[This is a review of Fargo season 2, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
In the penultimate episode of season 2, Fargo unleashed the story behind the oft-mentioned Sioux Falls Massacre. The bloody firefight unfolded in and around a shoddy hotel where Ed and Peggy Blumquist were holed up under the protection of law enforcement woefully unprepared for the violence that was about to occur. That carnage left the Gerhardt clan wiped out – partially at the hands of Lou Solverson and an injured Hank Larsson, and partially by the knife-wielding hand of Hanzee, the Gerhardt’s trusted hitman – and it left a gaping hole in the collective comprehension of nearly everyone who took part in the bloodbath, regardless which side they were on. Well, maybe not Hanzee.
For all intents and purposes, ‘The Castle’ served as the climax of Fargo season 2, leaving the finale, ‘Palindrome,’ to be the story’s denouement. It is a chance for those who survived the massacre to attempt to make sense of what transpired and to weigh the implications of a horrific level of violence. What most characters find out is that the massacre, like the Vietnam War, the economy, etc., makes the world a little less recognizable than it was before. But at the same time, such violence is the element people convince themselves is unknowable, even though it’s looking them square in the eye – or, as the case may be, hovering above them, shining a bright green light in their eye. Like it or not, it is the face of change, and the weight of that realization is so great some can only cope by refusing to acknowledge it at all.
The episode begins in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. Hanzee is hunting down Peggy and a mortally wounded Ed, while Lou chases after all three with a reluctant Ben, who half-jokingly proposes they might be better off just going “home to bed.” Hanzee seemingly tracks his quarry to a supermarket meat locker where they make what is to be their last stand. But it’s not. Peggy and Ed already had their last stand back at the hotel. The ordeal is over; they just don’t know it yet. The only thing left for them to do is resolve the issue of their untenable marriage. Ed uses the final moments of his life to do just that, while the blurred edges of Peggy’s imagination concoct an unstoppable villain, “a bad man comin'” in the form of Hanzee, who takes to smoking them out of their hiding place, just like in the movie she watched earlier that morning.
Although it seems to be the case, it is not the end for Peggy – at least not in terms of life or death. But it is an ending, a notion that remains important throughout the hour and as well as the season as a whole. Terrific through and through, Fargo season 2 was largely concerned with things coming to an end, whether people were aware of it or not. After all, the season is set in 1979. But it’s not just the end of a decade; it’s the end of what many characters know as their way of life. What the season discovers is that, like Ed and Peggy’s ordeal, and even their marriage, most endings have already happened, everyone is just slow to take notice.
“I don’t think we’re gonna make it,” Ed tells Peggy, “We’re just too different.” But Peggy persists, speaking how adversity can seal their bond and make them stronger, like a bone healing. But it’s really just more conflict. Ed’s convinced Peggy’s always trying to fix things that don’t need fixing. “Everything’s just fine,” he tells her, wanting to go back to what they had before, even though the unfulfilling nature of what they had before is precisely what she was trying to fix.
That lack of awareness or willingness to acknowledge the end is pervasive in ‘Palindrome.’ Like most of this show, sometimes it reveals itself gradually, and other times it smacks the viewer in the face like a cold North Dakota wind. The act of something coming to an end of isn’t terribly important here, not really. What’s important is the conflict that arises when people remain unaware a thing is over and persist as though nothing has changed. Ed and Peggy’s relationship is indicative of the larger conflicts the show has on display, the idea of people and ideologies and institutions moving in opposite directions at once, pulled as much by nostalgia for the past as they are a desire for a better future.
It’s a lot like Mike Milligan’s talk with a desperate Ricky G about the notion of sovereignty and kings. Ricky says, “We don’t do kings.” “We do,” Mike replies. “We just call them something else.” Both men have come to an ending, but only one of them knows what lies on the other side. Ricky’s (almost immediate) death by shotgun is billed as nearly preferable to the potentially slow one Mike is rewarded with after shepherding the Gerhardt family’s criminal holdings into the hands of Kansas City. Mike’s bubbly opportunity to “bathe in the warm champagne that is corporate praise” is met with the flat realization that the corporations have won; crime has gone corporate or corporations have turned to crime. Either way it doesn’t matter. This is the future. We still have kings; we call them CEOs.
And that’s how it goes. Hanzee may well go on to build an empire, but he’ll have to literally put on a new face to do so. Mike, too, may also rise, but first he’ll be a cog in the corporate system that wants him to look the part, to abandon his identity, become a whole new man, like Moses Tripoli, right after he finishes with some punks on a baseball field. Peggy, ever the optimistic about what the future might hold, is holding out to one day have a cell with a view of the ocean and maybe a pelican. Oceanic view or not, Peggy is in the same boat as Hanzee and Mike. In the end they’re marginalized members of society denied the chance to “be my own me” and to “not be defined by someone else’s expectations.” Some things may be coming to an end, but institutionalized discrimination isn’t one of them.
In a sense, albeit through vastly different experiences (both being white men and all), Lou and Hank do have something in common with the criminals they were after. They have as much trepidation about the future as they do reservations about the past. Both men saw war in their lifetime. It left an indelible mark, and as far as Lou is concerned, the war has indeed followed him home. It also led Hank to develop a universal language of symbols, using “home” and “love” as its foundation. Betsy tells her father that he’s a good man and he says he doesn’t know about that. “I like to think I got good intentions,” Hank says. And like the alien spacecraft that both men agree is better left as subtext, the implication of Hank’s untested universal language is that there’s a better future – the one Betsy dreamt of, one that is perhaps free of the miscommunication causing all this strife and bloodshed – just waiting to begin.
Fargo will return with season 3 in 2016 on FX.
Photos: Chris Large/FX