Fargo season two, episode 10: "Palindrome"
Hunker down, folks. There’s a lot to break down in this, the final episode of Fargo’s second season.
First, we see the late Gerhardts, each and every one, in order of their demise: Rye, frozen in the Blumquists’ garage; Otto, face down on his kitchen table with a back full of bullets (and one in his head) thanks to Mike Milligan’s assault on the Gerhardt compound; Dodd, with a hole in his head courtesy of his former right-hand man; Simone, lying almost serenely on the forest floor with a bullet in her heart; Floyd, sprawled on the sidewalk with Hanzee’s knife wound in her side; and Bear, riddled with bullets and underneath the UFO’s lights.
The shot fades from Bear Gerhardt to poor Betsy Solverson, pallid as a corpse with her eyes closed as Lou says, “Out of respect for the dead, the rest [sigh] has been told exactly as it occurred.” This is the first of the fake-outs on the Fargo’s season-two finale, and each and every one feels like it’s devastating as ever.
But Betsy’s not dead.
She’s clinging to life — just barely — as Molly sleeps beside her. Noreen keeps watch over both of them, hiding behind her copy of The Myth of Sisyphus and clad in a very French-looking bateau shirt (so very Camus). (Keen viewers will see that this is a throwback to the title of episode three of the season.) Betsy weakly comes to, looking like she’s shocked to be alive and next to her little girl as Noreen tries to fill her in on what happened since her fall in the last episode. No word from Lou or Hank yet. And when Noreen tells Betsy that Molly’s been stubborn about sticking by her mom’s side, Betsy smiles and says she gets her stubbornness from her dad. (But we know Molly’s perseverance comes from more than just her paternal side.)
As Betsy rests, she has a dream that flickers through Molly and Lou’s lives in the future, sans Betsy. Molly flashes a smile full of braces, plays video games with her dad, goes to Costco (Costco!), graduates from school, and, finally, Molly’s got a family of her own. As we know from season one’s happy ending, Molly started a family with Gus Grimly and his daughter Greta (they also had a little boy), and good ol’ cop-turned-diner-owner Lou is around, too. Betsy’s dream turns from a thing of lightness to one of dark chaos, overshadowed by the horrors of the massacre in Sioux Falls.
And there, we get our smooth segue into what the heck happened after that UFO turned up in Sioux Falls.
The Blumquists have made a break for it from the motel, with Hanzee toting some serious ammunition close behind. They try to hijack a car, but Hanzee puts a bullet through the car-driver’s throat and another pierces right through Ed’s chest. It’s a wonder Ed can even keep running as he starts to bleed out, but Peggy’s the change-she-wants-to-be and finds them shelter in a nearby grocery store.
The two lock themselves in a freezer full of carcasses ready to see the butcher (reminiscent of scenes we saw earlier this season), but the only butcher these strung-up pigs will see is the one from Luverne who’s on his way to becoming as dead as they are. But Peggy’s not ready for that to happen.
She checks his wound, and for a moment, we see her try to protect Ed from the truth. It’s the exact thing Lou warned them about in “Fear and Trembling”: His wounded brothers in Vietnam were in denial about their fatality right until the end, and everyone lied to them about getting out alive. Ed’s in a bad way, and as Peggy opens up his shirt, she lets out the slightest of breaths before her voice rises, and she reassures him, “You’re gonna be okay.”
Ed looks her square in the eyes and tells her, “Peggy, I don’t think we’re gonna make it.” She tries another pep talk, but she’s missing her husband’s point. Because, goddamnit, if it’s the last thing he does, Ed is going to break up with Peggy. Suddenly, Peggy — the woman who was going to leave her husband for the sunny shores of California — is trying to reason with Ed so he doesn’t leave her.
This is a prime example of Fargo’s dark humor at its finest, as well as showrunner Noah Hawley’s skill in developing characters that are so caught up in their own worlds that they can’t see the rest of the universe is burning down around them.
“You’re always trying to fix everything,” Ed says. “But sometimes nothing’s broken.” Therein, lies Peggy’s downfall: trying to live her best life, even if she was already living it. Whatever’s better than best, Peggy will try to find it… and if something’s wrong, she’ll right it (inside her head, at least).
Try as they might, the Blumquists’ world is going up in smoke — literally, according to Peggy, who sees thick clouds pouring through an air duct. She thinks it’s Hanzee’s tactic to draw the duo out of the meat locker, but she’s gonna get the two of them through this. We see druggy-looking visions of Hanzee loping around the grocery aisles, gun in hand, distorted and ready to kill the young couple in their hiding spot.
Heck, it’s just like that scene on Operation Eagle’s Nest, the one she was completely absorbed in when Dodd escaped his bonds in the cabin. She latches onto her memories of the show, realizing the situation is the same, and someone — Reagan, whoever, who cares — is going to come save them from the
Nazi officer Hanzee. Before long, she realizes that she needs to take matters into her own hands.
After Ed becomes unresponsive, and there’s banging at the freezer door, Peggy works up the gumption to go out swinging. She bursts from the door like a rabid animal, a knife sharpener her hand and a crazy look in her eyes. Only it’s not Hanzee outside. (Another Fargo fakeout.) Lou Solverson and Ben Schmidt have made their way inside the grocery store after tracking Ed's blood trail — which isn’t on fire after all.
Peggy’s twisted visions of Hanzee staking them out in the freezer started immediately after Ed wants to call things quits. Her mind has wired itself to find an escape for every single situation she could possibly be in, and when the one constant she has (Ed) is put into jeopardy, her mind snaps. Ed’s barely responsive after the visions of Hanzee start popping up, so who knows if he was actually still alive, or if Peggy’s mind was filling in the blanks. (However, it was bleakly hilarious to see Ed nod off as she goes off on one of her tangents about Operation Eagle’s Nest.)
Either way, watching her crumple in Lou’s arms after going into hysterics and then realizing Ed’s dead is one of the more heartbreaking moments captured on Fargo. Never mind her delusions, Peggy’s innumerable personality flaws don’t warrant her being trapped in a freezer (and her mind) with her newly deceased husband.
Give Peggy a little time, and she’ll bounce back to her old ways.
In the car on the way back to Minnesota, Peggy asks Lou if she can serve her time in a California prison, and he just about bursts a blood vessel trying to be level-headed. He tells her about the end of the Vietnam War when he and his crew were helping people escape Saigon. One pilot rescued his entire family and risked his life trying to escape the helicopter. While Lou’s practically breaking up while telling this harrowing tale, Peggy’s confused. Why the story? Lou informs her that it’s a man’s privilege (not burden) to protect his family — like Ed wanted to. “It’s the rock we all push; men,” he says.
That explanation isn't good enough for Peggy, who tells him that she was a victim, too—a victim, first, before she hit Rye. She wanted to choose who she was, without being defined by others’ expectations. That’s exactly what irks Peggy: the expectation to have it all and be a wife, mother, and “career woman” at the same time is impossible without “37 hours” in the day.
Lou cuts her off, curtly telling her that people are dead now — that’s that. But Peggy’s feelings are valid, even if her actions and the way she reasons her way around them aren’t.
We’ve seen all types of women on Fargo, and absolutely none of them are weak. Floyd Gerhardt stepped up to the plate as a loyal wife, steadfast matriarch, and resolute business woman when Otto had a stroke. Her granddaughter Simone lived a wild life, but harnessed her sexuality and sought out what she wanted (even if it ended up badly for her). Betsy’s a stay-at-home mom who’s battling cancer, but she still manages to be fiercely independent, ready to speak her mind, and do what’s necessary. Noreen’s a precocious teenager without a filter, who was emancipated and has learned to take care of herself (as well as Molly and Betsy). Constance was (she tried, you heard!) a good businesswoman with a sense of self, feminism, and well-being for her coworkers (even if her feelings for Peggy were more than platonic). Peggy’s batty as hell, but she’s got enough sense of the world to know that the cards are so stacked against women, it’s impossible to be the woman society wants her to be and be the woman she wants to be.
Cue one of the best (and most literal) musical interludes of the season with “California Dreamin’” when Lou crosses the border and stops at the payphone to call home. He finally connects with Noreen, who fills him in on Betsy’s condition. Lou tells her he’s on his way home, and for a second, you see the effects of the past week starting to wear down on him.
Before Lou’s call, Noreen asks if Betsy feels the cancer in her system, and Betsy says it’s kind of like being a half-ripe, half-moldy peach. Noreen, queen of the grim, proceeds to tell Betsy that “Camus says knowing we’re going to die makes life absurd.” But Betsy promptly shuts her down and argues that whoever the hell he was, he probably didn’t have a little kid (Note: Camus did actually have twins).
The moment between Betsy and Noreen debating existential absurdity is a powerful one. Each is so rooted in their convictions, the mother in her lived experiences and the teenager in the ones she’s read about in books. It brings to mind the kind of conversations Betsy could have with her own daughter if she holds on long enough. But in the end, the elder has the last word.
“When this life is over, and you stand in front of the lord,” Betsy says. “Well, you try telling him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.” Touché, Mrs. Solverson.
Over in Fargo, Mike Milligan and Gale Kitchen roll up to the nearly deserted Gerhardt compound to lord over the spoils of war.
“People of earth!” Mike says in an alien voice as he enters the Gerhardts’ house — is it a coincidence that this is one of the iconic lines from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers? Considering there was literally a flying saucer creeping around this whole season, we think not.
Mike has always been a bit of an odd duck of a hitman, but now he’s ready for his coronation. He thinks he’s earned the right to rule over the Fargo syndicate now that the Germans are out of the way (see that huge Imperial Eagle crest on their wall?).
He and the Kitchen brother walk through the enemy’s former home, inspecting all the little things they’ll be able to play with once they’re crowned the lords of the area by the Kansas City folks. They let Wilma, the silent cook, live (but Mike tells her to stop making schnitzel!). And they come across Bear’s old friend Ricky, who has sneaked into the house to steal the silver and make a quick buck.
Mike adheres to the Machiavellian philosophy of leadership, combining fear and love. Mike tells Ricky as much, and says that to celebrate his first day of sovereignty, he’s got to commit an act of kindness and an act of cruelty to solidify his dominance as a leader. Too bad Wilma already got that act of kindness. Gale blasts Ricky through the chest with a shotgun, and the two stand over his burbling, bloody body after he hits the eagle crest and crumples on the floor.
They’ve done a good day’s work, and Mike’s ready to hit the hay before reap even more rewards in Kansas City. “For in the morning, we journey home to bathe in that warm champagne that is corporate praise,” he says. “Who knows, maybe they’ll even throw us a parade. I’d love a parade.”
What Mike gets isn’t the Gerhardt compound (that’s grunt work, his boss informs him), and it’s not a parade. Mike Milligan — quippy, snappy dressing hitman — gets a high-level desk jockey gig in the Kansas City headquarters in a desolate office, far from the cushy accolades he’d imagined.
Mike’s boss (played by Adam Arkin who also directed the finale) tells him that there’s one business left in the world: the money business. And he starts explaining that the exciting bits — the parts with guns and intimidation — are for the lowly workers. What’s important is profits and projections and penny pinching for the company. Mike’ boss says that some guy saved the syndicate $1.2 million by revamping their postage system, and they gave him the state of California to manage.
And so, Mike is left in a barren office, a lame duck who’s been told to cut his hair, stop with the rodeo attire, and get ready to make deals over… golf. He looks disappointed and completely out of his element. Such is life, even for dynamic individuals like Mike Milligan.
Meanwhile, Hanzee fled the situation entirely after being shot at by Lou on the night of the massacre and deciding that the Blumquists weren’t worth his time anymore. He meets up with a guy at a park (original!) who’s getting Hanzee a brand new identity (and a brand new face after he was scalded by Peggy’s coffee at the motel). He’s going to be a phoenix rising from the ashes with a new body — no longer Hanzee, but Moses Tripoli.
Keen viewers will recall that name from season one, in what seems to be another tangible thread to the Fargo of the future. Moses Tripoli is mob boss who Sam Hess (Lester Nygaard’s first nemesis) worked for in Fargo, and he uses nearly identical phrasing to what Hanzee says in the season two finale about seeking revenge on Kansas City. He speaks in a stilted manner and ends his orders with: “Kill and be killed. Head in a bag. There's the message.”
That’s no mistake on Hawley’s part, but is it a stretch to see Hanzee transform into... this? Maybe, but Hanzee did just telly Peggy how tired he was of being himself — and maybe a totally new identity (and race) are what Hanzee thinks he needs to head up a new empire. His empire. (Too bad Tripoli gets offed by Malvo.)
What’s doubly interesting here is that there are a couple of deaf kids playing baseball while Hanzee’s getting the deets on his new life. Before long, some other kids come along and start harassing them, and Hanzee’s walk off into the sunset (presumably) involves him showing the bullies what’s up.
Does one of these hearing-impaired kids grow up to be the seemingly-stuck-in-the-'70s Mr. Wrench from season one? It could make sense, since Wrench is from the Fargo syndicate, and being ingratiated to Hanzee/Tripoli early on means this kid could climb up the ranks Departed-style in order to be one of Tripoli’s hitmen. And Wrench has a very season two-era style, from his mutton chops to his Davy Crockett jacket that seemed out of place before. Maybe the kids are Wrench and Mr. Numbers (who always seemed so in tune with Wrench)?
Hey, stranger things have happened on Fargo. (Ahem, aliens.)
Speaking of aliens, Hank stops by the Solversons’ for Sunday dinner, just like he promised at the end of the penultimate episode before Lou went off in pursuit of Hanzee. Hank’s a little worse for the wear, but he’s in good spirits with his family around, so he hardly skips a beat when Betsy asks him about all those symbols she saw in his office.
Time for another fakeout: Turns out Hank wasn’t an alien truther at all. Since his wife’s passing, he’s been making up a universal pictographic language to try and eradicate miscommunication. To Hank, miscommunication is the root of conflict, violence, and the tinder that fuels the fires of war. And damn it if we don’t believe Hank. “You’re a good man,” Betsy tells him. He is a good man, and he always has been throughout the season, trying to talk his way through things mitigate conflict even in the face of danger. (Remember the verbal standoffs with Mike Milligan? Or Dodd?)
Finally, we end the season the way we began it at the end of episode one, with Lou and Betsy settling into bed and all’s well with the world.
“Goodnight, Mr. Solverson.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Solverson — and all the ships at sea.”
And so dear readers, we bid you adieu until next season’s recaps begin.
Random notebook dump:
-All in all, this sophomore season of Fargo didn’t disappoint at all. Loose ends were tied up, characters brought together, and the show managed to keep us on the edge of our seats even when we knew key elements about how things went down (thanks to last season). The show certainly deserves its three Golden Globe noms for Best Limited TV Series, Best Actress in a Limited TV Series (Kirsten Dunst), and Best Actor in a Limited TV Series (Patrick Wilson).
-As Betsy tries to sit up near the beginning of the episode, we hear what might be this season’s only “Uff da.”
-It warmed our Fargo-frozen hearts to see Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, and Joey King all came back to reprise their roles from season one in Betsy's dream sequence.
-Before he carts Peggy off, we love how Lou says (in stereotypical, understated Minnesotan fashion): “If anyone’s got a problem with that... after the week I’ve had, they can keep it to themselves.”
-“I don’t even know how to write this thing up,” Ben says to Lou before he carts Peggy back to Minnesota. He’s seen too much, dealt with things beyond his means. “Where to begin?”
“Well, like anything, I guess,” Lou says resolutely. “Start at the start, and work your way to the end.”
So here’s to the end of a fantastic season of Fargo. We’re now taking bets on when (and where) the next season’s going — who’s got ideas?