(Spoilers for seasons one and two, obvs.)
Any way you cut it, that was one truly amazing season of television.
Noah Hawley sticks the landing in Fargo season two, and sends us out the door with the gift of hope. In a world that has just seen rivers of blood and an ocean of chaos, we’re allowed to experience the return to a modicum of order, and a few tender moments between father and daughter and husband and wife. Truly, watching Betsy Solverson fall asleep on the shoulder of Lou was a gift. Though her Raising Arizona-esque dream of the future clearly doesn’t show her in it, at least she makes it through the season. That was something that was never a sure thing.
Some thoughts about the finale and this season, in general.
Peggy’s speech about how women can’t do it all was amazing, and it was fitting to justapose her frustration with that unattainable ideal with the life that Betsy Solverson is already leading. Peggy’s reaction to the unfair standard was to become “fully actualized,” something that really meant escape to her. She was never as happy with Ed as when they were on the run. That felt like success to her. It felt like she had thrown off the shackles of a suburban life and a suburban expectation. In the car with Lou, she tried to make sense of how certain powerful gender roles continue to exert pressure even after a cultural revolution. “People are dead, Peggy.” Lou says.
Meanwhile, Betsy’s answer to the same conundrum is to work harder, even as her body gives out underneath her. It hit me so hard when she described her ailment not as the hot poker that Noreen suggested, but a peach that was rotten on the back side. And yet she soldiered on. Because, Camus be damned, that’s what you do when you have a six year old girl. God, she was powerful this season. That sort of quiet, austere hero walking one foot in front of the other toward an uncertain future, being strong for the people around her.
Even as things have changed in the world since the 70’s, the man of the family is still often tasked with the role of physical guardian. What goes overlooked is the (often female) role of emotional guardian. How often does a family actually get attacked? But the emotional guardian role is a daily task. It’s a lifelong marathon of holding together a thing that usually tries to pull itself apart in one way or another. Betsy Solverson’s courage in being strong for her family was no less heroic than Lou chasing down Hanzee. It’s just less exciting and has less gunfire. So they weren’t sugar pills after all, but how long before the trial ends? And how many more precious nights will Lou and Betsy get to crawl into the same bed together? How many more do any of us have with the ones we love?
The moment where Lou and Betsy say goodnight to all the ships at sea will stay with me for a long time.
Conversely, Ed’s final moments were such a bummer. If he had to go, I suppose it was better that he did so in a place that may have felt more familiar to him, but man, that poor guy. To have that crystal clear realization that you’re mismatched as you feel your life force slipping away. He’s always going to want to get back to the life Peggy hated and that’s the sad truth of it. One of the great worries about death many people have is the immense loneliness of the moment. It’s a road that you walk alone, and to have that realization before he passed, rather than feeling more connected to Peggy, made it doubly difficult to watch. Poor Ed. He was truly a good egg.
So, the Hanzee ending was really interesting. He’s sitting at the field watching these kids play ball and I’m like, why did Noah Hawley choose to make one of them deaf? What deaf characters do we know about? Here’s the thing that’ll blow your mind. Those kids are also from season one. They’re the hit men Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers.
Hanzee goes out onto the field and either scares the teenage bullies off or worse, and then these kids end up working for him. Eventually he changes his face and (possibly) becomes this dude:
In the future his name is Tripoli and he’s a mob boss. At this dinner he asks about Sam Hess and his lackey says that Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers have been deployed. Tripoli says “Dead. Not apprehend. Dead. Don’t care extramarital. Don’t care not related. Head in a bag. There’s the message.”
In the future, we see Tripoli flanked by two accountant dudes that sort of resemble the Adam Arkin character that plays Mike Milligan’s boss, Hamish Broker, at the end of the season finale. Because of that, and because of Ricky D’s line where he asks if Milligan is the illegitimate son Otto had with the injun, you can connect the dots on a few possible answers. First is that Hanzee is possibly the son of Otto and Wilma, the cook. Second is that it really makes sense that he’d have a lot of resentment toward Floyd and Dodd and Bear. And third, having that new identity from that fixer at the end really felt like an existing relationship rather than a new one. It leads me to believe that Hanzee offered his services to Kansas City and was compensated for cleaning house on the Gerhardts. Then he ultimately rises through the ranks until a day in the future when he becomes the boss in Fargo, thereby reclaiming the Gerhardt territory that he should have had some claim to.
But if all this is true then, we’d have to accept that he’s killed unceremoniously in the future by Lorne Malvo. That’s a bridge too far.
Does that seem like Hanzee? To go out like that? More likely than that scenario is that the dude that gave Hanzee the new I.D. is the Tripoli in season one and Hanzee is somewhere behind him, giving orders from the shadows. I refuse to believe that Hanzee goes out like a pussycat. It just doesn’t add up, and there’s no way Hanzee looks like that, no matter how much surgery he has.
I mean really, which one of these guys looks like the Tripoli of the future?
So, Hanzee is still out there. Somewhere.
That story about the helicopter in Vietnam that Lou told? Yep, that was also a true story.
Hank’s explanation of his language was really sweet. My god, I haven’t enjoyed Ted Danson like this in years. He nailed the pleasant, reserved emotion of that character. And to find out that this wasn’t alien symbology at all, but an exercise in just trying to bring people together? Well, goddamn. What a lovely man. What a naive and wonderful and bygone type of man.
Oh, Ricky D. You poor, sad bastard. “What am I? The professor from Gilligan’s Island?”
Ricky D felt so recognizable to me. That chain. How he carried himself. He was the only person to survive the massacre only to be murdered for being a petty burglar. What a pathetic shit. Difficult to watch him suffer in the end, though.
Mike Milligan’s decrees about borscht notwithstanding, it was a fitting end for the antihero of this tale. Not the conquest that he so richly coveted, but a corporate cell, a 401k and the type of electric typewriter that got this bullshit rolling in the first place. It was tough to watch. Tough to see what success looked like as Reagan’s 80’s waited around the corner. Much of this season dealt with people’s inability to escape the past. People are constantly talking about the old days. Men relay old war stories that haunt them. Milligan says “in the old days when a guy conquered-” It’s a constant theme. In the end, Mike Milligan’s story, which was absolutely captivating thanks to the performance of Bokeem Woodbine, ends up being as silly as the nonsense words he recited in Lewis Carrolls’ ‘Jabberwocky’. Milligan lucks into a victory and wins a shitty job he doesn’t want. We leave him seated at a godawful desk with the specter of possible golf hanging over his head. What a complete letdown. And how fitting that his cruel act of letting Ricky D suffer would be revisited upon him tenfold with a lifetime of middling bureaucracy. He thought he was a king, but he’s just a cog in an endless wheel.
Noreen was just kind of a delight this season. There were so many good performances that I think she gets lost in the tide a little, but Emily Haine did a great job with her.
Charlie Gerhardt is that sole heir to the Gerhardt fortune. I’m sure much of that will be seized by the government or just assimilated by the account managers from Kansas City, but looking back on the Karl Weathers moment where he stood up to Bear’s lynch mob, he actually saved Charlie’s life that day. We didn’t get to say goodbye to Nick Offerman in the finale, but somewhere, the breakfast king of Loyola is regaling Sonny with his politics and getting ready to cast a vote for Ronald Reagan.
We finally got some closure on Simone. I know there’s a word for it when something is grotesque and beautiful at the same time, but it eludes me. Seeing Simone dead, I couldn’t help but think that it was the best she’d ever looked. Peaceful. Released from the type of conflicted loyalties and self-hate that made Floyd call her a “porcupine” who was “always looking for a fight.” Without all of those tensions, the burden of carrying all of her pretense and secrets, she looked beautiful. It was a sad moment. As was the moment when Mike Milligan saw the photo of her as a baby on the mantle. I’m guessing that was her, anyway.
Opening with Lou saying the “This is based on a True Story” stuff over the montage of dead Gerhardts was powerful. Man that was great, especially when they landed on Betsy Solverson on the line “out of respect for the dead.” Wilson’s voice cracked a little. Such skillful artistry. There was also a fantastic moment later when Lou finds out all the shit Betsy has been going through and he drops his head in exhaustion in the phone booth. Dear god that was a great moment.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but rolling from that slow montage into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was pretty much the greatest thing ever. There’s a moment in time where Gen X has a clear understanding, and Hawley is a steward of it. Because of the American obsession with youth and the numerical enormity of Gen Y, that period of time hasn’t quite had its moment in the sun. It feels like we’re always seeing before or after it. Or more often, a bogus approximation of it from someone who didn’t experience it. The world of this season’s Fargo was accurate about it. Those paneled walls and six shades of orange were accurate to the time. Lou sitting on the couch in his stupid grey socks was accurate. War Pigs was accurate. A cook charging a gunman in his place of work armed with nothing more than a pan was accurate. Noah Hawley captured a certain flavor and color of an age that is often overlooked or misrepresented. This season of Fargo was tight and poignant and captivating. It was a world where people braced for the onset of modernity and had an existential crisis as they felt simpler pleasures slip irrevocably away. It’s a world that showed us extreme violence and quiet tenderness.
It’s a world I’m going to miss.
If you like the header photo, you can find a number of very cool Fargo season two wallpapers here.