Prior recaps are in here
“I don’t even know how to write this thing up. Where to start…”
I feel Ben Schmidt’s pain here, I surely do. I suppose we’ll take Lou’s advice and start from the beginning, with the montage showing the wreckage of the Gerhardt clan. The final breakdown, with Cause(s) of Death:
Rye –hapless typewriter salesman, not-fucking-around-judge, poorly-timed UFO appearance, inadequately-actualized beautician
Otto – Corporate encroachment
Simone – Missed out on the 60’s
Dodd – Underestimating said beautician, constant abuse of chief lieutenant
Floyd – Hanzee’s betrayal
Bear – Well-timed UFO appearance, remembrance to always put one in the brain
The Gerhardts have been entirely removed from the board with the motel massacre, with only stupid cousin Ricky escaping long enough to be waxed at by Milligan and waxed by the remaining Kitchen Brother. Which, if you guessed after last week that the finale would end with not only Hanzee and Mike still breathing, but also the remaining Kitchen, then congratulations!
But perhaps I should have suspected it would pan out like this. I mean, not exactly like this – the idea of Hanzee getting plastic surgery and taking back enough Gerhardt territory from Corporate to become the mob boss we saw briefly in season 1 is actually a bigger stretch for me than the appearance of the flying saucer. But from the way the “Sioux Falls” case was discussed in the first season, it should have been apparent that Lou was not going to fully resolve this matter and put away all the bad guys. But I certainly did not think both Mike and Hanzee would come out in such similar places: mostly victorious, but in a manner that destroys their identity.
Mike fancies himself the new king of the Northern Territories, issuing decrees prohibiting conquered cuisines and theories on American royalty, and protesting that “in the old days, when a guy conquered a place-“ before being cut off by Adam Arkin’s character (didn’t get a name, but I’m sure he’s executive vice president of something or another). He’s unconsciously echoing the words of the short-lived usurper Otto re-regicided in the flashback: “kill the king, be the king.” But it doesn’t work that way in Reagan’s America. Mike beats the odds, and in return he gets a 401k, an obstructed view of a parking lot, and that most thorny of existential questions: “Who am I without my bolo tie?”
Meanwhile, Hanzee’s situation is outwardly much different, and ultimately I think it’s less effective because you have to connect so many dots that no casual viewer ever could in order to puzzle out what is even being hinted at (and what’s being hinted at is so much different and more specific than what you’d think without catching the reference that it actually makes a difference). The idea that Hanzee becomes “Moses Tripoli” requires some fairly clunky exposition to graft onto the very different looking guy we saw last year, and while the echoing dialogue draws the requisite connection, it doesn’t really make a ton of sense as far as being something these people say in this situation. Why are they talking about “apprehending” gangsters as retribution? Plus the idea of this ultimate badass eventually receiving a not-particularly-dignified offscreen death may stick in some craws.
But it is what it is, and when we look at what this implies for Hanzee’s future, some less obvious implications come into play. Tripoli’s brief appearance in the first season suggest that he has adopted much of the corporate infrastructure of Kansas City, if not having been outright absorbed into the conglomerate. This suggests that he will be surprisingly successful in carving out a piece of Reaganomic pie for himself, but in the process he has to abandon his name, lose his hair, and literally put on the face of a white man. Maybe that’s a lot to read into what was really just a too-cute-by-half attempt at continuity porn, but it’s interesting to think about in conjunction with Mike’s edict to sell him a suit, cut off his hair, and go to work in tall buildings.
Meanwhile, things don’t end so well for the Blumquists. Hanzee fatally shoots Ed, and essentially asks Peggy for a divorce with his dying breath, which has to sting no matter how unhappy you were in the marriage. And the fucked up thing is that Peggy really has been happier with her marriage in the back half of the season; you know, once their home was invaded, business was burned down, and they were on the run from vicious killers and potentially capital charges. That doesn’t mean that the marriage is healthier for it (and Ed certainly isn’t), or that it had reawakened her feelings for her husband, just that those feelings were stronger when it was really literally them against the world. That Ed didn’t find this nearly as exciting was something she couldn’t let herself accept, which kept them talking past each other right to the end. These two would’ve made a prime case study for Hank’s language of pure symbols, had he ever gotten it off the ground. Even after he dies divorcing her, she still can’t process what he was saying, having to funnel it into a movie-based fantasy wherein the chase continues, this is just a further test of her actualization, and not the end of the line, her already locked up with a corpse for company.
Finally, her wild and never very concrete ambitions are reduced from having it all in sunny California, to maybe seeing a pelican from a cell on Alcatraz. Of course, The Rock had already been closed for 15 years in 1979, so even this diminished hope is not going to come to pass. But are we to condemn Peggy for the toll her delusions take on the population of the Upper Midwest? Lou is right when he cuts off her self-pitying monologue with a curt reminder that people are dead because of her dissatisfaction. And while not all of them are entirely innocent, some were, and not all of them were men either, so it’s not as though the carnage has been a real blow against the patriarchy. This doesn’t mean that her dissatisfaction is not justified, though, and in fact I view her as more of a tragic figure than a villain. It’s just that when we submit our last Quarterly Statements to the great Accounting Department in the sky, saying that people died so you could snap out of your middle-class funk is going to go over about as well as saying it was all some Frenchman’s joke.
Speaking of that, I was tickled to see Noreen pop up again, and her having been granted a semi-permanent place in the Solverson home. Our little nihilist has met her match in the unflappable Mrs. Solverson, though. She wakes up to the blackest, most cosmic joke imaginable at her expense: the pills she thought were placebos were actually the experimental drugs! But they are killing her faster than the disease they were meant to fight. Wamp. Wamp. But this doesn’t deter Betsy even momentarily; if she has less time to work with, it’s just more important that she doesn’t waste it wallowing in despair or dissatisfaction. Her purpose is to make her family’s life better, for as long as she can, and if Constance Heck would scoff at such a square ambition, Betsy’s husband expresses essentially the same feeling when he says it is a man’s privilege, not burden, to do the same. It’s no wonder Molly turns out alright.
Maybe that’s sappy and simplistic, but Fargo in all its incarnations has only ended on notes of (extremely hard won) domestic simplicity. And the reveal that Hank’s secret study had nothing to do with UFOs, while something I suspected after his failure to react at all to one’s appearance last week, was still surprising and appropriate in its particulars. He just wanted to create a system that would allow people to communicate more directly, and thus remove some of the confusion, nonsense and violence that has threatened to engulf him ever since he went to war, and that makes Fargo so compulsively watchable as it works itself up to that quiet ending. It’s a silly, pie-in-the-sky idea, doomed to fail (as Chud commenter 3nnui put it “I like that Ted Danson invented emoji”). But Danson’s explanation of it is so sheepishly sweet that it almost sounds like a good idea. Or one with good intentions, at least. And if enough people had those, it might be enough.
Okay then. Time for Coen Bingo and Other Random Shit:
COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT
– Betsy’s beautiful dream of the future is modeled very closely on HI’s wonderful dream sequences in Raising Arizona, and puts Hanzee even more in that Coen nemesis tradition by tying him directly to the Lone Biker Of The Apocalypse. It also allows for nice, brief cameos from Alison Tohlman, Colin Hanks, and Keith Carradine.
– The Sepinwall link above lays out the details of the most direct connections with season 1.
– Ed and Peggy trying to commandeer a ride, only for Hanzee to promptly cap the Samaritan, is straight out of Moss’s flight from Chigurgh in No Country For Old Men.
– Hanzee being shown waiting outside the freezer with a knife in hand, only to have disappeared when the door is opened, also recalls Chigurgh’s disappearing act when Sheriff Bell enters the motel room.
– Milligan calls the cousin from Buffalo “friendo”, another Chigurgh signature.
– The use of “War Pigs” in the cold open is fucking boss.
– Ted Danson really is great as Hank. Just the way he quickly pivots away from the quote about angels bearing the faces of your children is subtle, but masterful.
– Similarly, I’ve never found much room to crow about Zahn McClaron’s performance, as it is so consistently subdued even when he’s blowing off kneecaps, but he would absolutely be deserving of a Supporting Actor nom, in my opinion.
– And Kirsten Dunst, obviously, deserves mention as well. I’m a bit disappointed that there will be no more Peggy Blumquist misadventures to follow, despite loving the close-ended nature of these stories.
– The burning supermarket calls to mind the flaming Hotel Earle from the end of Barton Fink.
– That’s it for Fargo Season 2. Noah Hawley said today not to expect season 3 until 2017. I hope to still be around to rap about it with you then. Unfortunately, I’m being relentlessy hunted by quasi-supernatural predator, for sins I only partly understand. So we’ll just have to see.