Television

Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Michael

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Crosstalk – Fargo Season 1

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Hello and welcome to Need To Consume’s inaugural Crosstalk. I’ll be talking about what is possibly this year’s breakout show, Fargo with Jimmie Dodger (aka Chris) who has been bringing you the weekly episode recaps.

MICHAEL

Naturally enough I’ll start at the end. TV series in general, and thrillers in particular, live and die on their endings, so how did Fargo fair after ten weeks introducing (and bumping off) characters and moving all the players into position? The general reaction has been that the final episode was good but maybe not up there with the best episodes of the series. Critics point to: Molly Solverson and Lorne Malvo not sharing any scenes, Gus acting out of character and a too-happy ending. To take these points one by one, first of all the TV series was inspired by the work of the Coen brothers. Throughout the series a confrontation between the good Deputy and the malevolent killer was teased. The theories ran wild, was this a confrontation between pure good and ultimate evil? Was it Jesus Vs Satan? Was Molly, as a woman, the only character in the story who could get the drop on Lorne? In the end though, none of this came to pass. In fact, other than in the confusion of Episode Six’s snowstorm, Allison Tolman and Billy Bob Thornton didn’t share a scene until Malvo was killed. To keep your two main characters apart for the whole story, to build towards a showdown that never comes, what could be more Coen than that? Have these people never seen No Country For Old Men? Personally I like to see the conflict between the two as similar to that in Stephen King’s The Stand between Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail. One is evil, one is good and though they oppose each other they never meet. Instead the agents of the story are their protégé’s, in this instance Lester is finally brought down by Molly, whereas Malvo’s undoing comes at the hands of Gus. Does anyone really believe Gus would have had it in him if he hadn’t met Molly?

Which brings me to the second common criticism, that the previously hapless Gus is the man who finally got the drop on Malvo. It should have been Molly, people cry. Gus was useless, they moan. He didn’t even solve the riddle, Molly did, they continue. Here’s the thing though, Gus did solve Malvo’s riddle. To recap, when Malvo got out of jail using the Frank Peterson gambit, Gus asked him how he could do it. Malvo cryptically tells Gus “Did you know the human eye can see more shades of green than any other colour? My question for you is: Why?” When Gus relates this to Molly, she tells him the answer, it’s so that early man could spot predators in the wild. But that isn’t the answer to the riddle, that’s just fact. No, Gus himself solves it – To catch a predator, you must become a predator. And how does Gus find Malvo’s hideout? Why, he spies it when he has to brake sharply for a wolf, of course. That’s not to say this is not Molly’s victory as much as it is Gus’ of course. She not only provided him with the knowledge he needed about predators but arguably gave him his courage as well. We know what happened when Gus first met Malvo – he was intimidated into letting him go with little more than hard stares and softly spoken words.

As for the ending, many lament that Malvo met his well-deserved end while Gus, Molly and Greta relax on the settee watching Deal or No Deal (a form of purgatory if you ask me). To my mind Malvo had been shown to be just too evil to be allowed to live. His line to Lou in episode Nine ‘I haven’t had a piece of pie that good since the Garden of Eden’ seemed a good indication to me that he was the Devil, or at least he thought he was. No-one in Bemidji could have lived easily while he was still around. The one gripe I do have though – how was Gus cleared of murdering an injured and unarmed man, and in fact already up for citation, in a fortnight?

 

Fargo Gus

What about you Chris, how did you find the finale, on its own merits and how it linked to the series as a whole?

———-

CHRIS

I thought the last episode could have had a bit more ‘punch’ to it, it felt a bit safe and tame, and I think what I wanted was an episode finale that was closer to that of Episode 6 ‘Buridan’s Ass‘ with the snow drift shootout and the scene with Chumph being killed.  Don Chumph’s death really was a very powerful kick to the groin, you could have almost believed George RR Martin had written it with it’s brutality and lack of decorum, and left me with that vulnerable feeling Game of Thrones has done in the past; like a stone has just fallen into the pit of your stomach.

I can however understand why they didn’t go for this though, I don’t believe this show is in line with the likes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and other grand shows, which are designed to sometimes leave you in shock and awe with events like: The Red Wedding, Gale’s death, Eddard Stark’s beheading etc.  I think this show was designed to be quirky and original (although based on a previous film) and they tested the waters every now and again with an idea to see how people would react, but ultimately wanted to end in a tame manner that was simple.  At the same time the show-runner Noah Hawley may just not have had the confidence and gusto to let Malvo go on an all out rampage, killing every other main character and let himself walk away unharmed onto his next assignment.

Personally an ending that was daring and harsh and almost painful to watch, I would have enjoyed, I like TV to go that extra mile, to punch me in the gut when I don’t expect it, to make me ask ‘did they seriously just do that?’ and this episode didn’t do that for me, other parts of the show have, as I mentioned before, but this one didn’t.

I do think though that the episode did what it needed to do, which was round up all the storylines and choose an ending for our main characters; whether it was what the audience wanted is another matter.  As you said Michael, regarding Gus being the one who ended Malvo’s storyline, I too don’t feel this was the right path for the writers to choose.  I felt the story was leading to Gus being caught in Malvo’s house, Malvo killing him and Molly turning up to finish him off, or even all three dying in some form of hostage situation melee.  What we did get however felt a little too neat, somehow Gus just figured it all out with no explanation and then fires several rounds in Malvo, who as you said was unarmed and injured, but Gus gets to walk free without any questions, that doesn’t work; if he’d been then arrested by Molly due to his crimes then we’d have had a bit of conflict, and I’d have liked that more.

As for Lester’s demise, I am ok with this.  I really like the fact he dies in a way that he was threatened with previously, the ice holes, and how the actuality of ‘skating on thin ice’ was a cause for his death, as he was metaphorically doing this for 10 weeks now.  Lester’s death seemed inevitable to me and almost necessary to make things right again and it showed the audience what Lester was doing was in fact wrong; being another signifier to how the show ended in a tame manner, Noah Hawley could have let him get away with everything but he made karma find it’s way home.

In terms of how it connected with the rest of the show, I thought the finale did well, there were direct references to other episodes, such as episode nine ‘A Fox, A Rabbit and a Cabbage when the FBI agents ask Lester about the riddle, and the show is essentially ‘book-ended’ by one of Lester’s wives dyeing, and he copes very differently with Linda’s death than when it was Pearl’s in episode one ‘The Crocodile’s Dilemma’.  It would have been nice for more story weaving with longer story arches, such as Molly and Malvo meeting before his death, Malvo’s cassettes being seen on screen more often and some form of story twist would have been nice.

Would you too have preferred more of a story twist, or maybe even a less ‘palatable’ ending Michael?Fargo Lester Malvo

 ———-

MICHAEL

I think the George RR Martin comparison is very apt, in Game of Thrones there is that ever present menace that a favourite character could get bumped off because we all know how Martin works. In Fargo that same threat is hanging over the characters because we know that it was to be self-contained, there would be no saving characters for future series. We also knew how ruthless Malvo was and what happened to people who crossed him. During several episodes my nerves were absolutely shredded, no more so than the scene between Lou and Malvo in ‘A Fox, A Rabbit and a Cabbage’ when I became convinced Lou was going to reveal he was onto Malvo and get killed for his pains.

Also for the ultimate fates of the characters I’m on the side of those who wanted Malvo dead. He had become so malignant by the end and was such a force of nature that having him free and alive would have been no sort of ending at all – any other survivors would have been looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives. I did feel the ending was a bit clean though, as you say Gus being arrested an even serving a sort sentence might have made more sense logically as well as given the ending that bittersweet quality it lacked.

What we did get from the finale of course was the death of everyone’s favourite FBI clowns, Budge and Pepper. Introduced halfway through the series they rapidly became one of its strongest facets. Their initial cock-up, reduced circumstances, bickering and philosophical ruminations really endeared them to me. I think they come from a great tradition of clown characters, acting as comic relief but also offering great insight with their conversations.  You think of the gravedigger and Rosencrantz & Gilderstern in Hamlet, or Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot. Initially of course they were there for laughs but played an important part in the story when they finally gave Molly some much needed support. Of course we all knew they were no match for Malvo and so it proved. Perhaps their real role in the finale was to give Malvo one last win – victims served up so that the audience wouldn’t feel cheated when all the other heroes survived. Also, their death (due in part to Malvo’s ruse with their backup) might provide a reason as to why Gus didn’t face charges – The FBI both rewarding the man who got the man who murdered their agents and covering up their mistakes.

Fargo Budge & Pepper

Talking of mistakes and a man who made plenty, one of my favourite aspects of the last episode was the way Bill was painted in a much better light than we’d thought possible. He didn’t stifle Molly due to envy, sexism or just pig-headedness. No, he genuinely didn’t think people could be that mean. He’s practically the embodiment of the ideal of Bemidji or any small northern town, when you can leave your door unlocked and where people help their neighbours out at the drop of a hat. Frances McDormand dubbed the accent used in the film version ‘Minnesota-Nice’ and that’s exactly what Bill is.

You mentioned story arcs, what did you make of the decisions to end or drop certain stories in the middle of the season? Malvo’s diabolic game Milos came to an end earlier than I was expecting (after Milos had planted the macguffin which might dictate future seasons, or course) and with it his very one-sided partnership with the aptly named Chumph. Personally I was a big fan, it give the second half of the season a flavour distinct from the first and the storyline had served its purpose, which was to keep things turning nicely while the main players got in position for the showdowns to come. The series gave us a couple of nice swerves too. I thought Mr Wrench might have some further part to play after his hospital encounter with Malvo but it was not to be. Perhaps it just served as a reminder that stories don’t really end, they just stop being told. In this case, Malvo has set free another killer back into the wild.

Another swerve was with Lester. After the opening of Buridan’s Ass (the season’s standout episode for my money) in which he successfully frames his own brother, I thought Lester was going to become the new Malvo and that maybe that was why Malvo had done what he did in the first place, because he saw potential in him. By the end though we were told very clearly that Lester’s new confidence was merely a façade and that he was still the same insecure yet brutal coward from the first episodes. I’m also glad that it wasn’t Malvo that killed him – in the end his death came because of his own crimes and incompetence, in equal measure.

———-

CHRIS

I totally agree about nerves being shredded. That scene with Lou and Malvo, I was half expecting to see a shot under the counter of Lou holding a weapon of some kind just in case; I don’t think Malvo would have made a first move unless he felt threatened; but in all honesty, you never knew with him, he did what he wanted, when he wanted and that was what was so good about his character, he was entirely unpredictable; and by far my favourite character of the show.

Maybe with Gus it was a case of ‘Malvo needed to be put to a stop, and you’ve done that for us so you’re off scot free’ but there isn’t a mention of this, it just happens which is just odd and very unrealistic; not that I’m saying this show is realistic but you know what I mean.  Pepper and Budge dying was pretty much necessary, I felt they were in a way the replacement for Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench but on the ‘Good Guys’ team, maybe it was a metaphor for ‘good’ starting to win, or maybe they were just for added comedy and someone else for Malvo to kill.

In terms of story I did find it interesting how we were sort of told two stories but set over one series, the first half with Milos, who by episode 7 I had forgotten how his part ended and couldn’t remember if he was done with or supposed to be seen again; perhaps this is just my poor memory or possibly just the dilemma of when you only see an hour of TV each week you forget stuff.

I did like how Bill’s character was finished off in the last episode, he did seem to show his true caring nature and not just fight against Molly, with his pig-headedness as you said.  He finally realised that she really is a good policewoman who can work things out, whereas he is just too naive of what the world can be like sometimes, Bill seems like he’d be happy in a children’s cartoon or even in the village in Hot Fuzz: rescuing cats from trees, finding lost ducks, running after scoundrels etc but he’s not made of the right stuff for people like Malvo.  If they’d met in the show with Malvo in full ‘evil mode’ I think Bill would have literally sh*t himself.

Buridan’s Ass really was the standout episode of the season for me too.  As for Malvo and Lester’s deaths, I kind of wanted Lester to kill Malvo, just to show he could actually do it, and it’d be a real slap in the face for Malvo, the ultimate assassin gets killed by a Minnesota nice adult-child who broke his own nose evading someone.  But on the other hand this would have been too far, Lester may then have actually ‘broken bad’ and became Malvo and that wouldn’t have been the right ending, and in a way not really an ending at all.  I think overall I am happy with the general way they both died: Lester dying in a hole, possibly a metaphor for his own rabbit hole of lies, and Malvo by the hands of someone who was sort of ‘the law’.  A confrontation between Malvo and Molly may have been nice but I think he would have stomped all over her, while she pulled a face and looked awkward, not quite what the season deserved.

Fargo Molly

MICHAEL

Well that wraps up NTC’s first Crosstalk. I’d like to thank Chris for allowing me to muscle in on his Fargo racket and air my views on the series. So what do you think, Consumers? Tell us your views on the programme, or just tell us how wrong you think we are in the comments below or via our social media channels.

Michael

Michael comes from the middle ground between light and shadow, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. He will write on comics, TV and film, plus anything else that might occur to him.

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