(Warning: spoilers abound)
Much ink and many megabytes have been spent in praise of the season 2 finale of Fargo, all of it earned.
But in breaking down the cleverness of the final episode, perhaps we, as Lou Solverson would say, are missing the bigger picture there, yeah.
For all the brilliant Coen references, time jumps and links back to season 1, Fargo’s second season is really a retelling of the story of Job — with Hanzee as the devil, a well-dressed-but-indifferent stranger as God and Lou as Job.
The show foretold that in episode 1, when judge Mundt tells Rye Gerhardt the parable: That one day, the Devil challenged God that he could get a righteous man to denounce his faith. He plagued Job with loss, pain and suffering. But Job remained unwavering, and was returned his health and fortune for taking the righteous path.
In the same way, Lou was set upon by modern plagues. He is sent to serve in Vietnam — twice. He’s watched “his boys” die senselessly. His young wife and mother of his 6-year-old has cancer. He is threatened to surrender his faith by the Gerhardt clan, which owns local law enforcement, and by Mike Milligan, who has corporate backing to lure him with cash.
But Lou rejects the crooked for the enlightened path, literally following a pool of blood toward the the glow of the crime scene in creator Noah Hawley’s profound Palindrome in Fargo’s second season finale.
Hawley managed to do with season two what the Coen Brothers did in 2007 with the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s epic No Country for Old Men. The brothers took a bloody Western epic and turned it into a Biblical tale of Satan-angel rivalry. For who is Anton Chigurh if not Death, unstoppable and random as a coin flip, friend-o? And Tommy Lee Jones, as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, is more: a wizened angel who sees the pointless of engaging with madness, particularly after a simple man (Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss) loses his life and soul to greed.
The canny interpretation would win the Coens a raft of Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Similarly, Hanzee is Death incarnate. Throughout season 2, he was present as a silent instigator: Between Dodd and his family, between the Gerhardts and the Kansas City mob, perhaps even between the white man and Indian in the West’s Manifest Destiny (Hanzee takes a long, unreadable look at the site of Indian hangings at Sioux Falls). His demonization is made visually official when he is cast in flames as Peggy imagines him outside, smoking her out of the cooler.
But the defining scene comes 52 minutes into the episode, when a scarred, bandaged and vanquished Hanzee awaits the stranger with his new identification. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrenches, both children and both staples of season 1, toss a softball in a park. The stranger talks of Hanzee’s insistence of joining empires whose vanity assures their destruction. He issues Hanzee a new Social Security number and new name, Moses Trinity.
But, measured as a story unto itself, isn’t it God allowing the Devil to continue to wreak futile chaos — which Satan promises to do (“Head in a bag. That’s the message.”)? As a furious Hanzee storms off the field and brushes past the now-fighting brothers, you could nearly hear Sympathy for the Devil playing in the background. Hope you guess my name.
Meanwhile, the devil’s lieutenants are sent to their corresponding hells: The Gerhardt’s lose their entire family, Peggy becomes a literal prisoner of her pride, Ed left a slab of refrigerated meat for ignorance, and Michael made an emperor-turned-drone in a corporate hellscape for greed.
The faithful Solversons, meanwhile, retire to their version of heaven — and even gets a brief sermon from patriarch Ted Danson (Moses?) who dreams of a world with one language, not of tongues divvied like the Tower of Babel.
Which would also explain the alien visitors from above. Sometimes all people need is faith to make the following a true story.
The devilish question for the F/X network, which has green-lit a third season of Fargo, is how do you top it?