June 22, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Fargo”


FX’s just-concluded third season of Noah Hawley’s FARGO was its most divisive, and the criticisms came from a number of directions.  One segment was simply done with Hawley’s theme-and variations approach to the Coen Brothers’ original film, in which each season tells a new story, but one that always features a disruptive representative of evil, a not-so-innocent dupe, and a goodhearted figure of law and order.  These commentators were already beating up on Season 3 an episode or two into the season for its familiarity, apparently preferring something more like Ryan Murphy’s anthologies, where only the genre continues from season to season.  The view here is that objections to a show being what it is and not something else don’t have much meaning, and that Hawley has done a remarkable job distinguishing the seasons from one another, this season in particular with a darker and more conflicted view of the show’s world.

Others were willing to accept the show Hawley was making, and some of their issues had more validity.  The decision to cast Ewan McGregor as non-twin brothers was somewhat gimmicky, for example, and his performance as loser Ray Stussy was more about wig and make-up than execution.  Fargo tends to take its time getting started, and that felt especially true this season, although it also allowed for one of the season’s best hours, the side-venture that took (soon to be ex-) Sheriff Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) to Los Angeles as she investigated the 1970s life of her murdered stepfather.  By the midpoint of the season, though, this Fargo was as smooth as any other, and perhaps the most wrenching to date, because of Hawley’s narrower, more fatalistic tone.

Fargo, going back to the Coen days, has always dealt with themes of truth and storytelling, and Hawley seized upon that in Season 3.  The season’s villain, who we knew as V. M. Varga (David Thewlis), didn’t just come up with cover stories and pseudonyms, but questioned whether a story, once accepted as real, rewrites reality itself.  While previous seasons of Fargo have ultimately been on the side of the angels, tonight’s Season 3 finale, written by Hawley and directed by Keith Gordon (also a director on The Leftovers this season), crystallized that issue with an ambiguous ending, one that left Gloria and Varga in suspension as they waited to see whether he would be arrested or set free.  Whether or not Hawley intended a commentary on “fake news” and its prominent place in our current politics, the ways in which reality itself can be manipulated, and fictions accepted as fact, were critical to the season.

The finale also confirmed this as the most unsparing season thus far, as Hawley put bullets in the heads of both Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmit Stussy (McGregor), the latter after 5 screen years of having seemingly survived the events of the story.  Nikki’s death hurt the most, because although she was certainly a bad person–she had just gunned down a highway patrolman–most of her actions, however ruthless, were taken out of true love.  (And because Winstead was the season’s all-star, providing a pillar of narrative strength whenever Hawley’s tale seemed in danger of drift.)  This was a more cynical, embittered Fargo, one that at times evoked the Job-like story of the Coens’ A Serious Man, and that felt right for mid-2017.

The components of Fargo were, as always, impeccable.  Winstead was joined by Carrie Coon, who had a TV season for the ages with Fargo and The Leftovers running in tandem for several weeks.  Gloria was less overtly lovable than her counterparts in earlier seasons, and Coon brought a peppery, weary impatience to her heroism.  McGregor may have been a bit too broad as Ray Stussy, but in the latter part of the season where he just had Emmit to play, he was superb.  Thewlis was fabulously evil as Varga.  And special mention should be made of Ray Wise, who turned up not just in Gloria’s LA adventure but in the season’s most overt nod to the Coens, its salute to The Big Lebowski‘s bowling alley, with Wise as a version of Sam Elliot’s Stranger.  The season’s directors, who included Hawley, beautifully navigated the show’s mix of tones and its painstaking engineering of pace, visual style and music.

Hawley has said that he’s currently unsure if he has another Fargo in him, and he’s an exceptionally busy guy, with Legion to produce and a thriving career as a novelist on the side (his most recent novel is also slated to be a feature film).  FX is taking the same approach with Hawley as it does with Louis C. K. and Louie, basically willing to wait until the muse strikes him.  It would be too bad if this were the last of Fargo, because it’s been a highlight of TV’s last 3 seasons.  But if this really does turn out to be all we get, Hawley will have completed a remarkable achievement, one that’s pushed itself to the front of the most crowded mass of quality in the history of the form.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."