Wow. That was an ending — so full of thematic and emotional moments that landed powerfully, yet delicately — worthy of the best-series-of-2015 status EW critic Melissa Maerz bestowed on the season. The finale was bloody brilliant and morally right, loud, quiet, and deep. I mean, how do you recap that?
Well, you start at the start and work your way to the end. (Thanks, Lou.)
This is a true story.
Those opening words were ringing in my head throughout the conclusion of Fargo’s second year, even after having read them at the start of each episode. Obviously, like the film, none of this is true in the factual and historical sense, but it is undeniable on another level. People died, Peggy. We see their faces as Lou reads the epigraph. Specifically, we see the Gerhardts — Rye, Otto, Dodd, Simone (whose death is finally confirmed), Floyd, and Bear — an entire family wiped out because of rage, greed, and chance. In the course of the finale, titled “Palindrome,” a few characters share their ideas of what it’s all meant. This being Fargo, the “it” they’re trying to explain is the mystery of all human existence, how we survive in the face of the Frenchman’s joke.
The answer is that everyone’s story is true, but mostly only true for oneself. Camus, for all of his French wisdom, cannot speak for Betsy. She has Molly, and in Molly she has purpose. “We’re put on this earth to do a job,” she tells Noreen. “Each of us gets the time that we get to do it.”
Lou echoes the sentiment later in the car with Peggy, though he’s a bit more accepting of Camus’ language. “Your husband said that he would protect his family no matter what, and I acted like I didn’t understand, but I do,” Lou says. “It’s the rock we all push, men. We call it our burden, but it’s really our privilege.” This is his experience, based on his time in the military and what he saw as people fled Vietnam, some of them pulling off some really incredible-sounding helicopter maneuvers.
The funny thing is that both Lou and Betsy mostly agree with Camus. The latter diverges on the whole “Does God exist?” issue, but if Noreen ever gets to the end of that damn book, she can tell them that The Myth of Sisyphus is all about finding purpose (Betsy’s “job” and Lou’s “burden”) in the world that exists around you. Unlike organized religion, there isn’t an absolute answer to how it’s done. It just happens that both Betsy and Lou have found theirs in their family.
Did I mention that Betsy is still alive? Well, if her line of dialogue up above didn’t give it away, Mrs. Solverson survived the nasty fall she took in the previous episode. According to Noreen, she’s had a bad reaction to Xanadu. The good news is that the pill appears to be the real deal and not the placebo. The bad news is that the medication might kill her before the cancer does.
While Betsy was unconscious, she had a dream. For viewers who have seen both seasons of Fargo, the sequence, which takes Betsy through the years in Lou and Molly’s lives she won’t be around for, may have been the most emotional of the evening.
“That night I had a dream. It felt so real, even though I knew it couldn’t be or wasn’t yet. I dreamt of a magical future, filled with wondrous devices, where everything you could ever want is available in one amazing place, and there was happiness there. Then I saw farther still, years, decades into the future. I saw a handsome older man, his back still straight, visited by his children and grandchildren, people of accomplishment, of contentment. Then I saw chaos, the fracture of peace and enlightenment, and I worried that the future I had seen, magical and filled with light, might never come to pass.”
See, it’s all true.
NEXT: Ed and Peggy get smoked out
But there’s still the matter of the Massacre at Sioux Falls to wrap up.
When we left off, Ed and Peggy were on the run after burning Hanzee’s face with some coffee from their hotel room. An attempt to flag down a passing car only results in the driver’s death, so they’re stuck on foot, seeking refuge inside a grocery store. They’ll never outrun Hanzee, so their best bet is to hide in the market’s meat locker and see to Ed’s wound. The butcher took one in the back while they were running away, and he’s fading fast. He doesn’t think they’re going to make it, but he’s not talking about survival. He’s talking about them.
“You’re always trying to fix things. Sometimes nothing is broken,” Ed says. “Everything is working just fine. If you can’t see that, if you don’t know that…”
Ed’s dying thoughts are particularly interesting when held up against what Peggy says in the back of Lou’s Prowler. All her husband ever wanted, she learns as Ed’s dying, was for things to go back to the way they were. But that life was poison to Peggy. The perfect ‘70s house, kids, owning the shop — it was never hers, and because of that, her deepest desire has been to become someone. That, paired with the expectation to have it all as a modern woman, was what drove Peggy to Lifespring. Now, all she can hope for is to be incarcerated in California, where she might see a pelican.
It would be nearly impossible to not hear the truth in what Peggy is saying, and it’s sad to see the destruction of that pressure so vividly as the show momentarily shifts to an all-Peg perspective. Maybe it was her limited view of the world that turned everything in the grocery store to one movie genre or another. We have Hanzee, straight out of a horror movie, tracking them down to the meat locker, and when he can’t get the door open, the former Gerhardt man attempts to smoke them out. Or, he doesn’t. In reality, Hanzee never made it into the store, and it was Lou and Ben Schmidt yanking on the door.
Poor Mike Milligan. He came so close to being the king, only to find himself saddled with paperwork from HR, benefits, and a 401(k). It turns out that the “warm champagne of corporate praise” is about as appetizing as warm champagne. This was everything he fought and killed for, but a tiny office and a typewriter is all that he can hope for. And after all of that triumph, too. Mike had, with the help of Gale Kitchen, decimated the Gerhardt family, with their coat of arms that looks like the Weimar Republic’s with a little National Socialist red splashed in the background. And while we still have kings under another name, that is a realm that is kept from Mike.
While it may seem simply anticlimactic, this end for Mike Milligan is tragic. He is neither king nor cowboy. His deadly intellect has been rendered dull, transformed into a blunt instrument of line items and budget cuts. It wasn’t a revolution, and it wasn’t a rebellion. All Mike was able to do was become a part of the system he fought against.
For his coda, Hanzee gets a new face and a couple of huge season 1 Easter eggs. Although it’s left vague, there was another part involved in the destruction of the Gerhardts. The representative meets Hanzee at a baseball field and hands over his new identity. Hanzee will become Moses Tripoli, the boss of the Fargo outfit in season 1, the same man that Lorne Malvo takes out as a part of his offscreen shooting spree. On the field in front of him are two boys speaking in sign language. These two are presumably Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, the men tasked with taking out Malvo.
But none of that really matters. This is Fargo, and in the end, Fargo is about good people being with the ones they love, even if one of those people has an office filled with strange symbols. Yes, before it’s all over, we get an explanation for Hank’s office. Betsy brings it up after dinner, and the answer undercuts all of the conspiracy theories with a potent punch of sweetness. After all of the violence and horror that Hank experienced in World War II and on the job, he found a struggle. From where he stands, most of the world’s problem boil down to a lack of communication. His premise is that if we could all understand each other more clearly, there would be no war or hatred. We would see that we’re all fighting the same fight. It’s Hank’s hope that he can do something to fix that. It’s a extremely naive hope, but — like he says — a well-intentioned one.
That Fargo season 2 ends on that note is just about all you need to know about the show and how its creators view the world. Our world is a bloody, chaotic place, where people die senseless deaths and we lose loved ones to either cancer or the drugs meant to fight it. But it’s our world, and if we could just see that everyone is living in their own true story, maybe it could be a less unfriendly place.
Or at least one that’s more polite about it.