Monday, December 14, 2015

REVIEW: 'Fargo' - Lou's Family Comes Together Following an Epic Tragedy in 'Palindrome'

FX's Fargo - Episode 2.10 "Palindrome"

Peggy and Ed make a run for it.

The audience knew a handful of things heading into the second season of Fargo. The massacre at Sioux Falls was going to be this monstrous thing that really racked up the body count to the point where it still haunts Lou Solverson decades later when he has retired from that force. That also meant that Lou was always going to make it out of this season alive - as would Molly and Ben Schmidt. They were all characters who played a part in the first season. Just because that information is known though doesn't take any tension out of how things play out in "Palindrome" as it brings this season's story arc to a close. In fact, it makes things more enriching to be reminded of the future and all the happiness it can bring to these people despite the tragic circumstances that have surrounded them all season long.

This season has been very deadly. The war between the Gerhardt crime family and the Kansas City syndicate brought chaos and destruction to Luverne, Fargo and Sioux Falls. The massacre that happened last week brought so many of those fantastic plot elements together for one very combustive final battle. The Gerhardts were completely eradicated. They were never the smartest characters on the show but they were just doing whatever it took to keep the family business operational while still protecting the family. That recklessness led to their destruction. Sure, Hanzee's betrayal and motivation is never abundantly clear. But that didn't take away from how pivotal that battle was at the motel. Nor did the sudden arrival of a spacecraft that turned the tide of the battle in a major way. It could have been seen as the biggest deus ex machina ever. A spacecraft appears with no explanation long enough for Lou to get his gun and kill Bear and for Peggy and Ed to make a run for it. But it didn't feel like that because it was just another part of the strangeness of this experience. This case was so special and specific since the very beginning. The audience knew just how strange and tumultuous this story would be from the first episode. And now, it has reached its conclusion in fantastic fashion as everyone is just trying to get a grip on what the hell just happened at Sioux Falls.

Death and chaos has surrounded the show this season. It's meaningful that "Palindrome" starts by showing all the characters who have died throughout this season. All of them had purpose. Their deaths were significant. The sequence ends by landing on Betsy whose fate was left in limbo during the previous episode. She may have just joined this list of deaths which would be so tragic because Lou was too busy with this life-changing case to be there for his wife during her final days. That isn't the case though. It really was just a scare. She's back in bed resting as she attempts to get her strength back. The new cancer drug isn't working on her. But this scene is also important because it features all the hopes and fears Betsy has for her family once she is gone. She doesn't see her death as the dreadful inevitability that Noreen keeps talking about from her book. She sees her life as a thing of beauty. She was placed in this world to do her job and be good. Judgment will come for everyone in the end. But everyone should make the most of their lives in this world. Betsy wants to believe that her family will go on to have this incredibly happy life together. Lou will be there for Molly through graduations and a wedding. She will start her own family which Lou will be proud to be a part of. It's great that Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Joey King and Keith Carradine get to reprise their roles from the first season for this sequence. But it's also so much more than Betsy being able to actually see the future. This is her hope for her family. Fortunately, it does happen. But in the moment, she is also scared because of just how devastating the world has been for Lou as of late. She doesn't know if he'll have that happy life in the decades to come. She also doesn't know if she'll be there to live it with him. That's what makes this sequence so powerful.

The Solverson clan will live on. That much is certain. Peggy and Ed will also make the true crime history books for the things they put into motion when Peggy ran over Rye Gerhardt and Ed covered it up. They are on the run at the start of the finale. They have both proven themselves to be some fantastic survivors. They are much more capable than they initially seemed as a small town butcher and beautician. They've had the willingness to adapt if it means they can survive. The odds are staked incredibly against them heading into this hour. They may no longer be in police custody but both Hanzee and Lou are tracking them down. They are eventually cornered in the meat storage locker of a grocery store. It's such a fitting end for Ed. He is the one major character death in this finale. He was shot by Hanzee. Despite Peggy's best efforts to keep him alive, he simply could not make it out alive. She refuses to admit that. She hopes that the two of them will continue to make it together. She has more clarity than ever before about the person she was suppose to be. This chaotic mess that she has gotten herself into is nothing more than a distraction. Something that is keeping her from achieving her goals and ambitions.

And yet, Peggy was her actual self when she decided to keep on driving back home after she hit Rye with her car. That moment changed her life in a severe way. It was her choice too. She forced this world onto Ed. He became more comfortable using the "butcher from Luverne" alias in order to be taken more seriously. But at the end of the day, all it did was bring more destruction into their lives. Even though Peggy survives this horrifying experience, it's one that has changed her world completely. She truly did love Ed. It was so personally devastating for her to hear that he wanted to end their marriage should they get out of this mess alive. That was enough for her to detach herself from reality. She would rather live in the world of the Ronald Reagan movie she was watching at the cabin when Dodd escaped than continue to live in a world where Ed no longer has love for her. To her, they need to be a couple because their love is the only way they can get out of this situation alive. But that's not the case. Lou and Ben are able to rescue her after Hanzee decides to go off the grid. But Ed is still dead no matter what - which is something that Peggy can't easily wrap her head around.

Peggy would still rather be focusing on her ambitions and not on the reality of her situation. She still sees herself as a victim. And yet, she's also aware that she will be going away to jail for a long time. That final conversation between her and Lou in the police car is so fantastic. Lou delivers this fantastic speech about how it's a privilege for men to get to protect their families. It's not a burden as so many guys would rather say. Lou has such an appreciation for his family. Even though he learns the devastating news from back home, he is still content to know that this mess has finally reached its conclusion. He articulates that wonderfully with his story about the helicopter pilot doing whatever it took to save his family back in Vietnam. It was a strange and miraculous story and one where everyone survived. It was a story with a happy ending. To Peggy though, that happy ending can only come if she gets to serve her time in a prison in California. She is aware that that's the only way she'll get to live in that beautiful state. She's so angry at the world and how stupid Rye was for just stepping out into the road. This is not how she wants to be. But it's her reality nevertheless. She's not sorry at all for killing Rye. She's just frustrated at a world that wants her to be everything. She's not and those complications are what led to all of this devastation this season. It's a beautiful and heart-breaking moment that both Patrick Wilson and Kirsten Dunst play wonderfully.

This whole experience has changed everyone who came into contact with it. Neither Lou nor Ben know exactly where to start when they have to start thinking about writing up their reports. Mike Milligan is finally victorious in this war with the Gerhardts but that doesn't lead to the future he had planned for himself. It's fascinating to watch as he lords over the Gerhardt house with so much confidence as the new king of this empire. He dishes out his act of compassion and his act of cruelty. But the reality of his situation is even bleaker due to the changing economics of the business. He's not the type of king he would have been in days past. Instead all of his hard work just gets him to a 9 to 5 desk job in a very small office. That's a wonderful sight to behold.

All of this also gives Lou and Betsy an appreciation and understanding of Hank when he tells them about the language he's developing. That research in his office that Betsy found could have pointed to Hank being a conspiracy theorist about the UFO. It's not something that needed to be explained. The season's use of the UFO kept it as something meaningful that impacted all of these characters without it needing to have some bigger understanding. Instead, all of that hard work in Hank's office is about him trying to connect better with the rest of the world. This experience was horrifying. It nearly cost him his life. But instead, he's still alive and fighting for this family. This language may be a hopeless goal but it gives him peace and comfort to work on it. It's the same kind of thing that makes Lou and Betsy saying goodnight to each other a perfect ending. This family unit didn't need to be torn apart in order for the season to have an effective ending. The audience knows that's still coming. But it didn't need to make a point in showing it. Betsy's death didn't need to be connected to the massacre at Sioux Falls. Instead, it's much more powerful to see happiness for these characters in the end. Their lives won't be any easier in the future. All they have is this moment which they are able to share together as a family. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Palindrome" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by Adam Arkin.
  • The story this season had so many more moving parts and performances than last season. And yet, so much of it worked and was delightful to watch as the story unfolded. Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Jeffrey Donovan, Nick Offerman, Bokeem Woodbine, Zahn McClarnon and Cristin Milioti all did terrific work that I hope gets recognized by the Emmys next year.
  • It's only slightly weird that things are left a little open-ended with Hanzee. His face is injured which would seem to suggest there actually was a fire and Peggy didn't imagine it. It's also hard to think that Lou would just let Hanzee go. He became one of the FBI's problems which Lou was happy to turn the case over to.
  • However, Hanzee changed his name to Tripoli which also happened to be the name of the man in charge of Fargo during the first season. Also, were those kids speaking in sign language that Hanzee saved suppose to be Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers?
  • That opening death montage confirmed that Bear really did kill Simone out there in the woods. I always assumed he did but some fans speculated that he did banish her like she was pleading for him to do.
  • The anthology series has already been renewed for a third season. Series creator Noah Hawley has teased that it's going to be set more in the present-day like the first season. So now, let the speculation begin on which characters you want to see more adventures of in the Midwest? Frankly, I'd love to see either Peggy or Mike in today's world.