The Fargo finale: how good was it?

Ben Dowell takes stock of Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman drama import Fargo which saw the tenth and final episode air on Channel 4 last night. Did it live up to the hype?

* spoilers *


Sunday nights will not be the same again. With the days getting shorter (yes, afraid so) and England out of the World Cup, another tragedy has befallen my household: Fargo has ended.

Yes, the series finished in a blaze of glory last night with Billy Bob Thornton’s hired killer Lorne Malvo finally cornered in his lair and shot – not by the person on we may have expected (Allison Tolman’s fabulous deputy police chief Molly) but by her husband (Colin Hanks’ cop-turned-postman Gus) – in an episode laden with portentous symbols, sick jokes and at least a couple of riddles…..

Leading the symbolism was the lone wolf (an actual animal, that is) that indirectly drew Gus to Malvo’s hideaway as the killer was preparing to dispatch Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard, the hapless insurance salesman he had taken a strange interest in from episode one. The sleek wolf even looked like the now silver-topped Malvo; but the animal’s appearance when he popped up in the middle of the road was also a useful reminder of Malvo’s riddle from episode four about why the human eye can see so many shades of green.

As Molly had already told Gus, we see many shades of green because of our primal need to spot predators, and last night saw the hunter finally hunted in an episode which had shades of the Western about it – the bad guy returning to town (or “That fella’s back” as Molly’s Dad Lou put it) and wrongs being righted.

Of course a few innocent people were whacked along the way and last night’s episode, called Morton’s Fork, offered us one or two nice touches of black humour – not least the moment when the doomed second hand car salesman calls “Shotgun!” as Malvo drives him off into the country. Poor fella. Same goes for those FBI idiots Budge and Pepper who had the misfortune to turn their back on Malvo when he had a gun in his hand…..

I also enjoyed seeing Nygaard cornered on a snowmobile which had (to my ears at least) sonic echoes of the woodchipper scene which so brilliantly concluded the 1996 movie.

I liked this series for many reasons. It lived up to much of its earlier promise (outlined in my review here of episode one) and succeeded because it was not afraid to set itself up as a real struggle between good and the evil represented by by Malvo’s brilliantly-realised character. It dealt with big things. Molly’s anecdote, neatly slotted into last night’s episode, was very powerful – about the man who realises as his train pulls out that he has left a glove behind at the station so deliberately drops its mate onto the platform. Lester is just the kind of man to hang on to his glove, while Molly is someone who would drop it on the platform to enable whoever finds them to have a proper pair. It is also the reason why Lester ended up running away on thin ice (see, more symbolism) before his chilly death, which offered a satisfyingly moral ending to a series which has really taken us into some dark places.

My only gripe, I suppose, is with certain plot developments which defied plausibility but were crucial in moving the story on. The showdown between Lester and Malvo hinged on the slightly unconvincing idea that Lester, his life finally on the up, would throw everything away by confronting Malvo when the paths of the two men accidentally crossed in Las Vegas. And in last night’s episode, why did Malvo, whatever pain he was in, not whack Nygaard before fixing his gammy leg?


But that’s nit-picky. Here’s hoping writer Noah Hawley comes good on his talk of a possible second series “that makes you feel both the movie and the first season”, as he put it in a recent interview. It’s not just my Sunday nights that now need a bit of snow, bloodshed and that cutesy Mid-western accent these days….