‘Fargo’ Season 1 Finale Recap: “Morton’s Fork”

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Here’s the thing about a miniseries, or an event series, or whatever we’re calling it today: There is a limited time to tell a story but there is also a set end date. From the beginning, you know exactly how many episodes you have to to craft this story from start to finish. Fargo had 10 episodes to tell a full story and it did — in fact, it told multiple stories, some more complete than others — and in the finale, the only question is: Did it stick the landing?

Well, yes and no. Fargo was the most surprising show of the year. It wasn’t the best, not at all, but it was definitely the most surprising. What was expected to be a mediocre ripoff of Fargo the film became something entirely different. It weaved in the film while still maintaining an original narrative and while being a somewhat separate entity. Many of the episodes were far better than they had any right to be and will hold up in the future. The finale? I’m not so sure. It wasn’t bad but it was a little disappointing. It was strictly average and that’s not what the series deserves.

I’m reminded of True Detective, a near identical show to Fargo, and how the Internet was abuzz with discussion the morning after that finale had aired. There was a near palpable sense of disappointment surrounding the last episode — an episode that I, to the contrary of so many of my peers, loved whole-heartedly. It felt deserved and it felt complete but many didn’t think so. I guess now I understand how those fans felt. But that’s all to say: It was still a good episode of TV! It still had those beautiful shots, the haunting score, the ace acting from all of its players and especially from Allison Tolman.

Fargo, as Noah Hawley has mentioned, is about both the best and the worst of America. This has been apparent throughout the series (and is at play in the finale) and it’s been thrilling to watch both sides go head to head. Molly vs. Malvo is the definition of good vs. evil and maybe that’s why it’s so disappointing that they never actually faced each other though it surely wouldn’t have ended well for Molly if they had a showdown. But still, any scene with the two of them would’ve been great. Instead, Malvo first gets stuck in a bear trap set by Lester (Malvo often acts like a wild creature so this was fitting), then gets gunned down — repeatedly — by Gus, who literally steps out of the shadows (having finally solved Malvo’s earlier’s riddle) to face him.

It’s a good scene, and good for Gus to make up for all of his previous blunders and become a protector of his family but still … I don’t know. I think Gus is a great character but I’m not so sure he has earned this moment. Gus also gets commended by the city for his act of bravery (how ironic, now that he has become a mailman!) and for taking down Malvo although let’s be honest: Molly did basically all of the work in the case except pressing the trigger. She gets to become Chief after Bill retires and yes, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like Fargo is knee-deep in the masculinity that it seemingly tried to subvert in the earlier episodes. Both Gus and Lester started off as sad, hapless, and pathetic men and by the end, Gus had become a stronger hero and Lester had become a stronger villain. What did Molly become? Just the chief, and soon a mother.

After all of that build-up and the fascinating scenes between Molly and Lester (his stuttering and her steady speech that made up their verbal sparring was always a highlight), Molly doesn’t even get to nab Lester, either. No, he makes a run for it a few weeks later and falls into the ice. Nature kills him, not another person, and while there’s something nice and vaguely poetic in that scene, it’s still just another way that Molly doesn’t get to save the day. I get it — this is the more realistic ending and it’s a clever subversion of the strict hero catches villain showdown — but I still wanted something else. All of the outcomes, such as who lives and who dies were necessary and expected (Key and Peele’s characters die, too, but even that wasn’t a surprise), but it just didn’t happen in the way that I want. But that’s OK; Noah Hawley doesn’t owe me the ending I want, just the ending that he felt fitting. It was fine.