'Fargo' Is Heading Toward a Heck of an Ending

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Billy Bob Thornton plays a sinister hit man in “Fargo.” Self-assured malevolence.
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

Tonight at 11 P.M. on HOT 3 we will be able to watch the penultimate episode of the “Fargo” series’ first season. In spite of its commercial and critical success, it has not been renewed for a second season (yet?), although its creator, Noah Hawley, is mulling the 
possibility. If it does get a second season of life, it will be without Martin Freeman, the Dr. Watson of “Sherlock” fame. In “Fargo” he plays Lester Nygaard (a surprisingly amiable loser who 
initiates a gruesomely funny chain of events and is the counterpart of William H. Macy’s character in the 1996 Coen 
brothers’ movie of the same title). Freeman intends to graze on other, perhaps greener, screen pastures.

“Fargo” is the rather rare showbiz phenomenon of a movie spawning a TV series, since it is more often the other way around. Hawley took the horror-comic tenor of the Coen brothers’ film, set on the seemingly endless snowy plains of Minnesota (somehow echoing the arid plains of sunny Louisiana in the “True Detective” TV series) and based on it the story of a flustered and oppressed insurance salesmen (Nygaard), seduced and threatened by a sinister hit-man with a quirky sense of humor (Lorne Malvo, a.k.a. Pastor Frank Peterson, played by Billy Bob Thornton). Both of them are pursued by the heavy-set rookie Deputy Molly Solverson (played by the beautiful Allison Tolman) and policeman Gus Grimly (played by the disarmingly kind and equally flustered Colin Hanks).

But more than story lines – of which there are several, and I’m not going to divulge details of any of them – the “Fargo” series is about the area between the small towns of Bemidji and Duluth, Minnesota, and the city of Fargo (North Dakota) and the people there. If there are viewers wondering what the series has to say about the human condition, I’d like to draw their attention to a poster on the wall in Nygaard’s basement, where one of the story lines starts its bloody trail, next to the broken washing machine.

The blue poster depicts a school of yellow fish swimming to the left; in their midst, one red fish (a herring?) swims to the right. The slogan says in bold white letters, “What if you’re right and they’re wrong?” That priceless question applies equally to Nygaard, who after many years of receiving the scorn and derision of his brother and his wife – takes his fate into his own hands and hammers that message in. The unlikely duo of sleuths – Solverson and Grimly – have to work against the small-town mentality of their superiors, who settle for easy answers; only in this way can they, hopefully, solve the series of bloody crimes.

The only character in the series who has no doubt at all that he is right (even if he only serves as an instrument of vengeance of others) is the arch-villain, indeed the Mephistopheles of the story, Lorne Malvo. Indeed, what makes him so eerily effective, so malevolent and lethal, is his unswerving assurance that he is right, and “they” – whoever they may be, including the contractors who hired his bloody services, in an amazingly shot scene – are wrong. Incidentally, the only character who manages to outstare him and drive him away, is Grimly’s Jewish neighbor (played by Brian Markinson), who has a Chabad “Mitzvah Tank” parked outside his house.

Another point worth making here is the way the series presents relationships between parents and their offspring. All the sons in it – the Hess mini-bullies, the son of the blackmailed Milos, Nygaard’s brother’s son Gordo and even the son of the motel owner – are in some way mentally challenged, and bullied by their parents. The two exceptions are Grimly’s teenage daughter Greta, and Molly herself, who has a loving, caring father (played by Keith Carradine). The eighth episode ended with a flash forward to a year later – but relax: I’m not telling what happens then and to whom – but it hints of the possibility of a better future in that particular respect.

There is an Old Testament sub-plot in the series, with an overt hint of the Ten Plagues being inflicted on Bemidji by Malvo (with fish raining from a stormy sky, echoing the fish on the poster and on a screen-saver of one of Malvo’s many victims). In one of the few increasingly menacing meetings between Malvo and Grimly, the elusive hit-man poses a riddle to the policeman: “Did you know the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color? My question for you is why. When you figure out the answer to my question, than you’ll have the answer to yours.”

Grimly relates the conversation to Molly, and she immediately knows the answer: As humans evolved, they needed to be able to see danger through the grass and trees, hence their awareness to the many (50?) shades of green. Which seems to be one of the things the “Fargo” series has to say about the human race: Underneath the ice-thin veneer of “culture” (TV series being part of it) the human is a predator for whom the biblical adage of “an eye for an eye” (and here even “a wife for a wife”; when you’ll see it, you will know what I mean) is still valid. And green, by the way, is also the color of American money, and it plays a part in one of the story lines.

I can’t fathom how it will all end, and I can’t fathom how it could continue for another season. What if ... ? But we still have this evening’s episode and next week’s finale. The producers (the Coen brothers among them) still have many promises to keep, and far to go before we all can sleep.

Nygaard’s poster. No easy answers.