not in our stars, but in ourselves
In Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov’s series of connected short stories (not unlike a television show in book form, if I can say such things without incurring the wrath of Volodya’s ghost), the increasingly omnipotent narrator sniffs: “Some people—and I am one of them—hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically.” I thought of that passage, and of Pnin himself, after this miraculous season of Fargo came to a close – especially because, despite harm being the norm, in real life and on television dramas, the people who most deserved a chance to escape doom actually received it, just like hapless little Timofey Pnin. I had anticipated that the only people left alive at the end of “Palindrome” would be Lou and Molly, but they’re joined by Betsy and Hank; of the “bad” guys, Hanzee survives to start over as a new man, and Mike is promoted within the Kansas City crime syndicate from enforcer to accounts manager. If all four of these had died before the end credits, I wouldn’t have been surprised; but as things worked out, I was almost touched. The Solverson-Larsson family gets a few more days, weeks, months of peace and happiness before Betsy succumbs to cancer. Hanzee, who was tired of this life, gets a new one. Mike’s survival is perhaps the saddest, as he seems depressed by his drab little office and his new corporate life, but he’ll make the best of it. In short: like the movie, like the first season, we ended on a surprisingly optimistic note – one that underscores the season-long theme that life may be absurd and chaotic and cruel, but there are moments of joy and hope that are worth carrying on for.
That’s not to say that everyone’s story ends happily. The opening moments of the episode are a montage of all the dead Gerhardts, and it’s deeply affecting. They’re a near-Shakespearean tragedy of a family, undone by greed or hubris or just fate. There seems to be something ill-starred about them right from the start: for the smartest one in the clan to be a woman, doomed to be ignored by the men around her; for the most loyal son to be the middle child, doomed never to be able to call the shots in the best interest of the family; for the eldest son to be a bellicose idiot, starting fights that neither he nor his family is able to finish; for them to be besieged by a hostile takeover, whether financial or physical, just as the patriarch has been struck down by a massive stroke; it’s an awful lot of bad luck for one family to endure, and it’s hard not to feel pity for them. Well, for some of them. Dodd got his just deserts. Floyd and Bear deserved better; Simone probably got the kindest death she could have hoped for, given the circumstances, but she deserved better, too. It’s all terribly sad, all the same. King Lear makes some wrong decisions and causes some bad things to happen, but if your heart doesn’t jump right into your throat when he moans,
And my poor fool is hanged.—No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Oh, thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.—
…well, you just might be a cyborg. People who do bad things may not be bad people; in the case of Floyd, Bear, and Simone Gerhardt, I’d say that they could have been decent people if they’d only been born somewhere else, to some other family. Alas.
The other sad ending comes for the Blumquists. When they fled the Motor Motel, Hanzee was in hot pursuit. He doesn’t manage to catch up to them, but he shoots Ed worryingly close to his heart. Ed is able to limp along with Peggy propping him up, and they seek refuge in a grocery store. She finds the meat freezer, which has animal carcasses hanging on hooks in the sickly blue light, and barricades them inside. Ed tells her that he’s not sure they’ll make it out of this – meaning that even if they’re rescued, even if they survive, he thinks the marriage is over. Peggy just wants to fix everything. She’s never happy with what she has. It’s an astute observation from Ed to make, especially since he’s bleeding out as he speaks, but Peggy won’t hear of it. As if her delusions couldn’t get any more wild, she leaps up when she sees and smells smoke pouring out of one of the vents. Hanzee is trying to smoke them out, she cries, just like in that movie she watched the other morning! Peggy is desperate enough to be the heroine, desperate enough for a positive outcome to this particular problem, that she’s imagined the entire threat: Hanzee isn’t in the store. He isn’t smoking them out. The kicks to the freezer door were coming from Lou and Ben “Shit Cop” Schmidt, who managed to scare Hanzee away. While Peggy has been inventing disaster scenarios, Ed has quietly died. In the back seat of Lou’s cruiser, after she’s been taken away to be locked up, she gives an impassioned speech: about how women are sold a false bill of goods, told that they can have it all, but if they try and fail, they’re treated like there’s something wrong with them – for not being able to juggle 100 things at once, in a way that a man never has to. Her feminist rage isn’t incorrect, but Lou slices right through it, spotting it as yet another excuse: “People are dead, Peggy.” Is it all her fault? No, but she certainly wouldn’t be a widow right now if she hadn’t plowed right over Rye Gerhardt without taking him to a hospital or a police station.
“Palindrome” didn’t exactly set up what we might see in the third season – which had better get here soon, dammit – but it offered a couple of hints. Betsy, in a voiceover, recounts a dream she had: one in which she sees Lou raise Molly solo, one in which huge stores sell everything you could possibly want in one place, one in which incredible contraptions can do all kinds of crazy things, one in which her daughter makes a beautiful family of her own, with Betsy’s still-handsome husband right there at the table, smiling and laughing; and then, looming over these idyllic visions, she sees chaos – personified by Hanzee. Have the aliens given Betsy a psychic vision? Is she addressing us from the grave? The show doesn’t tell us, and that’s fine. But it’s interesting to see that, in some way, Hanzee continues to pose a threat. How can that be? When Hanzee is receiving his new Social Security card and information about where he can go to get not only a haircut, but facial reconstruction, he and his accomplice are watching two boys play baseball. At least one of the boys is deaf, because they’re signing to each other. After Hanzee tells his benefactor that he hopes to be his own man, he sees two older boys come over to pick on the kids he’s been watching. Hanzee says “Kill and be killed” as he walks over to teach the older kids a lesson, taking out his hunting knife as he does. The implication here is that Hanzee (new name Moses Tripoli) takes Wrench and Numbers – the henchmen from season one – under his wing and teaches them the ways of the world. Indeed, based on season one – which features a mob boss named Moses Tripoli – it seems that little Hanzee rises pretty high in the world, at least until Malvo catches up with him. I’m glad he gets a few decades to enjoy some respect; he deserves that much, at least.
Fargo is, in a nutshell, one of the best shows ever to air on television. I don’t want to wait a year for the next installment, but I will wait as long as Noah Hawley et al. need me to. Maybe I’ll go learn golf with Mike in the meantime.