And so it’s come to this: the second season finale of Fargo. “The Castle” gave us that hotel massacre and added to the large body count that Lou spoke of one season prior, so with all that in mind, where do you go from here? Ed and Peggy are still on the run with Hanzee on their heels, while Lou Solverson, unaware of his wife’s condition, continues his pursuit. Who will make it out in the end? Let’s take a look.
This is “Palindrome.”
The episode begins with a look over the bodies we’ve seen piled up thus far, including that of the Gerhardt family- looks like Simone bit it after all. After Patrick Wilson narrates our normal disclaimer, Betsy Solverson awakens with Molly at her side and Noreen still a-reading away in her book. The doctor said that Betsy had a reaction to the pills. They were supposed to kill the cancer, but they may kill Betsy first. Isn’t that a bitch?
Neither Lou nor Hank are back yet and there’s no word yet of their return. Same with Hank. Molly refused to sleep in her own bed. She’s stubborn like that. Noreen advises Betsy to take it easy so she can regain her strength.
That night, Betsy recounts a dream she had a dream that felt so real, even though she knew it wasn’t yet. She dreamt of a magical future filled with wondrous devices where everything you could ever want would be available in one amazing place. As Betsy narrates, we see glimpses of Molly Solverson’s future- a future that Betsy will not live to see.
As Betsy dreams about Molly growing up, we’re then treated to a very special and surprise sequence where Betsy has a vision of Molly as an adult with her family, with Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Joey King, and Keith Carradine reprising their Season One roles as Molly Solverson, Gus Grimly, Greta Grimly, and Lou Solverson. Joining the four is Molly and Gus’ second child, played by Cameron Hamilton.
However, this happy little moment is interrupted by the sight of chaos- the fracture of peace and enlightenment. It was here that Betsy worried that the future she’d seen may not come to pass.
We return to the motel. Lou leaves while Ed and Peggy continue to flee. In a moment ripped right out of No Country for Old Men, Ed and Peggy flag down a driver, but before they can hitch a ride, Hanzee picks of the driver from a distance. As Ed and Peggy flee, Hanzee fires off a shot that manages to hit Ed.
Ed and Peggy head to a convenience store and tell a janitor to leave because of the bad man coming. Because Ed’s been hit, he’s leaving a trail of blood that leads Hanzee right to the store. Hanzee tracks them, but Lou soon spots him and fires a shot that forces Hanzee to put the pursuit aside and deal with the police.
Ben Schmidt soon joins Lou and is still livid that Peggy had the nerve to sucker him. Well, Hanzee is now the target, so Fubar, yeah?
Peggy and Ed take refuge in a meat locker and jam it shut with an ice pick. Nothing about this is a good idea. A badly bleeding Ed tells Peggy that the two of them are not going to make it. They’re just too different. Peggy disagrees, saying that the adversity they’ve faced is what makes their bond stronger, just like how a bone heals.
She had her doubts, but she’s sure now. Ed weakly tries to get his point across that sometimes nothing is broken. Peggy responds that she wants to get back to what she and Ed had.
Mike Milligan and Gale Kitchen return to the Gerhardt home and Mike calls out to the people of Earth. No one is home but the quiet housekeeper, Wilma. Gale is ready to kill her, but Mike advises him to be reasonable. He tastes from one of the pot and orders no more German food. It must be American going forward. A car soon pulls up, getting their attention.
It’s Ricky, who enters and begins ransacking valuables until Mike and Gale corner him. Ricky tries to make small talk and asks if Mike is the one that Otto had with the housemaid, but he should see that there’s a goddamn shotgun pointed right at him. He hopes that bygones can be bygones, but Mike talks about sovereignty, but since Ricky isn’t the professor from Gilligan’s Island, he doesn’t know how to define it.
Mike does: sovereignty is absolute power and authority, like a king. That’s just who Mike is to Ricky. Ricky tells Mike that this is America, and this nation doesn’t do kings, but Mike disagrees. America does kings, but they’re called something different.
Today is Mike’s coronation day and a new king should start his reign in an act of kindness and act of cruelty. That way, your subjects know you’re capable of both- God and monster. Ricky would prefer the former. The problem is that Wilma works in the kitchen. She’s already received Mike’s kindness- a brand new car and the money in the cabinet that Ricky wanted. So Ricky is, to be frank, shit out of luck.
Before Ricky can fire his weapon, Gale blasts him. However, just as he’s about to deliver the killing blow, Mike stops him. After all, an act of cruelty. The two decide to hit the hay before heading home to bathe in that warm champagne that is corporate praise. Hell, they may even get a parade. Well, Mike is certainly optimistic.
Hanzee soon reaches the meat locker. Peggy hears him wrestling with the freezer locker door. Soon enough, the noise stops, but then Peggy sees smoke filtering into the freezer. Peggy is reminded of the movie she was watched. As she describes the plot and similarities to their current situation, she remembers that the Nazi tried to smoke out the couple. But they were saved!
Ed Blomquist, though, is not, as he soon passes away. As Peggy shakes her now gone husband, she pulls the pick out of the lock and prepares to face her attacker. However, when she rushes out of the locker, she runs into not Hanzee, but Lou and Ben instead. Given that Peggy is holding a weapon, I’m surprised that neither of them opened fire.
There’s no smoke or fire, either. Turns out that Hanzee got away. Lou insists that Hanzee was never in the building, despite Peggy’s protests. She cries out Ed’s name over and over, but he’s dead, Jim.
The next day, we learn through conversation between Lou and Ben that there’s a manhunt for Hanzee. Hank is in the ICU- cautiously optimistic is the word on his condition. Ben doesn’t even know how to write up a report like this. Lou just advises him to start and then work his way to the end, just like any story.
Lou, meanwhile, will take Peggy Blomquist back to Minnesota. If anyone has a problem that, Lou figures that after his week, those people can keep it to themselves.
We then return to the Solverson household. Betsy awakens, but still finds no Lou back yet. Noreen asks if she feels it. Noreen’s aunt lost her bosom to cancer, like someone took a hot poker and put it through her heart. No, nothing like that for Betsy. It’s like getting a peach where one side is ripe and yellow, but the other is black and moldy. Gross.
But then Noreen once again talks about Camus, who says that knowing we’re going to die makes life absurd. Betsy isn’t familiar with Camus, and doesn’t care what he thinks since no one with any sense would say something that foolish. In Betsy’s mind, we’re put on this Earth to do a job and we get time to do it. When this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord, maybe Noreen can try telling him what some Frenchman said.
On the road back to Minnesota, Peggy asks Lou if she can be tried federal. That way, maybe she can serve her time in California. There’s a penitentiary north of San Francisco that has a nice view of the bay. Maybe she can see a pelican, too. Lou will see what happens.
He then talks about the end of the Vietnam War when Saigon fell. There were only 24 hours to get everyone out, allies and all. People packed onto as many boats and possible. But then a Chinook into view, and you can’t just land one of those things on a ship this size. The pilot was waved off, but he had his whole family inside and was running low on fuel, so it was now or never.
The pilot hovered over the deck and people, scared or not, started jumping onto the ship. Hell, the mother even dropped her baby and one of Lou’s men caught him. But what about the pilot? He maneuvered off the port bow and hovered long enough to remove his flight suit. He then somehow rolled the bird on its side and jumped just before it hit the water. Helicopter parts flew around him, but he somehow made it. To this day, Lou wonders how.
Peggy asks what Lou means by this. It’s about Ed, who told Lou that he’d protect his family, no matter what. Truth be told, Lou understood that it was the rock that men push. They call it a burden, but it’s really a privilege. Peggy admits that she never meant for any of this to happen. Not to Ed or anybody else. She just wanted to be someone, and she is now. But she wanted to choose, not be defined by someone else.
But then that stupid guy walked out into the road. You know, the victim, Lou reminds her. Peggy doesn’t see that as fair because she was a victim first. Of what? Peggy doesn’t think that Lou, as a man, would understand. It’s a life that women can be a wife, a career woman, and so many other things, as if there’s 37 hours in the day.
And if she can’t, she’s viewed as inferior. Lou cuts off this rant by reminding Peggy that people are dead. That’s also true.
Lou soon arrives back at the state line and heads to the phone booth to make a call home. Noreen soon answers and tells Lou that Betsy is fine, but she just had a fall. Right now, Betsy and Molly are fast asleep. Betsy will need to come in for some more tests. Until then, Noreen will remain with her until Lou returns. He gives Noreen a message to tell Betsy that he’ll be home soon.
We then cut to a park, where Hanzee watches two kids- who communicate via sign language- toss a ball. He’s joined by a man that goes by The Book, played by Philip Williams, who hands him a wallet with a new identity: Moses Tripoli. Huh. Hanzee also needs a face man, and the details for that are inside.
He may want something older, but what would Hanzee do then? Maybe start his own empire. Book asks whether Hanzee will seek revenge after Kansas City. But no, not apprehend those responsible, but leave them for dead.
As the kids start roughhousing, Hanzee approaches them, his blade at the ready.
In Kansas City, Mike receives his praise, despite still having a few rungs to climb. Hamish tells Mike that a team of asset managers will handle the setup in Fargo since that’s day-to-day work. The real oversight of the Northern territory, Hamish says, will happen in this building, which is where Mike will work.
Hamish sets him up in an office where he’ll work with the accounting department. Oh, and Mike’s Western look has to go. Not only that, but he’s gotta cut his hair. The 1970s are over.
Hamish gives Milligan a tip: when he realizes that the money business is the only one left, the better off he’ll be. This isn’t about busting heads for collection, but profits and loss. Infrastructure. Last year, for example, Donahue in the mail branch saved $1 million a quarter in postage by rejigging the mail room.
Management was impressed and gave him California. Anyway, it’s time for Mike to settle in and get to work. Upper management is expecting big things from Mike. Also, Mike should learn to play golf since that’s where all the big deals are made. He takes his seat.
Back at House Solverson, Lou and Hank return to greet Molly, Betsy, and Noreen. No Sonny or Karl, though. The adults settle down to talk. Hank tells Lou to leave out that the gun fight was interrupted by spacecraft. That can be left as subtext. Hanzee made the FBI’s most wanted list, but no sign yet. He must have fled at this point, but Lou is confident that he’ll be back. And Betsy feels a cramp. That’s more than anyone needs to know.
Hank reminds the two that they’re sitting here together. He’s just happy to see them. Betsy asks her father about her visit to his office. So what’s the deal with the symbols and such? After Betsy’s mother died, Hank and everyone else got pretty low. Hank started thinking about the things he’s seen in the war, at home, on the job- so much senselessness and violence.
He thought about miscommunication- isn’t that the root of conflict? It comes down to language. The words we say don’t always mean the same thing.
So what if there was a universal language of symbols? Pictures are clearer than words, Hank says. Imagine a box on a roof on it- that means home. A heart means love, no question. That’s where Hank started. The more he worked, the more it became all he could think about. Betsy takes her father’s hand and tells him that he’s a great man. Hank doesn’t know about that, but he likes to think he has good intentions.
Later that night, Lou puts Molly to bed and offers her a chance to go fishing tomorrow. Lou and Betsy then bid each other good night as the second season of Fargo comes to a close.
If “The Castle” delivered on that high body count through the hotel massacre, then “Palindrome,” while nowhere near as deadly as the previous episode, does deliver a resolution to this murder case as light is pitted against darkness once more. Did this season finale need to be action packed?
And did it need to spell out everything and wrap up just about every story arc we’ve been introduced to in this season? Well, no. It was a simple, warm ending about a small group of good people coming together in the end, despite the trials and tribulations they’ve faced.
I never got the sense that this season finale attempted to force happy moments with the ending of the Solverson family together in their home, which was a nice callback to the season premiere. These people have been through a heck of a journey and it’s changed their perspective on things, but they remain the good people we’ve known them as while they try to push through the violence and make good of the time they have on Earth.
And so, rather than contrived reasons for a happy ending, Fargo’s second season earns its optimism because we care about the character’s plights. Sure, we knew some characters had to make it out because of the first season, but we’re still invested in the trip they take along the way, even those who may not make it as far as others.
With that said, let’s talk about Betsy’s dream. Cristin Milioti has been great this season, but the amount of pain Betsy endures is overshadowed by her constant desire to make sure her family is well fed and taken care of, even in her absence. She had her moment when she told Karl about the possibility of Lou remarrying after she died.
But here, after her fall, after Noreen talking about life being absurd, and after being away from her husband for so long, she still maintained her positive outlook on life. Since the future isn’t written in stone, we need to use our time wisely and leave a good life behind for those we love.
Such as Molly and Lou’s future. Now, let’s talk about that. This entire sequence was just incredible and put a smile on my face the entire time. Not only was it an absolute surprise to see Allison Tolman, Keith Carradine, Colin Hanks, and Joey King return to reprise their roles, but the dream showed that even though Betsy won’t live to see her daughter and husband grow older, she still got a glimpse of that happiness.
Plus, it’s not just a nice nod to the first season, but it allows viewers to see what became of Molly, Gus, Greta, and Lou after the first season ended. I loved this moment. It was brief, but effective.
And much like Stavros Milos finding the suitcase of money in the first season, it was a nod to the established Fargo universe, but underplayed enough that viewers unfamiliar with the first season could just appreciate this look at the future of the Solverson family. Side-note, I barely recognized Joey King at first since I’m so used to Greta having red hair.
And again, much like the first season, this second outing didn’t feel the need to hit you over the head with reminders of what came before it. Or, chronologically, after it, I should say. For example, Hanzee’s new identity, Moses Tripoli, is a key figure in the first season and has an encounter with Lorne Malvo, and Ben Schmidt would grow up to be Gus Grimly’s boss.
If there was a nod I could have done without, it was Hanzee spotting the two kids communicating via sign language. Sure, there’s no indication that these kids would grow up to be Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, but even if they weren’t, that felt too much like a wink and nudge. And if they weren’t Numbers and Wrench, I feel there’d be no reason to indicate that they sign to each other.
“Palindrome” dealt very much with the consequences of wanting more in life and doing any and everything to achieve a higher status. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more in life, mind you, but in the case of the Blomquists, Peggy specifically, their actions not only added to the impending violence, but showed just how different Ed and Peggy really were, despite being a married couple.
Ed from the start, wanted nothing more than a simple life. He had dreamed of owning the butcher shop and using that as a means of financing his wife and future kids. Even though that may not be the most exciting future, it’s what he wanted and would have been on his terms.
But he knew that his actions wouldn’t make that future easily attainable, so he gave into those wilder instincts not just to keep himself alive, but try and get back to the way things were.
Hell, he even adopted the moniker of the Butcher of Luverne as a badge of honor, but his arc came full circle when he expired in the meat locker, just as he practically told Peggy that their relationship would not have a future.
Both Ed and Peggy lacked proper communication in their marriage. In addition, both had something that the other lacked. Ed needed a bit more pathos and excitement in his life in order to actualize, while Peggy needed some rigidity and stability. But Peggy’s desire to be more than just a simple housewife is what left her without a husband and her headed for prison.
Kirsten Dunst was great not just in Peggy’s breakdown scene after believing that Hanzee tried to smoke her and Ed out, but also her speech to Lou about why she did what she did. There are some gender politics at play there when she talks about women seeking more in life and being viewed as inferior if they can’t handle a heavy workload.
Floyd had commanding leadership of her family, and Simone used her body to get ahead and on Mike Milligan’s good side.
But Peggy descended further into madness with every move because she believed that, deep down, she deserved better. People can grow tired of the same, repetitive routine because they’re just going through the motions without any shakeup. Peggy wanted that shakeup and she got it because now she is someone, just not for the reasons she wanted.
And she still remains delusional when she wants the best prison situation possible. It’s madness, but given her situation, coupled with Dunst’s performance, Peggy doesn’t come off as unsympathetic. It’s a shame that her actualization will soon lead to incarceration.
And poor Mike Milligan. The man brought chaos to the Gerhardt family, killed off the Undertaker, and was at an all-time high. It’s not unrealistic to think that he would be handsomely rewarded for his efforts, but a parade is well beyond what life had in store for him: a run-of-the-mill office job with company benefits and golf games in his future. There was some sadness, as well as unintentional humor and irony to Milligan’s end-game.
Here’s a man who started off putting Skip’s tie through a typewriter and typing a letter, and that was just his introduction. Despite all obstacles, whether from corporate or the Gerhardt family, he and Gale Kitchen fought out of every situation. They were warriors and hoped to be crowned as kings for their work, but Mike faced the harsh reality that the money business is the future.
Mike may be a king in his own mind, but the world had a brutal way of bringing him back to Earth and turning him into just another cog in a well-oiled machine.
And really, Bokeem Woodbine has been stellar from start to finish. Everyone was on point this season, but his performance sticks out first in my mind as far as the most memorable.
Hanzee told Ed and Peggy that he was tired of this life, and he was, so he assumes a new identity, but the circle of violence will continue under his empire. It’s great that he gets to live by his rules, even though we know what will ultimately become of him. But for the purposes of this season, he finds a way out to start anew.
The Solverson family, against all odds, remained optimistic. The world has changed around them so many times, whether after World War II, Vietnam, or this very massacre. They’ve seen some of the worst that humankind had to offer, but they maintained their inherent goodness and refused to roll over and let this bleak life get the better of them.
Rather, they worked within a corrupt world, even siding with the Gerhardt family at one point, to ensure that those who committed evils, whether intentional or by accident, would face justice.
Sure, knowing we’re going to die may make life seem as absurd as Noreen believes, but does that mean accept life for what it is and believe that the future is set for us? Or do we fight against that notion and claim responsibility for our futures? For folks like Lou, Hank, and Betsy, the response is to fight.
Just like the man in Vietnam, better to give it your all in a seemingly hopeless situation instead of becoming a victim of circumstance. Though Hank’s hope of a universal language may be a bit too idealistic, at least he’s willing to try and make the world a better place.
And I appreciate how Lou managed to tie his tale back into what his and Ed’s desire to keep their families safe. It can be challenging to maintain a steady job, look after your kids, spouse, friends, and still have some semblance of an easy life, but is it a burden or a privilege?
For Ed and Lou, it’s a privilege to work hard for their families. Life holds many uncertainties, but if there’s one thing these characters will do, even the Gerhardts, it’s giving it everything they have and more to protect the ones they love. Even though Bear, Floyd, and even Simone were killed during this escalation, they each did what they thought in their hearts was right for the good of the family.
But speaking of the Gerhardt family, the one lingering thread is Charlie, who we haven’t seen for quite some time. We can assume that he’ll still face jail time, but we don’t know what ultimately happens to him.
In the grand scheme of things, Charlie wasn’t the most vital character, but given how much Bear cared for him, and his role in the attack on Ed and Noreen, it’s just one small thing glossed over in the finale. But again, we didn’t need to have everything spelled out for us. What we got was a solid finale on a stellar season.
When Fargo’s first season ended, we weren’t completely sure at the time whether it would get renewed, if it even needed to be. There were rumors of renewal, but nothing concrete. With this season, before its premiere, I was unsure, given the outstanding job of the previous season, whether this season would match or surpass the previous one.
And this second season met and greatly exceeded my expectations for what I deem quality television. The second season of Fargo succeeds as a great crime drama with plenty of black humor, shows respect to the material that came before it, and delivered quality performances from the entire cast.
Fargo’s sophomore run succeeds in ways that True Detective’s second season faltered in that the storyline, acting, and direction hooked you from the start and continued to deliver top-notch episodes as the season progressed.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot I enjoy about the second season of True Detective, but as a whole, I don’t think it matches the quality of the first one, but that’s another story. For fall 2015, though, I think I’d say this may have been my favorite show to watch for fall 2015, right alongside The Leftovers.
This was an amazing season of television and I am very pleased to know that Fargo will be returning for a third season. Noah Hawley once again delivered a great season of television that, I believe, deserves to be recognized for its performances, direction, and writing.
If you’ve yet to watch Fargo, please give it a shot. I’d say start with the film or first season, then watch this. It’s dark, but filled with optimism and hope in the face of a pessimistic world. And this season was a satisfying watch from start to finish.
So, in summation, was good television? Well, yeah, I’d say it was a good one.