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Fargo Season 1 Review: Experimental, Brilliant, Flawed

Dan O'Halloran | 1 Jul 2014 12:00
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Then we get to the finale. Does Malvo come to justice? Yes. Does Lester get what's coming to him? Yes. That must mean that Molly's persistence and dedication to justice has paid off, right? Well, not so much. There is an inherent promise in police shows and it goes like this: the detective will stop at nothing, putting themselves in great personal and professional danger, to apprehend the criminal disrupting the community they have sworn to protect. Except in this case Molly did not apprehend Malvo. Her husband Gus, who let Malvo get away in the pilot after being threatened, randomly happened to stumble across Malvo's remote cabin, wait for him to return injured and then shot him in cold blood when he had no way to defend himself. There were no legal or other repercussions for Gus, who wasn't even a policeman at that point, but there was at least some kind of poetic justice in Gus ending Malvo's violent spree after letting him get away earlier.

So at least Molly got her man, Lester: with Malvo's death she found taped phone recordings between the killer and Lester that proved Lester killed his wife. But Lester never exactly sees justice, as the next scene shows forest rangers in Montana chasing Lester onto a frozen lake that cracks under his weight, sending him into the icy depths, never to resurface. Peace is once again restored to town, but not with the satisfaction of seeing Molly confront the criminals she so doggedly chased down was a large disappointment in the series for me. Yes, this is the style, once again, of the Coen Brothers whose movie this is based on, but, again, for television audiences, this was very frustrating.

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The other big flaw in this series is how some of the minor storylines were handled. While the Molly/Lester/Malvo cat-and-mouse storyline was riveting until the last minutes of the finale when all the long building tension went unfulfilled, many of the smaller storylines often trailed off without full resolution. Did the deaf hitman Mr. Wrench take the key Malvo offered him to escape his handcuffs at the hospital? What happened to the gaslit supermarket mogul after the car accident that killed his son? Many shows get bashed for tying up storylines too neatly, but humans are geared for closure and there wasn't too much of that going on here. And with a possible second season having an entirely new cast and setting, it's not like the writers were holding out for a bigger payoff down the line.

And while the lighter tone of the smaller storylines were a welcome relief to the seriousness of the main plot, the Key and Peel appearance as bumbling FBI agents took the comedy angle too far. They seemed very out of place in the story with their obliviousness and juvenile attitudes. Contrast them to the two hitman earlier in the season whose married-couple-bickering-via-sign-language was a delight to watch as they mercilessly terrorized people in search of Malvo.

Now all this may sound like I hated the show, but I quite enjoyed it... until the end, that is. Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson was a revelation especially for an actress with few credits to her name before this show. Billy Bob Thornton absolutely commanded every scene he was in with his unruffled demeanor and casual violence. And Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard was fascinating to watch as he transformed from timid church mouse to self-involved, over-confident monster who didn't give a second thought to sending his second wife to her death to save his own skin. I just wish this season had paid off a little more strongly with Molly's character fulfilling her expected role of closing the case personally. Experimentation in storytelling is great (see American Horror Story, Lost, the first season of Twin Peaks), but no matter how you get there, the audience still wants its satisfaction in the end.

So is the Coen Brothers-style of thwarted expectations in storytelling ready for primetime television? Possibly, if it can find a middleground between their view of "real life doesn't give neat closure" and the expectations of TV viewers for cleanly wrapped up storylines. Either way, Fargo brought a wonderful and inventive story to the small screen that was well worth the ride.

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