Published on December 31st, 2015 | by Michael0
Fargo – Palindrome
And so the second season of Fargo draws to a close. As the episode title, ‘Palindrome’, suggests, in some ways we’re back where we started. There’s a corpse in the fridge, a dead Gerhardt or two and men and women trapped by societal conventions and mediocrity, dreaming of bigger things, seemingly destined to forever miss them.
In keep with modern TV traditions, as I posited last week, action is thin on the ground here, the bodycount is low. One unfortunate old timer is shot dead by Hanzee when Ed and Peggy flag him down, one of several nods to No Country For Old Men that ‘Palindrome’ offers up. Ed himself takes a nasty one to his midsection before he and Peggy hold up in a store. In a nice touch, Peggy shows she is not irredeemably awful by shoeing the clerk away with warnings of a mad killer, keen the he not be caught up in the crossfire. Nor is Peggy stupid – after all it was her sharp eyes that prevented her, Ed and Schmidt being gunned down last week. No, what Peggy is, is absolutely bleedin’ crackers.
Convinced Hanzee is right outside the door of the refrigerated room she and Ed lock themselves in, Peggy begins to see how the situation is just like the war film she watched in the cabin, especially when Hanzee begins to smoke them out. Ed, meanwhile, remains grounded and tells his wife that even if they survive this latest ordeal, their marriage probably won’t. ‘You keep trying to fix things that ain’t broken’ he tells her. The entire season has built up this contrast between the pair – Ed, happy as Larry in his small town Minnesota life, Peggy the wide-eyed dreamer fantasising about glamorous California.
But here’s the thing: Peggy is imagining the smoke (making her life more like a film, thus bringing her California dream closer, perhaps?). Hanzee didn’t even follow them into the store, he fled when Lou and Schmidt joined the chase. And it is they who come across the couple, though sadly not in time to save Ed who dies as he lived – surrounded by dead pigs. Again like No Country For Old Men the expected confrontations do not arrive. Yes Lou has a pot shot at Hanzee but by and large the paths do not cross.
The whole episode is full of such swerves. Hanzee does not get his Lorne Malvo moment, at the hands of Lou or anyone else. Instead he meets a KC man in a park, who promises him a new name and a new face. The name is ‘Tripoli’ whom sharp viewers might recognise as the name of the man who sent the hitmen after Malvo in Season One. Is that Hanzee’s fate then, to become established and complacent and taken out by the kind of man he used to be? It’s certainly quite a satisfying fate, to know that this seemingly unstoppable killer will become an easy target in his later years. Another, more obvious call back is that as Hanzee sits in the park, he is watching two boys at play, one of whom is deaf. As two bullies descend on the poor boys, Hanzee wades in with a hunting knife, which would go some way to explaining how Mr Wrench and Mr Numbers became trusted North Dakota hitmen.
Hanzee’s story dovetails perfectly with Mike’s. After seeing all his enemies dead last week, Mike sweeps triumphantly into the old Gerhardt homestead. Declaring himself King, he grants mercy to the Gerhardt maid but has the remaining Kitchen brother gun down the guy from Buffalo. An act of mercy and an act of cruelty to ring in his reign. Unfortunately for Mike it doesn’t pan out like that. Expecting to be given rule of the erstwhile Gerhardt territory by his KC masters, Mike is instead offered a soul destroying office job in the accounts department. The message couldn’t be clearer – in the coming Reagan era, criminals are businessmen and businessmen are criminals. There is no room for Mike’s individualism and flair. Quit quoting the jabberwocky and start learning how to play golf, young man. Mike may have escaped justice but his fate still seems cruel. I like to think he’ll eventually reject the job and strike out on his own, maybe with the Kitchen brother in tow. Otherwise he’ll just be another Hanzee turning into Tripoli.
Two more swerves come from the Solverson family. The first is that Betsy does not die during the season, despite being deathly ill from the off. The second is that Lou never took that predicted bullet to the leg – his limp would appear to be just his sciatica playing up. Well played, Fargo. Betsy has a Raising Arizona style dream, in which she accurately predicts the future, giving Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks and Keith Carradine a chance to reprise their roles from the first season, if only briefly.
The mystery of Hank’s ‘alien’ language is also solved, when Betsy brings it up to him, he having survived the shooting last week. It actually has nothing to do with the UFO that has dogged the series but rather Hank’s theory that the limitations of language and communication are at the root of most conflicts. By creating a new language of symbols, he hopes to eliminate all that suffering. It’s really just the harmless hobby of a man with a lot of time on his hands, rather than the first signs of madness.
That about wraps her up. Unlike the first season finale, ‘Palindrome’ revels in the sort of averted showdowns and anti-climaxes in which the Coen Brothers themselves so excel. Hanzee is still out there, Mike wins, yet gets shunted into a dingy office, even Betsy fights on. Even Peggy’s California dream hangs in the balance – she asks Lou if she can be tried federally and sent to a prison out west. This may be the end of this particular chapter in the Big Midwestern Book of Crime, but it certainly isn’t the end of the book.