‘Fargo’ Season 2 Finale Recap: “Palindrome” – Masterpiece TV Storytelling

     December 14, 2015


“It’s the rock we all push…we call it our burden. But, it’s really our privilege.”

We knew a handful of things going into Season 2 of Fargo. Like that Lou Solverson makes it out alive and his daughter Molly grows up to be a hero. What we didn’t know, and none of us could’ve predicted, is that Season 2 would spin such an emotionally and philosophically riveting web. We’ve seen characters that were seemingly minor at first deftly arc into major players (that bleed into the first season), while the titans that dominated early on fell at their feet. Along the way, Noah Hawley and his creative team explored concepts ripped from the philosophy books. Why keep pushing that rock up the hill? Are conflict and war just products of miscommunication? Is it more righteous to serve the greater good or ourselves?

For some characters, like Lou, these questions may have been answered. All season we saw him fight to understand the carnage around him and the illness Betsy was suffering at home. All of this, piled alongside the horrors of war he witnessed and the evacuation of Saigon, left him questioning what it’s all for. He found those answers at home – the rock isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege. He finally understood what Ed Blomquist meant about “protecting his family no matter what.” This revelation is what made Lou into the stoic, serene man we saw portrayed by Keith Carradine in the first season.


Image via FX

It’s a reversal of the Lester Nygaard story arc that we saw in that first season. Lester’s experiences with Lorne Malvo transformed him into a cunning, tough businessman who kills his first and second wife (or, at least, sent the second one to the slaughter). Lester served only himself in the end. Lou, on the flipside, learns that his role in life is to serve the greater good. Whether that means protecting his family or serving milkshakes, Lou is content with his path. Patrick Wilson’s understated performance helped cement Lou’s transformation.

And as Lou drives away from Sioux Falls, the place where he achieved his own type of “actualizing,” we hear a familiar theme: Carter Burwell’s melancholy opening music to the film. It’s music that cues the start of something greater – in this case, Lou’s role as a wise protector.

It was an emotional relief that the Solversons and Hank Larsson’s stories ended on satisfying notes. The cancer takes Betsy later on, sure, but for now “Palindrome” left her safe and sound. Hank discussing his language project felt downright tragic. Like Lou, he’s seen death and is trying to make sense of it in his own way. When Betsy first stumbled upon the work in his den, it felt like something big – almost like a twist in a series that doesn’t typically use twists. In my write up that week, I even surmised the symbols to be Hank trying to tap into something supernatural to cure Betsy.

If Lou was the soul of the season 2, Hanzee Dent was the black beating heart. His transformation from errand boy to the man who crumbled an empire was something I bet none of us saw coming. There were hints along the way (watching him have to drink from a hose, being told to “know his place”), but his betrayal of the Gerhardts blindsided the hell out of me. He was in full-on slasher villain mode here, even appearing in Betsy and Peggy Blomquist’s nightmarish visions. There was no big showdown at the end between Hanzee and Lou (or Hanzee and Mike, like I was hoping earlier in the season). Instead, Hanzee gets a new name and a new mission in life. And that name is…holy shit…MOSES TRIPOLI.

*record scratch*

Rewind to season 1. The head of the Fargo mob is named Mr. Tripoli. Now, him and Hanzee look nothing alike, but Hanzee expresses his desire to get his entire face restructured through plastic surgery. He’s “Sick of this life.” Yes, I do believe Hanzee becomes the leader of the entire Fargo outfit. The same man gunned down by Lorne Malvo in season 1’s “Who Shaves the Barber?” Simply put, holy shit. It makes so much sense. He wiped out the Gerhardts and took control. When asked by his new identity connect if he’ll join a new empire, Hanzee replies, “Maybe start one of my own.”


Image via FX

And before I go on let me say HOLY CRAP it’s little Wrench and Numbers!!! What an amazing moment! In a few short minutes we get the Wrench and Numbers pseudo-origin story. Seeing them being picked on by two rotten bullies, Hanzee leaves the stands to, well, I assume he gutted those kids. Connect the dots, they must’ve fallen under Hanzee (Mr. Tripoli’s) tutelage and that’s how they became enforcers for Fargo. It would also explain Mr. Wrench’s fondness for fringe buckskin jackets.

So there we have the origins of the Fargo mob as they’re depicted in season 1. It’s a narrative decision that feels incredibly organic to the world of Fargo and, like a lot of elements this season, is something most folks didn’t see coming.

The title of the finale, “Palindrome,” probably gave some an uneasy feeling in their stomachs. A palindrome is something that can be read the same backwards as forwards. Being that this season of Fargo began with a whole bunch of corpses, the title is an ominous one indeed. This episode, directed by Hamish Broker himself, Adam Arkin, began with a somber montage of the already dead Gerhardt clan (yes, Simone is dead. C’mon, people.) but the only ones who died (on camera) were a nameless bystander, Ricky G (act of cruelty), and Ed Blomquist. Of all the palindromes that could’ve been, Ed’s hurt the most.

Ed began the season with humble dreams. His own business, children, and his wife. That’s all he wanted out of life. That Norman Rockwell painting faded real quickly when he stuffed Rye Gerhardt in a chest freezer. His own end came in a similar way, in a meat locker. A fitting and wholly tragic end for the Butcher of Luverne. The guy who wanted the American dream and to protect his family at all costs, well, he paid the cost. Bravo, Jesse Plemons, for delivering one helluva performance. His final, “maybe we won’t make it,” confession to Peggy was utterly heartbreaking.

Fargo, both the film and the series, is frequently cited for knocking at the darkness of small town America’s heart. Plemons did just that and then ground the remains up into sausage. Ed, the perpetual optimist, died with the knowledge that sometimes it doesn’t work out. You don’t get the business or the few acres of land (like in the painting above his mantle). Sometimes you just get thrown into the bullshit and bleed out in a meat locker in Sioux Falls.


Image via FX

His death was another stitch pulled in the fragile fabric that is Peggy Blomquist. All season Kirsten Dunst has been phenomenal. We know she is. Tonight she drove it all home. Giving all of Peggy’s fears and desires a climactic howl in the back of Lou’s squad car. She raged about the expectations put on her and other women. About how impossible that bar is. I mentioned last week that if you pause on the introductory true crime book, you could read about Peggy’s past. It’s clear she’s been defined by other people her whole life. Unable to forge her own path. It’s clear Lou doesn’t see her as a victim. It’s probably the one major thing I disagree with Lou about. Lou’s seen horrors and death, but he’s never been a woman. His dismissal of her explanation because “people are dead” actually makes me dislike young Lou quite a bit.

Then we come to Mike Milligan. The resourceful, ambitious enforcer from Kansas City who outlived Joe Bulo and one half of the Kitchen brothers. He took out the undertaker, slept with the enemy, and delivered riddles in the face of the police. Did he have a hand in taking down the Gerhardts? Kind of. He led the battalion that killed Otto Gerhardt and intimidated information out of others (Skip Spring). But no matter how much he actually accomplished on the Kansas City vs. Gerhardt front, he was just a grunt.

His reward? A position in the accounting department. Examining profits and loss within the mob’s infrastructure to help cut costs. This wholly tragic ending roped in the season’s overarching theme of the death of the family business and the rise of the corporation. In the case of criminals, profit isn’t made by busting heads and extortion anymore. It’s made by the mope in the mailroom who figures out a way to save on postage. Cut your hair. Update your wardrobe. And get a real tie. At least Mike might have health insurance now, I guess? Anyone else think of Vic Mackey’s fate on The Shield when Mike Milligan sat behind that desk? A fate worse than death for a sovereign king, indeed.


Image via FX

Like they did by simply making the damn show in the first place, Hawley and his team pulled off an improbable feat the past ten weeks by surpassing the first season in scope and quality, while still maintaining the black comic spirit of the Coen Brothers’s film. The themes explored this season felt more defined and deeper and although we knew the fate of a major character (and one adorable toddler), the stakes somehow felt higher. More grounded. Even with the inclusion of a freaking UFO, the plight of the Solversons, the Gerhardts, the Blomquists, Hanzee, Hank Larsson, Kansas City, the Kitchen Brothers, Karl Weathers, Noreen Vanderslice, Sonny Greer, and goddamn Ronald Reagan felt organic. It was masterpiece TV storytelling, with a lot of violence and black comedy along the way. But isn’t that what life is, anyway? Like Camus said, “Since we’re all going to die…”

Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent

Okay then: 

  • “War Pigs!” An inspired music choice.
  • A lot of folks argued in the comments weeks ago that Simone wasn’t dead – that Bear couldn’t pull the trigger. That we didn’t see her actually die on screen, so she was, in fact, alive. C’mon, Fargo isn’t the type of show. Other series may dangle maybe-deads over their audiences’ head to force hype and hashtags. Fargo isn’t that show.
  • Lou’s nightstand reading? A book of knots. Nice touch.
  • Mike drops the ol’ Anton Chigurh signature “friendo.”
  • Since first appearing in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Ben Schmidt has been a cocky, Napoleonic thorn in Lou’s progress. The cop getting the promotion for taking the safest route possible. The one who advises against taking on the Gerhardts because he frankly doesn’t want to be bothered. Tonight, however, he had a truly emotionally raw moment – breaking down in front of Lou. He didn’t say why he was crying, but it’s clear he realized he’s not the cop he thought he was. Or the man, even. “I don’t even know how to write this thing up.” It was a heavy moment for Keir O’Donnell. The dude killed it.