Don't read on unless you've seen "Morton's Fork," the season finale of FX's "Fargo."
Overall, I'm glad I stuck with the crime miniseries, which I discuss with critics Ryan McGee and Joanna Robinson in this week's hourlong, "Fargo"-centric Talking TV podcast.
But my first reaction to the "Fargo" finale was disbelief and annoyance that it had Gus catch and ultimately kill Lorne Malvo. It didn't make a ton of sense narratively, in my opinion. Molly did the most work to find Malvo, she occupied one of the primarily places in the story, and psychologically and karmically, the story strongly led us to a place where it was hard not to feel she deserved to stop this horrible man.
The fact that she didn't was anticlimactic, and for me, it imparted a deflated quality to the final hour. I'm sure there are a lot of logic cops out there who will tell me at great length why it made sense for Gus to right the wrong of him letting Malvo go the first time they met, but that explanation just doesn't sit right with me. (Also, as Alan Sepinwall asked, in Minnesota, is it really cool for mailmen to kill people in cold blood? It seemed odd to me that nobody cared that Malvo was seated and without a gun when Gus killed him.)
Again, going back to where the narrative had led us, Gus hadn't been especially important to the story of late, and though, yes, Molly will get to be police chief, as Willa Paskin asks, why couldn't she be chief and take down Malvo? I can't think of a single reason why this eminently capable woman couldn't do both those things. As Paskin wrote in her perceptive review, "Instead of tracing the long arc of Molly’s professional triumph, the show was actually tracing the redemption arc of the previously insufficiently macho Gus." That was a letdown, to say the least (as was the fact that a massive coincidence led Gus to Malvo in the first place -- the show went out of its way to awkwardly re-insert Gus into the main narrative, thus brusquely shoving Molly aside).
There's a very positive aspect to my dissatisfaction with that aspect of the show's extremely tidy resolution -- part of my reaction stems from my genuine admiration for the character of Molly and especially for Allison Tolman's performance in the role. Billy Bob Thornton was impressive as the corrosive Malvo, Martin Freeman did his usual fine job as Lester and, all season long, Colin Hanks and Keith Carradine were terrific as standout supporting characters (that coffee-shop scene between Carradine and Thornton was jaw-droppingly great).
But this was Tolman's show, and she did an outstanding job of making Molly's persevering nature complex and compelling. It could have been a thankless role, but in the hands of Tolman and executive producer Noah Hawley, it was anything but. Whether or not "Fargo" continues with a new (and apparently separate) season, I still think FX should air a miniseries starring Tolman every year. She is one hell of a find.
For some folks, the measured, sometimes self-consciously clever and dryly observational tone of projects like "Fargo" is absolute catnip, and I respect that. As Tim Gunn would say, it's a matter of taste (though Gunn would say it in French, a language that I, as a Midwesterner, fear). I normally veer toward stories that are more visceral, intense and emotionally involving, which is why I enjoyed the Molly-Gus-Lou threads of "Fargo" quite a bit. Those characters were clearly designed to offset Malvo's eeeeevil, and they did the trick, though in the end, the nature of the resolution (evil people die, good people get to continue being good, because, sure, that's how the world works) felt a little too tidy.
Look, I didn't want the anyone from the Solverson-Grimly clan to die, but I would have liked more of an indication that it's not quite that easy to pin the labels "good" and "evil" on human beings, even if most of them are from Minnesota. Speaking of one of those flat-voweled Midwesterners, people tend to be complicated mixtures of many qualities, but "Fargo" seemed to locate all the evil in Malvo, and all the temptation toward self-serving egoism in Lester. (Sidebar: I found it interesting that we spent much of the podcast talking about Molly and Malvo and not much about Lester. Hawley was wise not to dwell too much on Lester's amoral journey, given that it strongly resembled that of many other TV anti-heroes.)
"Fargo's" plot resolution ticked all the "conclusion" boxes, and normally, I would respect the desire to provide a well-defined wrap-up, given that so many shows have trouble with endings. But it's as if the desire to wrap up the plot neatly also led the show to avoid philosophical and metaphysical complexity, which is a great thing in storytelling. I don't mean to pit "True Detective" against "Fargo" -- the shows had different goals, both offered many things to like, and I certainly had issues with the HBO drama's finale. But the yearning messiness of the questions "True Detective" asked stuck with me for a long time. If "Fargo" returns, next time I hope it's a little less careful and distant and a little more heedless and bold.
There's a lot this season did right, which is why I'm glad I watched it. The show's suspenseful moments were often quite compelling and well-executed. Malvo and Nygaard's cat-and-mouse game after the Vegas fiasco was filled with an addictive kind of foreboding, which was nicely offset by the comic relief of Key and Peele's hapless FBI agents. Two clever things I really loved: The Fargo shootout behind that building's brick wall, and the one-year time jump. The show could, on occasion, be just a little too clever and smug (and I wasn't a fan of some convenient coincidences), but in those kinds of moments, its narrative intelligence served it very well indeed.
All things considered, "Fargo" was well worth visiting. The season was smartly laid out and crisply paced, and the cast was terrific. And if Hawley and FX work together again, I hope it won't be on a story about a mild-mannered schnook who breaks bad. What about a show about a diligent cop played by Tolman? Ya sure, that'd be super.