Chris Large / FX

Fargo's Bonnie And Clyde Reach The End Of Their Story

Let's talk about our last moments in 1979.

Remember the Gerhardts?

They were kind of a big deal for a while. A few episodes ago, I was speculating about which character would be the one to kill Dodd, the worst of them -- which of his many potential assassins would be the most dramatically satisfying. But "this is a true story," which means drama "doesn't" enter into it, and if we're just seeing what "really occurred," sometimes that's unceremonious and abrupt. For every Bear, shot while a spacecraft hovered overhead, there's a Floyd, swiftly and quietly dispatched by someone whose loyalty she seems never to have questioned since the moment he joined her family.

As the finale opens with a slow pan over various Gerhardt corpses, we're reminded of how much their final moments really ran the gamut. Otto probably didn't know what was happening before he took the bullet that ended up being fatal. Dodd was shot so quickly he could scarcely react to having the gun pointed at him. Rye went slowly, and in several stages. Floyd looked her killer in the eye as he made his betrayal the last thing in this world she would know. (Notably, this montage is the first time we actually see Simone's dead body, so if anyone had thought her murder happening offscreen might have meant that Bear changed his mind and exiled her in the end after all...looks like she's not going to turn up in Season 3 after all, unless the aliens come back to resurrect her.)

The Gerhardts start out Season 2 seeming like a pretty solid organization. But it only takes a little bad luck -- Otto's stroke; Rye's hit-and-run -- and a few bad decisions -- everything Dodd does; every time Floyd goes along with him -- to destroy it. And it's the exploration of how significant coincidence can be that, to me, has made this season so much more interesting than the first.

Lorne Malvo was a unique character, and it was, one might argue, instructive to get a close-up look at what it's like when an unapologetically evil person crosses paths with someone who thinks of himself as a decent guy but doesn't require much convincing to abandon anything resembling principles. But Ed Blumquist doesn't decide to grind up a corpse from his freezer because a confident criminal sitting next to him in the ER convinces him that he could; he does it because his wife has brought home a person she's turned most of the way into a corpse. Ed doesn't (eventually) run afoul of a crime family because a stranger talked him into testing his own moral boundaries; he takes what seem at the time to be logical steps to protect the woman he loves, and the future he thinks they can still have together. We know that things probably wouldn't go the way Ed thinks even if Peggy hadn't run down Rye, but Ed doesn't. And maybe Peggy doesn't either, on any level she could admit; the way she begs Ed to hang on in "Palindrome" and shakes off his suggestion that they're "not going to make it" remind us -- maybe even more than her hallucinations of smoke from a fire Hanzee never set -- that reality isn't Peggy's forte. How much longer would the Blumquists have kept plugging along, neither terribly happy nor oppressively unhappy, had Rye Gerhardt not stumbled into the path of Peggy's car? But also: if the cops had taken just a little longer to breach the cabin and Peggy had given Hanzee the haircut he requested, does Peggy still throw boiling water in Hanzee's face at the Motor Motel? Does Hanzee still shoot Ed? Or does Hanzee start his new life early, declining to orchestrate the massacre at all? The arc of Season 1 was not surprising in that we kept watching Lester come to decision points and choose whichever was the more venal. In Season 2, it feels like there are so many more moments that we can imagine having pivoted in different ways.

Like the Fargo film, the Season 2 finale leaves no doubt as to the wages of sin. Peggy lives, but maybe only because it would be monstrous to punish with death a character who, it now seems, is not just wacky but actually disturbed. Hanzee lives, though he's walking into the unknown (and anyway, despite his body count, I personally think he's been more sinned against than sinning). Mike lives...

FX

FX

...if you can call this living. Ed, who thought to involve himself in organized crime by using Dodd as a bargaining chip, gets shot and dies of his wounds, but that's nothing compared to the destruction of the Gerhardts. It only takes a matter of days for the Gerhardts to wipe themselves out with infighting and mutual distrust; Floyd's attempt to mentor the next generation of leaders, starting with Simone, comes too late, when too much damage has already been done by the son Floyd could have stood to distrust a little more.

And the Solversons live -- all of them, at least for now. Betsy's fainting spell was just that, and though she walks us through a dream of the future her husband and daughter may have when she's gone, she admits the possibility that chaos could still win out, which made me wonder if this was going to turn out to be an entirely different timeline for the Solversons than the one we knew of from Season 1; after all, if aliens are real in Season 2, I GUESS ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. But no, of course, the Solversons remain the solid rock on which this story is built. Betsy wakes up spry enough to dismiss Camus. Hank survives the bullet he took, and makes it to Sunday dinner, as promised. And when Betsy straightforwardly brings up the alarming state of Hank's office and gently invites him to explain, it turns out to be an explanation that makes me cry.

"After your mother died, I got to feeling pretty low. We all did. And I took-- Well, you remember, I took some time off. And I, I started thinking -- which I know is dangerous -- but you know, the things I've seen, I mean, the War, and at home, on the job -- so much senselessness, violence, you know. And I got-- I got to thinking about-- about miscommunication, like how, isn't that the root of it? Conflict, war -- doesn't it all come down to, to language? The words we say and the words we hear, which aren't always the same thing. So I thought, you know, what if there was one language, a universal language of symbols -- 'cause pictures, to my mind, are clearer than words."
-Hank Larsson-

Betsy reaches out her hand for Hank's and squeezes, telling him simply, "You're a good man." He lets her give him this benediction, but the moment only lasts a few seconds before he shrugs off her gushy display of emotion and releases her hand: "Well, I don't know about that. I like to think I got good intentions." After what we've been through, the Solversons' good intentions as the season ends feel even more heroic. Noreen has joined the family, and we may be fairly certain things won't end for her as they did for Hanzee. Hank might have been every bit as embarrassed of the state of his office as Peggy was (or should have been) about the magazine hoard in her basement, but at least his pile of papers were collected with a more altruistic motive than her "being the best me I can be." It clearly never occurred to Betsy to lie to her dad -- even by omission -- about what she saw, unlike Dodd, lying reflexively to his mother to achieve his horrible ends. Fargo's second season told a spectacular story about a crime family, but nothing moved me more than the good family at its heart.

For Law & Order Week we ask:

Which Law & Order DA is most in need of a makeover at the hands of Peggy Blumquist?

  • Paul Robinette (that '90s flattop)
  • Claire Kincaid (a hot oil, for starters)
  • Jamie Ross (extensions and honey highlights)
  • Adam Schiff (nail art)
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