Fargo Season 1 Finale Review: The Natural Order of Things

By Tim Surette

Jun 18, 2014

Fargo S01E10: "Morton's Fork"

Obviously spoilers lie ahead, like immediately in the first sentence, so if you haven't watched Fargo's Season 1 finale, aww jeez, get outta here!

As "Morton's Fork" faded to white, Fargo's moral compass landed squarely on "good" rather than "evil" with Lorne Malvo sporting six new holes in his body and Lester Freeman (probably) frozen in a backwoods lake in Montana, the Earth having swallowed him whole. Ultimately, it was a satisfying finale because the bad guys got theirs—but it wasn't always clear that things would turn out the way they did. 

Heading into the episode, the options were nearly endless. Lester could've gotten away, proving that his wriggly deviance could get him out of any situation. Malvo could've disappeared into the shadows, reiterating the theme that alpha predators will always lurk in dark corners. Or—as was actually the case—good could've prevailed, providing a happy ending for this black comedy. All three outcomes were equally likely, because Fargo's characters were both lovingly crafted and disposable, and the series' dark humor opened up the possibility that anything could happen. 

That sense of uncertainty and unease is what made Fargo such a special miniseries. It's already one of the best examples of the genre that will flood your small screens in the next few years as television gets hot for the "limited event." And good luck to those who follow it, I say, because Fargo has set the bar awfully high. 

In playing with the format that tells a complete story that won't be revisited, creator Noah Hawley gifted us with characters we adored and despised (in a good way), and dispensed of them in equal measure with unflinching violence. He treated the project as an almost entirely closed-ended deal, resisting any temptation to say, "If it works, let's keep it going." (I say almost entirely closed-ended because it's easy to imagine Fargo Season 2 brushing up against Season 1; couldn't you see Mr. Wrench making an appearance in whatever story comes next?) Characters were arced out, cases were solved, and the story reached its finite conclusion while the setting—the real star of the show—feels as if it will live on forever. 

From the very start, Fargo was a show about a place populated with lively characters—much like the vibrant Harlan county of Justified—and the disruption that occurs when an invasive species like Lorne Malvo comes to town. The elements of nature often played a part in the action, culminating in the wild blizzard shoot out of Episode 6, and Malvo repeatedly referred to the natural order of the wild as a life philosophy, so it made sense to me that some cosmic force fought back against those who caused a disruption in the otherwise peaceful Great White North. Malvo was ultimately done in by his spirit animal, a lone wolf that beckoned Gus Grimley toward Malvo's temporary hideout. And the Earth caved in to put an end to Lester, who'd been on the lam, because a simple arrest wouldn't've been enough to atone for all the disarray he caused in Bmidji. As Bill said, "Don't worry, everything will work itself out." Which may as well have been his version of Jeff Goldblum's "Nature will find a way," speech from Jurassic Park

But another beautiful thing about Fargo was that it wasn't just about one thing, not even close. Thematically, it was rich with ideas. Stavros (whatever happened to him?) brought religion into the mix, Bill represented relentless optimism and the idea that man is not corruptible (until he changed his tune, at least), Malvo proved that man is corruptible and took joy in infecting innocent people with evil as some sort of Lucifer figure, and Lester was our Faust, making a pact with the devil. 

However, Fargo was best at exploring the more clearcut theme of good vs. evil, and that rang truest when the writers decided that Gus would be the one to off Malvo. Gus, the man who couldn't shoot a gun except when he was aiming at the woman he was currently courting, found his redemption from letting Malvo go way back in the first episode by killing Malvo dead in his cabin. Some viewers may've wanted to see Molly, the series' hero, take Malvo down, or some may've wanted to see Lester do the deed as payback for pushing Lester's own life out of its orbit, but giving Gus the duty makes the story simpler and more honest and gives Fargo's purest character a well-earned victory. Gus never understood the riddle of the rich man who tried to end all of the world's suffering, but he was very aware of the idea of doing what you could. So he took out Malvo, because it was what he could do. 

I still think Fargo peaked with Episodes 5-8, which made for unbelievable television, but I'm not sure there was a way to make this finale much more satisfying. Here's hoping that other miniseries take notice of how Fargo was crafted and use it as inspiration. 



NOTES


– The big showdown between Lester and Malvo was quietly perfect. I assume Lester was yapping on the phone like he was in a shouting match in order to draw Malvo into his room, where the bear trap would gnaw on Malvo's leg so that Lester could put a bullet in his melon. Of course Lester missed the shot, because he's beta. But the situation maintained the predator allegory as Malvo was baited and hunted. 

– Did you at any point think that Malvo was a werewolf? Or a vampire? Or the devil? Because I sure did, especially when he started moving after Gus shot him three times. Holy crapola! 

– Malvo's self-surgery trick was disgusting and also inspiring. I still don't know how it worked, only that it did. 

Fargo made interesting use of Budge and Pepper throughout the series. Ultimately, their contribution to the real story was minimal. They were great characters, but they were never central to anything truly relevant. Stavros (Oliver Platt) and Don (Glenn Howerton) are in a similar category, but they never felt useless, they felt more like fun window dressing. 

– What was Molly was trying to say when she told Lester about the man who dropped his glove on the subway platform and then dropped his other glove from the train because whoever found the first one may as well have the pair? Lester said, "I'm not this kind of person you think I am, this kind of monster," and the story was Molly's response. My initial guess was that the gloves were a reference to both Lester and Malvo, who at that point were bound together in a way. And since she couldn't hold Lester, it was best to let him go to draw out Malvo (she'd previously mentioned using Lester as bait). But I wonder if there was something more to what she was saying. What do you think she meant?


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  • MooncalfReviews Jul 14, 2014

    Malvo is actually the literal devil. Or at least, a demon. No, I'm not making this up. The clues are there and very obvious:

    1) The "since the garden of eden" statement. A reference to delicious "pie" that was tempting Adam and Eve. You'll see more about that later, when I talk about feeding off of negative emotions.
    2) The way he tempts people into basically turning to their animal instincts to survive at all costs.
    3) The now-famous "blood wings" shot of him as a silhouette in the elevator, after the shooting.
    4 ) His ability to manipulate and intimidate people with a mix of charm and frightening intensity.
    5) The discussion he had with the rabi (or what ever the Jewish fella was). The man calls Malvo a word which is the name of a Jewish demon who dwells in the wild and feeds off of negative emotions. And what Malvo says to him back isn't any less indicative of the fact that he is an actual demon.
    6) The disappearing act he pulls, in the basement and behind the car.
    7) The rather strange co-incidence that Stavros' first born son does actually die, which fits biblically.
    8) All of the many times people mention getting a weird feeling from the guy, and the "black eyes" comment.

    This of course leaves season 2 completely open. Perhaps another demon shows up. Then again, perhaps, as the director said, we "follow the money" and continue to tell the story of the briefcase, which started in the movie.

  • paris_slim Jul 05, 2014

    Oh, ya. What's that then? Key and Peele? I love those guys and only wish they'd have written their own lines. All of the show was in some ways, as absurd as when K&Peele; are on the floor saying stupid sh*t, but they themselves could have been much funnier. Still, maybe "funny" isn't what the director was looking for? Over the top goofy, maybe?

  • paris_slim Jul 05, 2014

    I hated the pilot and didn't finish it. Then I came back and finished it days later. Thought "let's see the next one or two". Then I get really into it and began to absolutely love the story and the characters, except for Lester, who I think was acted over the top, but not in a good way like Malvo.
    The two things that stuck out to me:
    1. An improvised dentist who was able to get the patient he was targeting, and operate on him successfully? The guy should be president!
    2. Lester should have dropped in Vegas, no one is that crazy.
    But this is fiction, bordering on comic book stuff, so why not?
    Excellent entertainment and I hope they do as well next season.
    Colin Hanks is very good in everything I've seen him in so far on TV. Hats off!
    Bob Odenkirk, who's not waiting with baited breath for Better Call Saul?
    Great stuff and I hope it marks the beginning of characterization of quality in all TV, because I can't handle another procedural whether cop or secret op.

  • justtimthen Jun 26, 2014

    Glove story would never be understood by a psychopath proving he was exactly who she thought he was. It is a matter of EQ and IQ
    Lester had no problem in the later scene working out the fox, rabbit and cabbage riddle but failed to understand the meaning of the glove story.
    If you guessed the ending to the glove story before it was told you are a warm soul with above average EQ and I salute you fellow human being.

  • TiMaVi Jun 27, 2014

    This explanation makes more sense to me than most of what I read. Lester's quick ability to solve the rabbit/fox/cabbage riddle represent his shrewd actions. His inability to understand the gloves metaphor represents his apparent lack of conscious and morals. As for Molly, she always saw Lester for what he was and saw no point in either confirming or denying his claim that he wasn't a monster. So she presented him with the metaphor. I think she knew he wouldn't understand it, and it certainly summed up how she felt about the entire mess. As difficult and sad for Molly as it was, the best she could do at that point was to let Lester go in hope that some greater good would come out of it. I really enjoyed the series and sincerely hope for a season 2.

  • justtimthen Jun 30, 2014

    Yes exactly I do like a show that encourages us to think for ourselves.

  • murilocmelo Jun 26, 2014

    Aw jeez, come on now, really? Lester's "demise" was a wonderful metaphor. Ever since episode 1, the man had been walking on thin ice, so to speak. He was bound to fall through eventually, right?

  • paintcan Jul 01, 2014

    Great capsule interpretation of Fargo.

  • paintcan Jul 01, 2014

    This comment has been removed.

  • AmericanInfidel Jun 25, 2014

    I know I'm all alone here but I just finished watching the finale. That was possibly the worst ending to a great miniseries in the history of television. Falling through "thin ice?" Really? Talk about lazy writing. Can anyone think of a less dramatic way for Lester to die? And what's with Hanks just shooting Malvo? No interaction? Nothing to say? It's as if the writers came up with this brilliant idea and then came through until the last 15 minutes when they turned the writing over to a bunch of junior high schoolers.

  • MooncalfReviews Jul 14, 2014

    Lacking "dramatic" finales is what the series was about. Don't you remember the building shootout scene, where you see nothing but the outside windows? lol. It's a black comedy; it's not supposed to be always dramatic, it's supposed to be real. And the "thin ice" thing wasn't intended as a (lazy) metaphor.

  • Electronic_Boogaloo Jun 25, 2014

    You're definitely not alone. I loved the show until the last episode, but that final was really poor. In the end it felt like a long shaggy dog story: it builds up, builds up, builds up.... joke's on you, there's no pay off.

  • manda717 Jun 24, 2014

    i thought the glove thing was about doing something to help someone else, because its too late for you to save yourself.

    throw out your glove Lester... your train is leaving the station anyways....

  • yotaruvegeta Jun 24, 2014

    A pretty good interpretation!

  • SegunAyadi Jun 23, 2014

    Ok am just gona say it, no body, so Lester aint dead (only a wish) + was i d only one wishing lester did mot die, he grew on me

  • MooncalfReviews Jul 14, 2014

    Director confirmed he's dead. Besides, this isn't that kinda story where unless you don't see a body, there's no death.

  • Empty777 Jun 23, 2014

    I don't see how Lester wouldn't have simply claimed that Malvo coerced his confession. Lester's version would be that Malvo killed Hess, then came after Lester's family to keep him quiet. Fairly believable, given how dangerous Malvo proved himself to be. Not to mention the Fargo organised crime connection that was simply forgotten, even by Molly eventually.
    Also, there is no way Gus would get away with shooting Malvo unarmed and injured.
    I feel like they really went with a Disney ending, instead of the blood bath I was expecting. In real life, Malvo would have killed Gus. Maybe even faced Mr. Solverson and Molly. If anyone was going to take down Malvo, it should have been Lester. It really seemed like the story was going that way, until Lester randomly reverted to episode one Lester.
    The only dropped plot line I really wish had been adressed was Bill's adopted son. I would have sworn Bill just walked up to a random guy and assumed he was African. Either they cut that out, or I really misread that scene.
    Key and Peele really shined here. Would have liked to see some dialog between them and Malvo, though. I had guessed their mutual interest in riddles would be addressed.

    Time to go watch the movie.

  • ABCRobbieB Jun 22, 2014

    Best series since True Detectives.

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