I tell ya, there are spoilers here and you just don’t want to be reading any further without watching the episode, ya know?
With almost any piece of narrative-driven art, the most important part is sticking the landing. I’ve seen movies that take a full hour to drift past slightly boring as they head into an amazing climax, and some of them have become my favorites. TV series (and books, by extension) work differently, but a poorly delivered ending for a particular television season can retroactively taint everything you’ve seen before it. It’s a damning thing for a TV fan, and my view on FX’s Fargo is currently in limbo following its Season 1 finale “Morton’s Fork,” as my lack of enthusiasm is trying to convince me that I’ve been enjoying a wildly uneven show this entire time.
But of course that can’t be true. Just last month, I was having the time of my life watching an amazing shootout with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, thinking that I was in for one amazing downhill slide into a dynamic plot hell. And yet, once the timeline somewhat startlingly jumped forward a year in the eighth episode, the show lost the dark fairy tale vibe of its Coen Brothers source material and started coasting to tie up the pendulum-sized plot strands that were left: Lester vs. Malvo, with Deputy Molly refereeing.
Don’t get me wrong, even when Fargo is solely churning out plot, it’s still interesting, tense, exciting, etc. But it loses almost all the dark comedy that the earlier parts of the season flaunted strongly, and that aspect is what really set this show apart in my brain. I want to keep watching Key & Peele jabbering back and forth about nonsense, not have them actually do FBI duties and then get shot to death after being tricked. I want to hear Chief Bill wiggle his way out of pressured situations with an old bar story, not come to grips with the fact that he’s an AWFUL police officer and hand over chief duties to Molly. (Although I would be perfectly happy with watching Molly turn the Bemidji PD into something resembling competent.)
But it’s not just that tonal trade-off that bothers me. It’s the way in which these morally repugnant characters were undone. It’s clear in their year away from each other that both Lester and Malvo had become somewhat complacent in their mutual life paths, and the sudden convergence takes no time to reveal their weaknesses. Everything about Malvo killing Lester’s new wife Linda inside Lester’s office smelled of lazy plotting, especially when Malvo didn’t take a look around outside to easily find Lester freaking out in his car nearby.
This finally leads us to “Morton’s Fork” proper, which begins with Lester trying to give himself an alibi at Lou’s restaurant, which was all for naught, since he forgot about the incriminating plane tickets inside Linda’s coat. That puts him into questioning with all authorities, during which he acts like a petulant ass and then doesn’t understand why the cops think he’s a bad guy. The plan is to draw Malvo out with Lester at his house, only the step-ahead-only-when-it’s-convenient Malvo calls off the FBI backup; we then get to watch a limited game of cat and mouse. (Seriously, that FBI guy on the phone had to be a former Bemidji officer, given his lack of professionalism.) A clever ruse from Lester puts Malvo temporarily out of commission with bear-trap leg-wounds, so he goes home to rest up but is soon shot to death by Gus. Meanwhile, Lester seemingly gets away with everything, only to have it all come crashing down around him; metaphorically, as Molly finds the cassette tape evidence where he admits to killing his wife, and literally in the sheet of ice that he falls through, ensuring his low-temperature demise.
There are some signature Fargo beats in the episode, such as the awkward conversation between Malvo and the used car salesman, but they’re limited ornaments on this big finale Christmas tree. Still, I might as well mention a few more, right? I love that all Bill wants is a stack of pancakes and a V8, and there was something really nice about Lou sitting on Molly and Gus’ porch with a shotgun, aiming to thwart a catastrophe. (Though, honestly, Lou should have probably expected someone as pathological as Malvo to do something that didn’t involve walking right up the front steps.) As well, the scene when Malvo gets back to his place has some great gross-out effects, with him resetting his leg with the strings of window blinds, and Gus shooting him straight through his upper lip. That got a big laugh out of me, and made me just that much more afraid of Gus’ impulsive side.
In the end, though, it felt more like the season finale of a straight murder thriller like Dexter or – gulp – The Following rather than a series that has been consistently lauded as one of the best of the year thusfar. I found myself looking back on Oliver Platt’s supermarket mogul and Glenn Howerton’s blackmailer personal trainer and wondering why they hell they were even put into the scripts, given their involvement is absolutely extraneous and irrelevant for the end of Lester and Malvo’s stories. Not that those were my favorite bits to begin with, though I liked seeing the completely bugged-out supermarket, but I still thought that they would end up meaning something to someone in the final episode. The same goes for Key & Peele, though you’ll never find me saying they shouldn’t have been involved.
So now I’m left asking no one at all if I just had some gosh darn wool pulled over my eyes in the previous nine episodes, or if it’s only this immediate reaction to the finale that’s pulling my blackened heartstrings. As a 90-minute television show, “Morton’s Fork” was a fine piece of drama from top to bottom, even with more goofy character decisions than normal, but it fell short of everything in its wake. As such, I’m thinking my impulsive opinions are dangerous, but it’ll take a full season rewatch later this year to come to a full decision.
Still, I’m really going to miss Fargo’s quirks and the riddles its characters tell, for very few shows on TV are quite like it. Now I’m hungry for a grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe I’ll make one for my wife, too, since she should be getting home soon from picking those papers up from my office…