“And so great empires fall and are forgotten.” So spake an accomplice of Hanzee Dent's towards the end of this Monday's Season 2 finale of FX's Fargo , in reference to the toppled Gerhardt crime syndicate. The episode opened with a montage of the fallen family members, from Rye in the freezer, through Otto gunned down at home, Simone executed in the woods, Dodd with a bullet in his skull, Floyd with a knife in her gut, and Bear with his brains blown out. It was a grim beginning to a finale that promised a bloody collision between Lou Solverson, Peggy and Ed Blumquist, Hanzee Dent, and Mike Milligan and his remaining Kitchen brother. (Not to mention the two lives, Hanks's and Betsy's, that hung in the balance after last week's cliffhanger.) And yet, when all was said and done, there had only been one further fatality after last week's Sioux Falls Massacre and Fargo Season 2 surprised us all by ending on a note of... hope?
That one fatality was poor Ed Blumquist. The Butcher of Luverne's reign of terror was cut short by a bullet from Hanzee Dent, who shot the perpetually perplexed man as he fled the Motor Motel with his wife. Peggy and an injured Ed barricaded themselves inside a grocery store's meat locker; the trauma of the massacre, the fear of being pursued by an assassin, and the stress of her husband's injury — along with the natural progression of her mental illness, to be sure — combined to cause the beautician to hallucinate a situation that paralleled the fake Ronald Reagan movie she watched in the cabin a couple of episodes ago. In her mind, Hanzee set a fire to smoke them out, just like the Nazi did to the injured soldier and his lover... but when she flung open the door to confront the henchman, it was just Lou and Ben Schmidt there to rescue her. No assassin, no fire, no climactic confrontation with an implacable enemy.
That subverted expectation was essentially the theme of this finale: Hank survived the shot to the gut he took during the massacre last week; Betsy recovered from her fainting spell and seemed in relatively good health as the episode drew to a close; Hanzee gave up his pursuit of the Blumquists and assumed a new identity; Mike Milligan received a promotion from Kansas City.
But in true Fargo fashion, even these unexpected "happy endings" came with a price. Mike's promotion saddled him with a mind-numbing office job that would keep him chained to a desk rather than reigning the territory he had just conquered. Hanzee's new identity is "Moses Tripoli" — a name eagle-eyed viewers with remember from Season 1 as the Fargo mob boss that Lorne Malvo offed in his epic 22-victim massacre. And even though Betsy may have survived all 10 episodes of the season, we still know that she will die offscreen sometime between seasons, leaving Lou a widow and Molly motherless.
Despite the melancholy edge of the season's disparate endings, the actual final scene of the episode was one of the most touching in the show's existence. As Lou, a waning Betsy, and a recovering Hank chat about the events of the season (including their close brush with an Unidentified Flying Object last week!) one last dangling thread is resolved: the mystery of the symbols in Hank's office.
It turns out that Hank wasn't losing his mind or communicating with aliens; the solution was much less ominous. He was of the opinion that all the terrible events of the season — and all of the evils in the world — are ultimately caused by a breakdown in communication. If only there was one universal language, a system as simple as "heart = love," then there would be no miscommunication, no crossed wires, no murky motives, no hidden desires. If everyone understood one another, then there would be no more conflict, no more violence, no more death. That's what Hank was working on in his office: literal world peace.
Hank's project may be as futile as Sisyphus with his boulder... but for a season so full of bloodshed, it's a touchingly optimistic note to go out on.
Images: Chris Large/FX (4)