‘Fargo’ recap, season finale: Wolf at the door

Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson, Bob Odenkirk as Bill Oswalt (Chris Large/FX)

Quick recap:

Prey becomes predator and vice versa, as the finale proves that what goes around comes around.

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Real good?

An outstanding conclusion to the series. Most long-form stories -- particularly morality plays, as this has inevitably turned out to be -- have to choose between being unpredictable and being satisfying. Fargo's finale manages both. Aside from pulling Molly off the ice in the final period, that is. 4¾ North Stars.

Minnesota bona fides

We open on a pattern in the snow familiar to even the least outdoorsy Minnesotan: long, parallel furrows with shorter lines, closer together, running perpendicular to them. Snowmobile tracks, of course. The camera follows these marks all the way to an overturned machine, and proceeds across the frozen whiteness to a sight that strikes an atavistic chill through what can only be called Minnesotan race memory: a dark, jagged, slushy hole that has clearly just swallowed someone.

Then the camera pans up to the background, and we're suddenly looking at mountains. Wait, wherever the heck this is, it isn't Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, we later find out that it's not supposed to be, so it's all good.

Later, Molly leads a briefing in the squad room that features a large map of the actual Bemidji area as a visual aid. The cops talk about the three main roads as though they’ve never seen them. And Gus steps out onto his front porch to find Lou sitting there and the sun all the way up at 7:00 AM in the dead of winter. It's hard to say which is more surprising.

And of course, with its ninety-minute running time, Fargo demonstrates how to execute a classic "Minnesota goodbye."

Talking Minnesota

One has gotten used to the up-north speech patterns, either from watching all ten episodes of this show or from growing up around them. Still, it’s hard to miss when a guy receives word of his wife’s death and exclaims, "Aw, jeez, what?" It's quite an achievement that an actor like Martin Freeman, famous for playing iconic British-accented characters like Dr. John Watson, Bilbo Baggins, Arthur Dent, and the romantic lead from BBC's The Office can make us forget that Lester Nygaard's hot-dish-scented lilt isn't his real voice. Good job there.

Looks like home

A popular Minnesotan activity on weekends is "headin' up to the cabin." Given how often one hears that phrase, cabins must be pretty thick on the ground north of the Twin Cities. Sure enough, Malvo is holing up in just such a place during his current visit to the greater Bemidji area. It is authentically rustic, but less authentically visible from the main road.

Full Recap

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard (Chris Large/FX)

After the chilling look at that hole in the ice, we’re back to the final moments of last week's episode. Lester continues to cower in his dark car as he watches Malvo walk away from Linda, whom Lester sent in to die in his place. To quote an old Steven Wright joke, Lester must be thinking, "Okay, I'm still alive, now what am I going to do?"

Lester being Lester, what he does is sneak into the place, step over his wife's corpse, and open the safe to retrieve his passport so he can flee. But Lester has a change of heart when he recalls that fateful moment in the Las Vegas elevator just the day before. After all, he said a confrontation with Malvo was what he wanted. And the new Lester doesn't back down, remember?

But first, Lester has to establish an alibi for himself so Molly Solverson doesn't think he killed this wife too. Heading up the street to the diner and using Lou for that purpose, Lester uses the pay phone to call in the gunshots so the cops will come, then puts on a big show of shock for them when he joins them at the crime scene. Not that Molly is remotely fooled. She's clearly keen for another crack at collaring Lester or Malvo and would probably be happy with either one. Again, Lester stonewalls during interrogation (even Bill is no longer backing him up), and ends up getting a ride home from Agents Pepper and Budge, who will be his personal security detail. In other words, Lester's punishment has already begun.

As word of Malvo's return spreads, it has quite an effect on the Grimly/Solversons. Lou takes it upon himself to sit guard with his shotgun on Gus's porch to protect Greta (who later joins him with her air rifle), Molly coordinates a department-wide manhunt, and Gus begs her not to leave the station. Molly puts up some resistance, but disappointingly ends up letting her man tell her what to do. Gus nearly hits a timber wolf in the road -- an actual one, not a basketball player -- and screeches to a stop at what turns out to be a very serendipitous location.

Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo (Chris Large/FX)

As for Malvo, he hasn't been idle. Squatting in that cabin outside town, he contrives to cancel Pepper and Budge's requested FBI backup and takes a kid from the local used car dealership on a "test drive" (license plate DLR, in a shout-out to a gag from the 1996 film). Eventually that car rolls up on Pepper and Budge in Lester's driveway, with the car salesman duct-taped helplessly to the steering wheel. The crack federal agents are confused by this just long enough for Malvo to step out of the woods and blow both of them away. They should have realized long ago that they just weren't cut out for this line of work.

Lester, upon glancing out the window and seeing no sign of his bodyguards other than two bloody streaks in the snow (why does Malvo bother dragging his kills out of sight after making such a mess every time?), realizes it's on, but he doesn't panic. Employing those lightning-fast problem-solving skills he's been developing all season (and just demonstrated again by quickly solving Pepper and Budge's riddle about the fox, the rabbit, and the cabbage), Lester takes control of the situation. Malvo soon thinks he's got Lester cornered in the master bath as he hears him supposedly yammering in panic to a 911 operator, but as he's crossing Lester's laundry-strewn bedroom, he finds himself caught in Chazz's bear trap, which Lester retrieved from the basement and concealed under the scattered contents of his luggage. Lester promptly pops out of the bathroom and fires a shot at Malvo, which only hits him in the shin. Poor showing there, Lester. Malvo retaliates by winging Lester's Salesman of the Year award at his face, breaking Lester's nose yet again. Both men manage to retreat to neutral corners alive, and when Lester emerges from barricading himself in the bathroom he seems to take this draw as a victory. And Malvo didn't even have to chew his own leg off like the bear in the story he told Mr. Wrench last year.

Malvo makes it back to his cabin and serves as his own field medic, resetting and splinting his broken shin. But it's all for naught, because Malvo spots the literal wolf at the door -- the same one that brought Gus to a halt outside his house -- and seems to read it as a symbolic sign of his own doom. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't, but Malvo's more urgent problem is that Gus has been lying there in ambush, alone, doing exactly the opposite of what he told Molly to do. Gus finally gets redemption for that abortive traffic stop back in Duluth last year by putting down Malvo for good. Not that it's a big hero move to kill a wounded, unarmed man, and taking five rounds at point-blank range to do it.

When Molly joins most of the rest of the Bemidji police force at the scene, Gus partially makes up for his rank hypocrisy by directing Molly's attention to Malvo's tape recorder case, and particularly the recording of Lester Nygaard confessing Pearl's murder over the phone to Malvo. Molly's expression of relief and vindication is indescribable. Much more satisfying than a little while ago when Bill told her he was going to quit and name her Chief of Police.

As for Lester, two weeks later he's not anywhere near Bemidji. Instead, he's snowmobiling through Glacier National Park in Montana. Clearly the fugitive life agrees with him. But the cops catch up with them there, and Lester leads them on a brief chase before crashing his machine and attempting to flee on foot across a frozen lake. After ignoring any number of metaphorical signs of thin ice over the course of the season, Lester doesn't pay any attention to the literal one staring him in the face. And soon the fate that Numbers and Wrench nearly visited on him a year ago is the one Lester meets, at his own hand. I can think of few worse ways to die than falling through the ice. And few better ways for Lester.

Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson, Bob Odenkirk as Bill Oswalt (Chris Large/FX)

Back home in Bemidji, the Grimly/Solversons go on watching Deal or No Deal (it being 2007 and all), and Gus mentions his pending citation for bravery, which he thinks should go to Molly. "I get to be chief," she shrugs.

And we're out. So much has come full circle, as emphasized by the numerous callbacks in tonight's episode. Malvo's law-of-the-jungle philosophy, to which Lester was a late convert, proved bankrupt after all, as both men were essentially done in by nature. After watching them both justify their crimes with the belief that the world is for those willing to take it, it's nice to see the word be like, "Yeah, those guys aren't with me." And the folks in Bemidji can safely go back to their potlucks and church basements and ice houses, and all is right with the world. Other than it being so damn cold.

Next week: No next week, and as of this writing, no next season. But Lou Solverson has said just enough -- and left just enough unsaid -- to leave me hungry for a prequel set in 1979 Sioux Falls. Here's hopin', yah?