The French have a phrase – la petite mort – to describe the brief loss or weakening of consciousness associated with the human orgasm. For a British-born man hurtling inexorably toward his sixth decade, however, la petite mort is more likely to be associated with the final episodes of beloved television series than anything erotic.
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The past week, therefore, has been particularly tough. The three shows that have made up the backbone of my viewing week – “Fargo,” “Better Call Saul” and “Veep” – ended their respective seasons, leaving a “Game of Thrones”-shaped hole in the schedule. If it were not for the imminent return of HBO’s blockbuster to our screens, the summer months would be barren indeed.
Of those three shows, “Fargo” is the hardest to part from. Created by Noah Hawley, “Fargo” is inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers’ movie of the same name, and takes its aesthetic cue from the icy landscapes of Minnesota and the folksy characters that populate the storylines.
Each season contains at least one integral plotline, although, since “Fargo” is very much a creation of its time, there are constant meta-references to earlier plots, characters and incidents.
The third season of “Fargo” focuses on two quarreling brothers, both played by Ewan McGregor, who find themselves at the epicenter of an often bloody series of violent incidents, culminating in countless deaths and a cliffhanger ending that will never be resolved.
There was a sense of finality to the Season 3 finale. Hawley, who was reticent about making a second season of the show after the phenomenal success of the first, has said that “If an idea comes [for a fourth season], we would do another. [But] I’m certainly aware of the danger of overstaying your welcome and the danger of repeating yourself.”
The ambiguous ending to the show reflects the creator’s refusal to commit to another season; viewers are left to debate over the fate of the show’s villain and fans are left to dissect comments from Hawley and others about a possible return for “Fargo.”
Despite concerns that the franchise had run its course, it seems that, as long as Minnesota can keep providing Hawley with stories that lend themselves to the “Fargo” style, he can turn them into very watchable, often lyrical television. If Season 3 is, indeed, the final chapter in the “Fargo” canon, it went out on a high.
Cursed with a conscience
“Better Call Saul,” in contrast to “Fargo,” has already been renewed for a fourth season. That’s just as well. The third season of the show – which tells of Jimmy McGill’s metamorphosis into Saul Goodman, the miscreant lawyer from “Breaking Bad” – ended with the apparent death of one of the main characters. Meanwhile, the (anti)hero redeemed himself with a selfless act of self-destruction, and there’s some way to go before making the link between the two shows.
“Better Call Saul” has a limited time period in which to tell its story. As a prequel, it is chronologically limited by its own premise. This forces the plot along at a decent pace and provides the showrunners with a target to aim at.
The greatest challenge facing the show’s creator and writer Vince Gilligan, however, has been to make the Saul/Jimmy character likeable enough to carry however many seasons he ends up producing. After all, in “Breaking Bad,” the character, played by Bob Odenkirk, is hard to like. He’s a sleazy lawyer who “seemed to enjoy being a showy cheeseball,” according to Odenkirk.
In “Better Call Saul,” however, we see what Jimmy was really like before he became Saul: earnest, sweet and – while not exactly a stickler when it comes to the letter of the law – cursed with a conscience.
From being something of a cartoon villain in “Breaking Bad,” Jimmy/Saul has been turned into a tragic hero. The sacrifice he makes in the final episode of Season 3 may cost him dearly in financial terms, but it saves the character from the oblivion of losing the audience’s sympathy.
“Veep”’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus has picked up dozens of awards for her portrayal of President Selina Meyer, who became the first woman president of the United States – if only for eight months.
But the real star of the show is and always has been creator Armando Iannucci. The Scottish-born son of Italian immigrants is the Crown Prince of British satire and has been responsible for many of the best-loved characters on British television. As if helping to create Alan Partridge were not enough, Iannucci is the comic genius who brought us Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed Downing Street director of communications in “The Thick of It,” forerunner to “Veep.” Anyone unfamiliar with Tucker’s extraordinarily profane catalog of insults should stop reading immediately and Google it.
“Veep” has stayed true to the style of “The Thick of It,” mercilessly strafing American politics and politicians for six seasons. In the last episode of Season 6, for example, hapless press secretary Mike McLintock (played by Matt Walsh) self-deprecatingly refers to himself as “the Ringo” of Meyer’s Fab Four closest advisers: not the most talented member of the band, but a member nonetheless. The response, from the ever-acerbic Ben Cafferty (played by Kevin Dunn): “No, Mike. You’re Mark Chapman’s bullets.”
“Veep” is perfectly poised for its seventh season: Selina has just decided that she’s going to run for president again and, with the exception of Mike, all of the main characters are in position. The months we will have to wait for the next season to air will no doubt provide the show’s writers with plenty of real-life ammunition.
“Veep” may be off our screens, but it hasn’t gone away. Two of the show’s main characters – Meyer and the utterly obnoxious Jonah Ryan – have websites for viewers to visit, and HBO has even published a fictitious extract from the memoir of the show’s fictional president.
Parting, even temporarily, from these three shows has been traumatic. No amount of dragons, White Walkers and scantily clad hotties can fill the void. But, with new seasons of at least two of them being promised, the sorrow will be at least bittersweet.