Fargo brings its third star-studded trip to the chilly Midwest to a close with a satisfying finale that could also end the series on a high note.
This season of Fargo began with the sense that things had perhaps become a little familiar, and whatever storytelling fuel was left in Noah Hawley's tank, with regard to this increasingly star-studded series, might just bring the needle to "E" this go round. All of the recognizable trappings were still present, of course; the snow-covered setting, the distinctive regional accents that registered words and phrases like "yah" and "hey now" in a way that immediately made you think of Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson. This time, though, the creator brought Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis, Michael Stuhlbarg, and plenty of allusions to the Coen brothers to play in the chilly Midwest. Yes, much of season 3 fit into typical Fargo archetypes, but as the season went on it became clear there was still some terrific work to be done, the sameness of the characters and their recognizable setting notwithstanding.
That sense of place is essential to the appeal of FX's Fargo, and this season made an attempt to address that by having one of the most memorable hours of season 3 take place in Los Angeles. It introduced viewers to Ray Wise's Paul, a traveler who, unbeknownst at the time to both Carrie Coon's Gloria Burgle and the viewers, was also a metaphysical gatekeeper of sorts. The episode didn't have any direct impact on the plot of Stussy v. Stussy or the arrival of V.M. Varga per se. Instead it became a fascinating aside that laid the groundwork not only for Paul to return in one of the series' best scenes to date, but also, thanks to a science fiction story within the story about a not-so-helpful robot, it opened the door for Gloria to have a much needed moment of self-recognition in the season's tremendous penultimate episode.
Taking Fargo out to the coast was like the season's strange cold open: it was in keeping with the series' fixation on a kind of storytelling, one whose claim of being true made its obvious fiction all the more enticing. And has become the rule with Fargo, that aspiration to nonfiction has become the tagline for an increasingly fantastic kind of tale. In season 2, the fantastic element (aside from the larger-than-life criminal element in North Dakota and Minnesota) was a UFO that saved a young Lou Solverson from certain death at the hands of a gangster. Here, it was the aforementioned Paul, waiting in a metaphysical bowling alley reminiscent of the Dude's favorite hangout spot in the Big Lebowski. Paul was already sidled up to the bar, waiting to comfort a grieving Nikki Swango with a kitten said to be the reincarnation of her late lover Ray Stussy. As it turned out, Paul was also there to later dole out a little biblical justice to Yuri, one of V.M. Varga's killer goons.
In between all that was a story of two brothers, their deadly feud, a increasingly marginalized woman in a position of power, and a satanic figure whose rotting mouth was the ideal delivery system for the corruption (among other things) he spewed forth from it. In other words, Fargo season 3 was filled with great potential, but was also a bit scattered at times. As it approached its climax in 'Somebody to Love', though, it became clear that while the season's shortcomings, with regard to satisfying certain character needs – like giving McGregor and Coon more to do with their respective characters – were not necessarily going to be completely fixed, the season itself could still deliver a satisfying conclusion for all parties involved. And if this really is the last season of Fargo we'll see – either forever or for just a while – then Noah Hawley's adaptation still manages to go out on a high note.
Despite Emmitt's confession in 'Aporia', Gloria's efforts to resolve the Stussy murders, and to rope in Varga and the widow Goldfarb, were unsuccessful, leaving the events of 'Somebody to Love' to take a different route in order to ensure the cosmic ledger was balanced at the end of the day. That turned the finale into a story of revenge meted out by Nikki and Mr. Wrench, as they again demonstrated it was not in anyone's best interest – Varga's least of all – to underestimate their tenacity and ability to outwit the devil himself. So much of season 3 has been about people trying to make sense of a world thrown into disorder because old rules no longer apply. Rather than stemming the tide of encroaching chaos, characters like Gloria are simply awash in it, which explains why she feels adrift for so much of the season. In that sense, it takes an agent of chaos to help restore order – or a pair of semi-reformed agents in Nikki and Wrench.
As much as Hawley hinted this season was going to be about the smartphone era, the far more cogent theme is a slightly altered version of the one running through the previous two. The first two seasons of Fargo were period pieces, one set in the 90s and the other the 70s. They were also about ordinary, astonishingly good people stemming the tide of intruding corruption and evil. Lou and Molly Solverson were like the Dutch boy who saves Holland by putting his finger in a leaking dike. Though still set in the past, this season was different; the flood had already happened. That was made abundantly clear when Emmitt, following a confession of murder and corruption, was made to leave the police station to be seemingly gobbled up by Varga's decaying maw.
It makes sense, then, that 'Somebody to Love' would read like a revenge story. There's nothing to stop; the damage has already been done, and the surviving characters are just there to pick up the pieces and set the world as right as they can. Everyone is called to answer sooner or later. Varga flees after his men are laid to waste in a terrifically paced ambush sequence, and Nikki, insisting on chasing down Emmitt goes too far, pulls a gun on a cop and gets wiped off the ledger. Later, Emmitt is clipped by Mr. Wrench in his own kitchen while pulling the "salad" (i.e., jello) out of the fridge. But the sense of a return to order doesn't fully come around until, after another time jump, DHS agent Gloria Burgle finally gets her man – though he's going by the name Daniel Rand, and not V.M. Varga.
The final exchange between Gloria and Varga doesn't entirely make up for the short shrift Coon's character got this season, but it sure comes close. If the finales of seasons 1 and 2 were marked by any one word, it would likely be relief. Relief brought on by a (temporary) return to normal after normal was threatened mightily by outside forces. In season 3, it's different. Maybe its because Varga was an abhorrent criminal using loopholes to make the illegality of his business dealings "technically" legal – as explained by Larue Dollard (Hamish Linklater) – and that he seemed covered in the sort of Teflon favored by businessmen and politicians prone to underhanded dealings, that the end of season 3 felt like a victory. Then again, it could just be the amazing smirk on Gloria Burgle's face, knowing she finally caught the devil by his tail.
Any show smart enough to cast Carrie Coon is guaranteed to get a terrific performance and director Keith Gordon assuages the ambiguity of the seasons' final moments by focusing on the assurance in Gloria's smirk. It may have been an uneven season at times, but Fargo brings its third star-studded trip to the chilly Midwest to a close with a satisfying finale that could also end the series on a high note.
We will have more details for you regarding the future of FX's Fargo as they're made available.
Photos: FX Networks