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.
– 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?
AIRED ON 6/17/2014
Season 1 : Episode 10
AIRS ON 10/12/2015
Season 2 : Episode 1