It’s hard to believe this not only the final episode of this season of Fargo but possibly the final episode ever. Showrunner Noah Hawley does an excellent job of continuing to run, full speed, until the finish line — such a good job, in fact, that the last episode doesn’t feel like something I’m watching to see loose ends tied up. True to form, not all the loose ends are tied up in the finale.
We pick up with Gloria Burgle’s (Carrie Coon) letter of resignation from the Sheriff’s department, finally to be delivered, and I.R.S. agent Larue Dollard (Hamish Linklater) who has organised the various files Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sent him, only to discover that a note with Burgle’s number was included. With that introduction, Swango didn’t know she would be putting into play a series of events that would change Burgle’s life. Their conversation is spliced with a scene showing the untangling of Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and V.M. Varga (David Thewlis). While Dollard is explaining the financial web Varga has made of Stussy’s parking lot empire, Varga is having Stussy sign off on the final papers that will result in the Stussy empire being sold for chump change to Mrs. Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell). Stussy doesn’t go without a fight. After Varga quite condescendingly calls him “food,” Stussy finally decides to fight back. He grabs Meemo’s (Andy Yu) gun, intending to do heaven knows what, but he’s fooled by Varga’s story that the gun has some fingerprint scanner and finds himself swarmed and disarmed. He didn’t understand that the deal was already done, and Varga’s whole crew clears out, leaving him unconscious on the ground.
All the while, Swango, along with her new partner Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) is planning more revenge. Varga turns up to their previously appointed meet, cash in briefcase, to find a young Mexican boy there to lead him to Swango. It’s a dark, ominous move on her part. Meemo is the only one who can see what a huge mistake this is, that they’re walking into a trap. Varga’s ego won’t let him even imagine she might get the better of him and he pompously goes into the building with his crew. There are a half dozen henchmen and bodyguards there, and Swango and Wrench take them all down. Except for Varga, who gets a tip off from an unknown party (probably Swango) that the drives he’s paying a ransom on have already been delivered to the I.R.S. and leaves his crew there to be slaughtered. His expression in the elevator ride to the ground floor is pure terror. He escapes out of the top hatch, to Swango’s disappointment. Swango gives the money, minus a few thousand, to Wrench, telling him all she wants is Emmit Stussy. So, this was the more righteous path that Wrench was headed down, the one that got him out of purgatory or wherever he and Swango were stuck with Laura Palmer’s dad? The gods certainly have an interesting sense of morality.
Emmit awakes in his home with that damn two cent stamp stuck to his forehead, of the sort Swango has been leaving him. He drives to Stussy headquarters to find that some redecoration is happening, thanks to Mrs. Goldfarb. She explains to him that he’s sold his company to her but much of his personal wealth, gotten during his unsavory deals with Varga, is hidden in offshore accounts. I think it’s interesting that he assumes that she works for Varga — frankly, it seems far more likely that she’s the source of Varga’s purse strings.
As that’s happening, Dollard explains to Burgle what Varga was doing to Stussy’s company. It’s not money laundering, it’s perfectly legal to “strip mine” a company in the way they did. Except for one small thing: they didn’t pay their taxes. Burgle gets a call from Officer Lopez (Olivia Sandoval), alerting her to the bodies Swango left behind. Burgle puts out a BOLO and goes to warn Emmit, but he’s in his car, driving to wherever his wife is staying to beg for his life back. His car breaks down, and who should pull up behind him but Swango…with a shotgun. Just as she’s going to kill him, she begins repeating the instructed Bible verse and a police officer shows up. So, if she hadn’t done what Laura Palmer’s dad instructed her to do, she might have had a clean kill. Instead, she ends up dead in a shootout with the officer, who she kills. Emmit is left alive, with no evidence he was ever at the scene and drives away. Nikki Swango, a true American bad ass, died so that a mediocre white man could live. If that isn’t a metaphor for the value of women in modern society, then I don’t know what it is. As her body is carried away, Burgle stands over it with the Minnesota wind ruffling her hair. “Okay then,” she says and walks away.
Before we jump forward to an uncertain future, we see Burgle explaining some of this to her son. Now that she’s got an idea of how her stepfather died, she feels she owes him some truth, if not the whole story. Burgle believes the man was Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann), despite some viewer’s insistence he couldn’t have been, so we’ll all have to leave it at that. Some mysteries can’t be solved.
Emmit manages to reconcile with his family as well as with his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) and, in a flash forward, we learn that he serves two months of probation for misdemeanor tax evasion and is suspected to have kept a huge sum of the money. But, five years later in 2016, the bill comes due for Emmit Stussy. Mr. Wrench comes to his home during a holiday meal and shoots him in the back of the head as he searches for the Jell-O salad.
If this all leaves you feeling like we’re left in a world ruled by vendettas and random violence, Hawley tries to end with some hope. He brings Burgle, who is now an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, and Varga face to face one more time in an airport holding room where she questions him. After an avalanche of circular talk from Varga, he tries one last time to create doubt for Burgle. “In five minutes, that door is going to open, and a man you can’t argue with will tell me I’m free to go. And I will stand from this chair and disappear into the world, so help me God,” Varga tells her. Burgle insists that she’ll be eating fried Snickers bars at the state fair while he’s in Riker’s prison.
We don’t know which prediction comes true because the episode ends with Burgle looking at the clock above his head, a knowing smile on her face. I suppose the ending you imagine is a litmus test for your character. Do due process and hard work win out over cheating the system? Is fundamentally good enough to triumph over objectively evil? Do you view it as man versus woman? Or a pugnacious detective finally getting her man?
The future is unknown, in so many ways.
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