Fargo Season 1, Episode 10 “Morton’s Fork”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Matt Shakman
Aired 6/17/14 on FX
There are a handful of moments in “Morton’s Fork” where characters consider two very different options. Some are existential (Pepper wondering if he’s awake or asleep), some are incidental (whether Lester should run away not once, but two more times), and some are moral (Gus and Lou’s attempts to “protect” Molly). However different these choices may seem on the surface, the underbelly of “Morton’s Fork” is about the ambiguity of “good” and “bad”, silently observing the battle of each in characters, from Lester to Malvo, right down to our soon-to-be-retired police chief Bill. And by plainly stating the bad and good of each character in this world, Fargo doesn’t end with the Biblical implications it began with, ending with a Coen-esque morality play, where the decent win, the dumb die, and evil is finally vanquished from Bemidji.
For those looking for eye candy similar to “Buridan’s Ass” in this week’s episode are bound to be disappointed: there’s a snowstorm and some gunfire, but there’s no apocalyptic climax between Molly and Malvo, who end the series never spending a single scene together (*sheds small tear*). After all, it’s a cruel world, and we have to take solace in what small victories we get: Molly and Gus get their happy ending (“… I get to be chief”), but it comes at the cost of Gus’s innocence (lest we forget, he murders Malvo while he sits injured, trying to do his best No Country For Old Men imitation) and Molly’s satisfaction of solving the case (not to mention the lives lost, from poor Linda to the unfortunate, philosophical pair of Budge and Pepper). Some characters don’t even get endings: we never get another sight of old Lou at the end of the show (though his final scenes were terrific, hanging out on the porch with a shotgun), and we never do find out what happens to that poor car salesman (I imagine it wasn’t pleasant).
In a way, these anti-climatic endings almost make for a more satisfying finale: less focus on building a big showdown were spent on smaller moments, like the fantastic scene where Bill admits he was wrong to Molly (a man too simple to see the worst evils of the world), or Gus and Molly quietly stewing over the decisions they make throughout the hour. Sure, I wish Molly played a larger role in the finale, but it really had to come back to Gus: being the person who could’ve prevented it all from happening, him being the one to take down Malvo (after finally “solving” his riddle, thanks to Molly) gives closure to his arc as a character (plus, it’s pretty hilarious he has the courage to take down Malvo when he’s not in a cop uniform; family really changes everything for a man).
And of course, we say goodbye to Lester in hilariously morbid fashion: drowning in a lake in a red coat (like the red fish on his poster) as police finally hunted him down in the woods of Montana. We knew he was doomed the moment he took Malvo’s advice in the pilot, but his brief appearance at the end gives a nice symbolic nod to the end of his life, the cracks in his story collapsing and burying him underneath them, with no chance to escape. It also gives him a nice parallel to Jerry Lundergard: Lundergard’s life may have been spared (after all, he didn’t actually kill his wife) in the end, but both men find themselves trapped underneath their own shit piles, acts of misplaced masculinity unraveled by a pair of intelligent, level-headed female cops.
There’s certainly parts of “Morton’s Fork” that feel a little disappointing: after all, the show’s skills at building tension made every single hour of the season’s back half a sweaty, anxiety-ridden experience. But Fargo never stops building tension in that final hour, only relaxing once Malvo’s dead (after being shot three times in the stomach, and twice in the face; the devil never goes easily) and Lester’s underwater. It’s not an exciting, event-filled conclusion, either: Molly’s key to taking down Lester comes from a tape of his first phone conversation with Malvo after murdering his wife, hardly an exciting finish to the work she’s put in over the last nine hours of the series. But life is unsatisfying: no matter what choices we make, the only thing awaiting us are death and taxes (as in Morton’s Fork, where two approaches to an idea lead to the same shitty result). The only thing we can hope to do is stay decent through it all; those who stray to far from the middle (from Bill to Stavros, to Lester and Lorne) are those who pay the ultimate price.
Sometimes doing a ‘bad’ thing can lead to good results, and vice versa: if there’s one thing “Morton’s Fork” and Fargo as a whole captures completely, it’s that we’re all flawed creatures in one way or another. But as Stavros would preach, it’s the pursuit of good (the ultimate kind that we’ll always fall short of) that keeps us whole – and those who always act in vanity are doomed to reap the consequences of their actions. In the end, we all suffer: but that’s the beautiful part of being a human, isn’t it? Had Bill never fucked up the investigation, a lot of people would still be alive – but he wouldn’t have seen Molly for who she really is, and see himself for the man he wasn’t. Examples like this are littered all over “Morton’s Fork”, and it’s there that the episode delivers thematically what it might not deliver in terms of visual thrills, bringing an awesome, surprisingly unique “sequel” to Fargo to a triumphant close. What a fun season of television.