and takes stylistic detours with confidence (this week: Lou himself gives the disclaimer), while weaving a tapestry of wonderful characters and performances into something far more than the sum of its parts. Last season, Noah Hawley dropped the mic on the “how dare you!” crowd, and this season he went even bigger. The little brother of True Detective surfed the collapsing wave of that other crime anthology series, and made me look like a genius for backing it from the beginning.

Turns out there wasn’t much to wrap up after last week’s carnage, and the result is a more low-key, character-centered finale than last year’s “Morton’s Fork.” I had wondered, since we left off with Hanzee chasing the Blumquists and saw a preview that largely centered on that, whether there was enough story there to justify turning the Native American into the 9th-inning Big Bad. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. He never follows Ed and Peggy into the store, with dead eyes and the shambling gait of a horror villain — she only thinks he does. But he does get a mortally wounding shot off at Ed, and not even the eternal optimism of Peggy can will it into becoming anything else.

Kirsten Dunst, who has been so good all season at making Peggy understandable (if not likable), finally releases the raw emotion she’s been building up this whole time, collapsing into Lou’s arms in disbelief. No, Hanzee wasn’t trying to smoke them out of the meat freezer (a final return to that cold familiarity), and this isn’t like that Reagan movie she watched at the cabin. For the first time, we see how “touched” Peggy really is. But poor Ed is gone, and his final words to her are simply to say that even if they get out of this, their marriage is probably over. It’s too much for Peggy to comprehend, so it isn’t long before her self-insulation is built back up, rambling to Lou in his car about doing her time in California, and how she’s really the victim. “I just wanted to be someone,” she whines. “Well you’re somebody now,” Lou replies.

It’s Lou that has been Fargo Season 2’s beating heart, and he deserved the (somewhat) happy ending he received here a thousand times over. Hank’s going to be okay, and he will show up for that dinner like he promised. Even better, Betsey’s fall was scary, but not fatal — though her doctor does tell her that her experimental pills (yep, she got the real pills) might kill her before the cancer does. Betsey’s long been at peace with her situation — check out how effortlessly she shuts down Noreen’s budding nihilism — but the important thing is that Lou now gets to come home and be with her, for however long as she’s there. He tells Peggy a story about a father in Vietnam who tossed his family out of a helicopter just so they could make it out of the country. This “rock all men push,” protecting their family, isn’t a burden but a privilege. Ed understood that. These particular wolves may be gone from the door, but there will always be others.

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The end result of the great Gerhardt/Kansas City War is pretty definitive, and the final few scenes of “Palindrome” deal with the aftermath. But belying the episode’s title, only the Solversons get to return to anything resembling normal — except for the episode’s score, featuring the return of the film’s main theme for the first time all season. Hanzee is getting a new name and a new face; when he told Peggy he was “tired of this life,” he didn’t mean crime, but the baggage and prejudice that follows him because of his race. Yet his final act on screen is strangely heroic, rescuing from bullies a pair of boys who will grow up to be Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. (Hanzee “Head in a Bag” Dent himself seems to eventually become the kingpin Tripoli, who appears in one episode of Season 1 before getting killed by Lorne Malvo. Too tidy? Perhaps. Didn’t bother me, though.)

And what of the season’s breakout star, Mike Milligan? He spins the foolishness of the Gerhardts into a victory for himself, and having appointed himself King of the realm, goes back to their homestead and starts making decrees. First, “an act of kindness” in NOT having Kitchen shoot the poor woman cooking in their kitchen. Second, “an act of cruelty” for the skeevy Ellis-from-Die Hard gangster from Buffalo. The guy tries to loot the Gerhardt silver and pays for it with a shotgun blast to the chest. But that’s the end of Killer Mike; to his consternation, Kansas City wants to promote him, yes, but to a desk job. To the accounting department. To quarterly projections and endless rounds of golf. “Oh, and cut your hair,” his new boss tells him. “It’s not the ’70s anymore.” He is left alone in his tiny new office, with only a typewriter — an awkward reminder of all this all began — for company. Beautiful.

Finally, the UFO. Of course we weren’t going to get an answer on that, and I’m glad we didn’t. (It’s not even going in the official report, because what’s the point?) We did, however, learn at the end about all those symbols blanketing Hank’s office. It’s not about spacecraft at all, but rather his ongoing attempt at creating a universal language, so that people across cultures could communicate and avoid the kinds of ugly misunderstandings that have caused untold amounts of bloodshed. Even children intrinsically understand symbols like “home” and “love.” It’s incredibly sweet, and not far off from Bliss Symbols, which were similarly developed post-WWII but never quite took off. But it’s the kind of thing Hank would do, and it’s hard not to adore him all the more for it.

So ends another brilliant season of Fargo. Next year, word is we’ll be picking up a few years after Season 1 — might that mean a return for Molly or any of the other characters? Will Hawley return to a more intimate scale, or go even bigger? Season 2 stuck the landing in every sense; I especially loved Betsey’s brief glimpse into the future, and not just for the surprise reappearance of Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and Keith Carradine. After all this death, poignantly illustrated by the montage of Gerhardt corpses that opens the episode (ending with Betsey opening her eyes), it’s time to celebrate life. Fargo may be dark in its depiction of crime and the worst of humanity, but it’s not without moral authority, or justice, or warmth. Like last season, decency ultimately won out. Many so-called “prestige” series forget that.


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