‘Fargo’ finale recap: The more things change

“Fargo” exists in a snow globe full of death and disappointment and stasis. Life can often feel the same.

What the show posits is that we have the ability to hold our ground, to try to grow, and that even if the walls that keep us in place don’t break, maybe they’ll bend enough for us to gain purchase, to self-actualize, to find a way to no longer be tired of this life.

To do so, we’ll need the ability to talk, to listen, to comprehend those concepts and individuals that seem incomprehensible. We need to communicate


When I spoke to Noah Hawley in June about the upper Midwest, he told me, “It’s not a place where you would ever burden anyone by talking about your feelings or embarrass them by asking about theirs. How do you cope in those moments where things get so turned upside-down?”

But by the waning moments of “Palindrome,” the “Fargo” second season finale, it’s evident that sometimes it’s less about speaking your piece and more about being understood once you do.

It’s a lesson delivered by Hank Larsson as he improbably sits with the whole of his family at the end of the episode. Betsy has staved off her cancer temporarily. Hank and Lou escaped the bloodshed of the Fargo/Kansas City war relatively unscathed. And the time is finally right for Betsy to inquire after the elaborate symbols decorating Hank’s office.

It is not, as it turns out, a newfound appreciation for ufology but rather Hank’s attempt to create a universal language. It’s a single man’s attempt to excise the senselessness, the miscommunication of life and bring order to what is otherwise chaos.

The most painful and precise illustration of the frustration of miscommunication comes earlier in the episode, as Peggy and Lou make their way back across the South Dakota countryside toward home.

Both Peggy and Lou are empaths yet find themselves entirely unable to comprehend where the other is coming from.

Peggy tries to explain to Lou how she ended up in the back of his patrol car. She speaks of how she was sold a bill of goods by the world, convinced of this idea that you can have it all, a career, a family, a life, a sense of self, and that when failure inevitably followed, she was judged as faulty.

But Lou has little patience for her tale, reminding her that people died, through all he had experienced, still missing the fact that Peggy was as much a victim as anyone of life and its prevailing circumstances.

Yet Lou has little trouble empathizing with the plight of Peggy’s now deceased husband Ed, who told him earlier in the season that he would do anything to protect his family. This concept Lou understands, and he speaks of it as the rock that all men push.

As sympathetic as Lou is to the plight of the everyman, he can’t quite wrap his head around the idea that there is a universal experience for women that he couldn’t possibly understand. Yet “Fargo” never paints this as villainous; it merely reiterates the humanity of the situation: We are all human. We’re all speaking the same language. We often remain unable to see past ourselves into the experiences of others.

Beyond issues of communication, “Palindrome” was again an excellent illustration of the Sisyphean nature of life, perhaps best exemplified by the fate of Mike Milligan.

For Milligan, “Palindrome” was a victory lap. Having finally settled matters in Fargo, he was able to return to Kansas City triumphant, like a king settling into his throne. But, as is only fitting for a show so dedicated to the work of Kafka this season, Milligan finds his promotion somewhat underwhelming.

Instead of a roving problem solver, Milligan will instead be swallowed into middle management, where the walls are are as beige and lifeless as his coworkers. The reward for his style and brilliance and grace is to becoming a glorified accountant, combing the numbers and looking for ways to boost revenue. He should also cut his hair, buy a gray suit and take up golf, if he’s really interested in thriving in his new situation.

This turn of events is classic Kafka, one man bound into the nonsensical intricacies of a bureaucracy that he cannot extricate himself from, made all the worse in this situation because it is serving as a reward for a job well done.

Meanwhile, Hanzee is dealing with another kind of promotion altogether. He meets with a mysterious man who facilitates his transformation to a new and different person, though not one that regular viewers of the series are unfamiliar with.

Hanzee’s new name, Moses Tripoli, is one that appears in Season 1 of the series, set in 2006. The Tripoli from Season 1 is the head of the Fargo mob and iterates the same words that Hanzee does when vowing his vengeance against the Kansas City mob: “Not apprehend, dead. Don’t care heavily guarded. Don’t care into the sea. Kill and be killed. Head in a bag,” concluding in his native tongue: “There’s the message.”

There is a tragedy in this revelation, that this character who, mere episodes before, was yearning to run away because he was “tired of this life” ended up changing his look, yes, but stayed mired in the violent trade that had become all he knew.

That Hanzee wanted a way to better get along in America and found it easier to change his face, his identity, his heritage, to do so is tragic. But perhaps sometimes the only way to get along in America is to become the heartless bully who has held you down for so long.

By the time the dust settles, “Fargo” leaves Hanzee with a new identity, Mike with a new job, the Gerhardts dead or imprisoned, Peggy on her way to incarceration and the Solverson/Larsson family in a tentative state of peace.

But a palindrome is a sequence of characters that read the same backward or forward, so for as different as some of the characters’ conclusions may seem on the face, in reality, it’s just more of the same.

Peggy is going to jail, trapped in another person’s home, abiding by another entity’s rules, maybe actualized but probably not.

Hanzee isn’t free from his heritage or the blood on his hands, he’s merely found a different face for it.

Mike Milligan got a promotion, but to the middle, where he’ll remain a cog in a machine he has no control over.

The Gerhardts are dead, but they always were, trapped in a changing industry, unable to modify their actions to prepare for a not so distant future.

Lou and Betsy and Molly and Hank, they’re together now, like they were together before. But death lurks, as it always has, and though Betsy had a vision of a better tomorrow, full of love and light (and the grown Solverson family we grew to love in Season 1, including Alison Tolman as Molly, Keith Carradine as Lou, Colin Hanks as Gus and Joey King as Greta) there is no version of the story that ends with her joining them in that moment.

But for now, life is OK, it is acceptable. Though the current may constantly beat us back against the shore, it is up to use to keep fighting for new ground.

And so the second season of “Fargo” comes to its end with the Solversons in bed once again, settling in for a long winter’s sleep, watching the shadow of the show cast across their bedding. They feel fortunate to exchange their bedtime routine (“Goodnight, Mr. Solverson. Goodnight, Mrs. Solverson. And all the ships at sea.”) even one last time.

For as trapped as life may sometimes seem, occasionally it’s the repetition that carries you home.

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