Written by Chris Diggins
Fargo Season 2 Finale Plot Summary:
Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed (Jesse Plemons) make a run for it while Lou (Patrick Wilson) tries to make things right again.
One of the most striking things about this season of Fargo is just how different it was from the first season. Not just that it took place in a different time period and starred different characters, but the story it told was of a radically different kind. Season one of Fargo was all about a grand struggle of good versus evil, a fight between the combined forces of chaotic malevolence and selfish cruelty against just plain decent folks doing their best. But while there may have been a fair few villains, this season was more about the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives we construct about our lives. Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story, and this season Fargo showed how much that can lead us astray.
It started last episode, when we finally got to see the massacre at Sioux Falls, the ominous event that’s been hanging over the whole season. The grand narrative of this season, both for us and for most of the characters in the show, was the struggle between the Gerhardt family and the Kansas City outfit over who would control Fargo. To both sides, it was a conflict for their very souls, the Gerhardts to hold on to the empire their family has worked so hard to build, and Kansas City as representatives of the inexorable march of progress. But when the end came, it ultimately had nothing to do with either of them. The haphazard crimes of Peggy and Ed, along with the manipulation of Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon), lead to a shootout with the police that finishes off the Gerhardt family for good. Both sides thought it would come down to a dramatic showdown, but instead the actions of people neither of them had noticed or considered brought a violent and mostly unrelated end to their struggle.
That was only the start of these narratives crashing down, though. This episode continues it on a more personal, emotional level than the dramatic explosion of last episode, as we focus in on Peggy and Ed. They’ve been the backbone of this season, as their actions have precipitated the entire plot while their conflicting wants and desires have anchored the theme of the stories we tell ourselves. So it’s only fitting that in the finale both of them finally face the truths they’ve been denying for so long. Trapped in a meat locker, bleeding to death, Ed finally admits what’s been obvious to us from the start: that he and Peggy are just too different to really work. That he’ll always want the quiet life back home while she’ll always want something more. And that sometimes you can’t fix something because it isn’t broken in the first place. It’s a devastating sequence, and Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst both do exceptional work.
Dunst isn’t done yet though, as Peggy takes longer to admit the truth. As Ed lays dying, she sees smoke start to filter through the vents in a mirror of the movie she’d seen earlier. She casts herself as the heroine, valiantly making a last stand against the evil that’s menacing her and her husband. But it was all in her head. There was no smoke. Hanzee ran away. Lou and Ben (Keir O’Donnell) are the only ones there. And most importantly, her husband has quietly died. It’s enough to finally shatter all of Peggy’s illusions, about what’s happening and about herself. The massacre at Sioux Falls may have been a dramatic showdown, but this is the real climax of the season: a person who is no longer able to tell themselves that it’s all going to work out.
I’ve focused a lot on Ed and Peggy here, but there’s so much other great stuff going on that reinforces the point. Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) waltzes into the Gerhardt estate as the conquering hero and proclaims himself king, only to find that success in Kansas City is less regal and more corporate, doomed to a life of accounting and expense reports. Betsy (Cristin Milioti) rejects the philosophy of Albert Camus and asserts that we’re all here for a purpose, something she has to believe when she’s got a six year old daughter and is slowly dying. Peggy desperately tries to explain herself, her anxieties and fears and the lies she’s been fed, while Lou brusquely dismisses her by stating that people are dead. Neither of them are wrong, exactly, but there’s a gap between their views that they can’t cross where the truth really lies. Even we’re not immune to the shattered narratives: we expect a confrontation with Hanzee, we expect Betsy to die, we think Hank (Ted Danson) might be crazy, but none of this comes to pass. Last season’s finale, while strong, defied expectations to seemingly little purpose, creating an ending that was excellent but also unsatisfying on some levels. This season avoids that problem entirely, bringing home every theme and idea it’s presented and hitting just the right notes of defied expectations while still providing satisfying alternatives.
Do I even need to mention that it all looks gorgeous too? The direction and cinematography on Fargo has been consistently amazing since the first episode, and it’s no different now. The split screen shots were a particularly interesting device that they employed this season, often used to ratchet up the tension or emphasize the disconnect between what a character says and the truth. Meanwhile the snow-covered landscape is as hauntingly beautiful as ever, providing the perfect backdrop for the violence and drama that occurs here.
I wish I could talk endlessly about everything I love about Fargo, or why this finale was such a perfect end to an incredible season. It managed to create this sense of both creeping inevitability and utter chaos, where we knew where everything was going but we couldn’t possibly see how. And it managed to totally reinvent itself, keeping the setting and tone but creating an entirely new kind of story for it to exist around. And that, more than anything, makes me really excited to see what season 3 has in store, knowing I truly have no idea what it could be like (perhaps Betsy’s dream about the future is a hint? It’s confirmed that season 3 will be closer to the present…). What I do know is that if you haven’t been watching Fargo, you owe it to yourself to go check it out now.
Rating: 10 out of 10