And so it came to this. The end. Or was it? That’s the question many fans of this often magnificent, often quixotic series will have asked at the end of this finale. It was a brilliant episode, a stunning finale, but that end – the very end – will have left some fans reeling. Perhaps even infuriated. But before then, a whole heap of stuff happened.
By now, we’re used to the final episode of each series of Fargo ending in one almighty powwow. It happened in series one, it happened in series two and, sure enough, it happened here too. The set-pieces were brutally efficient, bloody and impossibly tense.
First Nikki Swango and Mr Wrench had some serious vengeance to mete out to Varga. After their skirmish in episode nine, this final episode saw the reckoning. Nikki Swango had called Varga to a warehouse and, after getting Emmit to sign away the final dregs of his company over, he arrived with a full squad of henchmen, tooled up to the max and a suitcase full of money in exchange for the hard drives Nikki Swango stole from him. As they entered, Meemo sensed danger.
He was right to feel a disturbance in the force – Nikki Swango did indeed mete out her vengeance, by mowing down Meemo and his chums in one hail of bullets. Varga, tipped off that the IRS had the drives and Nikki Swango was cooking up something, managed to escape from an elevator into the ether. Nikki Swango may not have got her man, but she had pretty much destroyed him.
Nikki Swango may not have got her man, but she had pretty much destroyed him.
This was, in part, thanks to the parcel she sent to the IRS. Gloria Burgle, who was disturbed from writing her resignation letter, was telephoned by Mr Larue, who now had all the evidence he needed to nail Varga and his stooge, Emmit Stussy.
The full truth of it was this: Varga’s company, Narwhal, dished out a $1m loan to Emmit’s company. VM Varga was soon added as a partner. It was a typical leverage buy out, or ‘bleed out’ he explained. They normally go like this: outside entity acquires the company, it then borrows millions of dollars in its name and the partners pocket the money and squirrel it away in off-shore accounts. They then sell the company now laden with debt for a fraction of the cost. Strip-mining for profit is legal if the taxes are paid, he said, but this was different – there were no taxes paid.
So that cleared that one up, in a handy scene of exposition.
But we still had things to tie up. The fates of Emmit and Nikki Swango, for two. They met on an open road, Emmit’s car breaking down and Nikki Swango pulling up behind him, striding forcefully towards him with a sawn-off in hand. As the conversation flowed – “He’s a kitten now. Ray. In case you were wondering” – Emmit was surely done for, but a twist of fate corkscrewed into view, as it often does in Fargo. As Nikki Swango recited the incantation she was instructed to recount by Paul Marrane when she got to the moment of taking out the bad guys (“Say what now?” asked Emmit when he heard Nikki Swango whisper something about eagles), a policeman pulled up and asked them both for their licenses. The scene became more and more tense, until both he and Nikki Swango reached for their guns and pulled their triggers.
They both went down. Carter Burwell’s original Fargo theme tune chimed melancholically as the camera panned slowly, first down the body of the dead policeman and then onto Nikki Swango – a halo of blood framing her wide-eyed face as it oozed out of the fatal gunshot wound from her forehead, the entry wound looking almost like facial stigmata. I was heartbroken.
With the proper Fargo music afforded, it felt like an elegiac end to Nikki Swango, almost like a royal funeral. They’d saved the music for her.
When the policeman first pulled up, Nikki Swango said to him as he was inspecting the scene: “It’s kind of a long story, but at the end of it we all get to go home.”
In a way, Nikki Swango did get to go home. Let’s face it, when she was recruited by godly emissary Paul Marrane she became some sort of avenging angel.
(I did wonder if, by pulling a gun on an innocent policeman and intending to kill Emmit, who wasn’t evil necessarily, whether Marrane and his higher power buddies had called her in.)
I said in episode nine’s review that I got nervous whenever Nikki Swango seemed to have the upper hand, and I was incredibly nervous throughout these scenes. Nikki Swango became a character I loved because, out of everyone in this third series, she went on the most satisfying journey. Her arc was the most complete. She had evolved from someone quirky and enigmatic – sassy, sexy, brash, yet pragmatic with flickers of empathy and emotion – to someone hardened and single-minded in her mission. Ever since she received her instructions from Marrane, she sashayed around with alacrity. She was a difficult one to put your finger on, but the moment she endured the beatings and survived the escape and the consequent, terrifying chase from the bus crash, Nikki Swango became something else. She had changed, she had listened and learnt, and she had become someone with a purpose. You could argue that Emmit also underwent some sort of transformation, too, but had he really? For Emmit there was atonement, of sorts, but had he really changed? No, not really. Five years later, he was sat around the dinner table with his family as if nothing had happened. He was still slightly smug, and you got the impression that his streak of avarice would likely flare up sometime soon.
In the end, Emmit Stussy was shot in the back of the head by Mr Wrench when he left the dinner table to fetch some salad from the fridge; a blood-red, seasonal jelly stared out from the middle shelf elegantly and coldly as the deed was done.
So Nikki Swango was gone, her life evaporated into the cold Minnesotan air long ago, and now Emmit Stussy was gone. But what of Gloria Burgle and VM Varga?
This is where we get to the final, contentious scene. Gloria was now working for the Department Of Homeland Security, and Varga had been picked up entering the US from Brussels. As they sat there, face to face – the embodiment of evil one side, the embodiment of good on the other – they gently debated what had happened. It was tense, but also intriguing – you couldn’t take your eyes of them. Gloria told Varga what was going to happen – he was going to jail to eat mashed potato, and she was going to take her son to the state fair to guess the weight of a pig and eat a deep-fried Snickers bar. He told her what was going to happen – in five minutes’ time someone she couldn’t or wouldn’t want to argue with was going to walk through the door and set him free. Both had versions of their truth, both certain that they knew what was going to happen.
Take these lines from the closing scenes:
Gloria: “So for now, just know that sometimes the world doesn’t make a lot of sense, but how we get through it is, we stick together.”
Varga: “But which of us can say with certainty what has occurred — actually occurred — and what is simply rumour, misinformation, opinion?”
And this was the main theme of this series, something that had popped up again and again – truth. What it is was, what it meant and whose truth would ultimately win out.
In the end, as the camera fixed onto the clock ticking away on the wall, there was no definitive version of the truth – the end credits rolled and we never got to see what happened to either.
One of the reasons people enjoy crime stories is that despite horrific things happening throughout, there is, generally, a resolution. We follow these characters through scenes of immense trauma and fall in love with them and form an emotional bond. We suffer with them. The best thing about crime fiction or TV crime drama? There’s a satisfying conclusion, where everything is tied up neatly – bad people are served justice, redemption is achieved and the horrors are kept locked inside their self-contained, fictional worlds. It’s a far more psychologically manageable version of the real world, where horrors happen all the time without any resolution.
Like The Sopranos before it, this ending did not tie up the biggest loose end of them all. It left us hanging. In any other series this would have been hugely unsatisfactory, but here it felt right. I didn’t feel cheated as so many will have been. It was as if Fargo was telling us that good and evil will always coexist, always need each other. There is no winner here, no outright truth.
What is life, ultimately? In Fargo, it’s a group of disparate events and people bumping into each other, making decisions (mostly bad, let’s face it) and creating their own realities and their own truths.
Let’s hope this co-existence of good and evil continues into a fourth series, because when Fargo is good – like it has been for large parts of this series – there’s nothing else quite like it on television.
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