Tag Archives: Fargo

This is a True Story.

 

Let’s get this out of the way now: Complaining about Fargo is a little like complaining about a Ferrari that stalls. Ultimately, you’re just bitching about wealth. At some point, you need to get over yourself and realize you’re lucky to have a kickass set of wheels.

As it is was with Fargo, one of the best television series in the lore of television series. When the show misses a piston, it still laps most competitors.

But let’s not mince words: Fargo misfired in its finale, which ended its season last night (and possibly for good, as creator Noah Hawley admits he has no plans — or ideas — for a season 4). And while no one could reasonably claim that the Coen brothers homage went out with a whimper, it did conclude with a muffled bang, like an execution beneath a pillow.

This is a long way of saying spoilers abound.

Unlike the previous two seasons, this iteration of the series ended on an intentionally (as Hawley told USA Today’s Bill Keveney) on a cloudy fade-to-black: with hero Gloria Burgle and villain V.M. Varga staring at each other in a police station, vowing to defeat one another.

The scene is, to a small degree, a violation of the Coen brothers ethos: That virtue defeats vice — even when it doesn’t win. Such was the case in the movie Fargo. And The Big Lebowski. And Raising Arizona. And every one of their films with a religious undercurrent. Which is every one of their films.

Including No Country for Old Men, the movie most critics cite as the influence on season 3. But that’s incorrect. While Anton Chigurh, who played Death in the flick, did indeed walk away from the chaos to haunt another day, he did claim the soul of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. That Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) survived came thanks to him screwing up his courage and facing Death (which fled), another consistent through-line of the brothers Coen.

Here, however, bravery was not rewarded. I wonder that Joel and Ethan thought of that. And this:

  • The exposition Fargo 3 had lots of talking. Burgle does a lot of audible thinking: Was this a robbery gone wrong? Is she the character she’s reading about in her latest book, The Planet Wyh? Is life a morass of random collisions? These are all questions the Coen brothers love to ask. Just not aloud.
  • The beauty For the first time in the series, major characters were beautiful. Carrie Coon and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are model-pretty. That should never work against a TV show, but it’s standard practice in network television to add beauty to a show that’s desperate for ratings, like Homicide and The Office in their waning years. In the Coen universe (and the first two seasons of the show), beauty equals vanity.
  • The money Joel and Ethan Coen once told me that they don’t care where the money winds up in their movies. In fact, they prefer that it goes missing (perhaps because it’s symbolically the root of evil?). But in the season 3 finale, not only are the millions found. They’re given to Mr. Wrench. It’s a wonderful touch, but not necessarily Fargoesque.

And finally, the show was decidedly detached from the first two iterations, which were blended so seamlessly they could play as one, 20-hour movie. The millions thrown to Hawley and FX for a third installment may have been too enticing. Who turns that down?

And there were still moments of unmitigated brilliance. The ethereal bowling alley conversations between Ray Wise (who played a version of Peter at the pearly) and the series’ most heroic and villainous characters may constitute the best scenes of the entire show. The animated story of the droid Minsky is a short film within itself.

Alas, time likely spells the end of Fargo. If so, it puts the series in the pantheon of great-but-brief shows: Rome, Twin Peaks, The Office (British version), True Detective (and that was good for only the first season). All accomplished brevity, soul of wit, yaddy yaddy.

So it may be for Fargo, where the names have been changed out of respect for the dead and request of the living. But the rest was told exactly as it occurred. Brilliantly.

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Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

(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.

antone hanzee at store tommylee

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.

Fans have gone nuts over the name, as it’s a reference to a crime boss from season 1. moses

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?

 

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How ‘Fargo’ is Scary Smart

 

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

—–
Jabberwocky, from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).

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