For months now, Fargo has entertained us with bus crashes, air conditioner murders, Hollywood sleazeballs, bridge tournaments, fake sex tapes and interdepartmental police squabbles. All the while, creator Noah Hawley has dropped us into a place where bad dudes manipulate the culture via hacking, trolling and outright lies – nothing like the world you see outside your front door, in other words. But after all its spectacular violence, unapologetic wackiness and barbed satire, this season ultimately ends quietly and elliptically, just the way it began – with a scene where a government official and a criminal suspect sit in a bare room, on opposite sides of a desk, clinging to competing versions of the same story.
The finale episode – "Somebody to Love" – was a terrific capper to another strong year, even if it didn't close all of the season's narrative loops. Hoping for one more scene of Ray Wise quoting Kabbalah and wielding divine wrath? No such luck. Waiting for Gloria Burgle's deceased science-fiction-writing stepfather to become more of a posthumous factor in the plot? That's not what the writers had in mind. Certain that the arrival of Mr. Wrench a few weeks back would mean that this tale of greed and true grit was going to link with Fargo's earlier seasons and make some larger, overarching series-as-a-whole statement? Nope, this former hit man's arc was pretty self-contained.
But if you wanted endings? This one had those in spades. In fact, one way to interpret what this 10-episode run really "means" is to look at all the places it could've stopped, and how it might've changed if Hawley & co. had stuck the closing credits elsewhere.
Let's start with Nikki Swango, who after last week's thrilling truck-jacking is at the center of another kick-ass action sequence (once again masterfully choreographed by director Keith Gordon). After labeling her arsenal of weapons with the names of contract bridge bids, she and Wrench execute an ambush against V.M. Varga and his goons, during a ransom exchange at the aptly named King Midas Storage. The big boss himself escapes, but Nikki cripples his business and gets some bloody revenge. This would've been a righteous way for Ms. Swango to go out.
Instead, she can't let her dead fiancé Ray's man-slaughtering brother Emmit Stussy walk free. She arranges for his car to conk out in the middle of nowhere, planning to bump him off. Then a policeman happens by, and before she can pull the trigger (on a long rifle that resembles Anton Chigurh's bolt-gun in No Country for Old Men), our anti-heroine dies in a gunfight, killing the innocent cop and squandering any sympathy she might've earned.
As for the once and future Parking Lot King of Minnesota, he's already deep into a funk long before he's stepped into the crosshairs. While all of the papers he's been signing at Varga's behest have left him with huge reserves of personal wealth, his company is now so valueless that the Widow Goldfarb (who was in on the scam) can acquire it for pennies on the dollar. In a moment of clarity, Emmit recognizes that Varga's been misleading him all along – not unlike the way he manipulated Ray. The self-made man takes his lumps and slinks off, crawling back to his estranged wife.
So when the story jumps ahead five years, it looks like he's enjoying a happy ending of his own, with plenty of money and friends and family by his side. (Think Raising Arizona's climactic happy-ever-after feast.) Then Mr. Wrench shows up and shoots him in the head, right when he's reaching for some tasty-looking Jell-o salad. Emmit lives out the lesson Gloria passes along to her son: "There's violence to finding out the world's not what you thought."
This leaves us with Ms. Burgle, and a final scene that Fargo fans should be arguing about until Hawley decides to play around in this TV universe again (if indeed he ever does). After she helps IRS agent Larue Dollard untangle the Stussy Lots documents that are dropped into his lap, Gloria quits the force. Five years later, she's working with the Department of Homeland Security in Minneapolis, away from Sheriff Moe yet still protecting and serving the public. Fate has finally dealt her a winning hand.
But she's not yet done with Varga. When the M.I.A. bad guy arrives at her airport, traveling under the name Daniel Rand (an homage to Ayn, no doubt), she's determined to get him to reckon with what happened in and around St. Cloud way back when. They fall back into a familiar conversational pattern, with him spouting self-serving babble about history being fluid and the rich having more value, and her rolling her eyes and challenging every assertion. Gloria reminds him that six people died and $200 million disappeared, and that those are facts. Varga counters that according to the official record, the case is closed and no one owes anyone anything. He says she's "arguing with reality."
He's wrong, of course. Or at least the Fargo creative team wants us to believe that he's wrong, and for us to be on the side of the down-to-earth law enforcement officer who's looking forward to eating a fried Snickers at the state fair with her son. Then again, we were also asked to think that the gent with the rotted choppers was an agent of larger, darker forces, when that was one of his many tactical deceptions. And in the season's opening scene, the show asked us to identify with another poor schmuck who was being interrogated – and not the officious representative of the state.
About the title: You might remember that "Somebody to Love" was the Jefferson Airplane song that figures prominently in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man, a movie that ends on a moment of cruel irresolution. This season does something similar, as Varga insists he's minutes away from being freed (at which point Gloria will "know [her] place in the world"), while Agent Burgle just smiles and stares at the door, waiting for him to be proven wrong. We leave the two of them there, facing each other in an endless staredown, never finding out what happens next.
Is there any truer representation of life in 2017 than this: stabilizing and destabilizing forces, deadlocked, each confident that they're about to crush the other? But while it would've been more uplifting to get a classic Fargo finish where simple decency unambiguously wins out, the way this season concludes is hardly devoid of hope. "Who can say what has occurred?" the ever-relativistic Varga asks Gloria. And in the end, on-screen and off, we're the ones left to throw down that final trump card on the table.
Previously: True Confessions