For about 20 minutes, “Somebody to Love” is a normal episode of Fargo… and then suddenly it isn’t.
Everything about the beginning works, in large part due to the direction of Keith Gordon. This season saw a bleaker color palette than ghosts of Fargo past, but Gordon manages to make this jaundice livelier, particularly with the choreographed movements of the hitmen. Their blocking makes them move in unison like ballet dancers when they approach Emmit, and later, on their journey to the meeting place with Nikki, the way the camera follows them somehow makes it feel like an army of predatory birds is converging on the two avengers. The elevator ride up is choked with tension, and the shootout Wrench has with Varga’s henchmen evokes Malvo storming Tripoli’s hideout in the first season.
But once Emmit wakes up on his dining room floor with the Sisyphus stamp stuck to his forehead, everything starts to fall apart. And not in the fun, Fargo way, where the levee breaks and all the surmounting chaos suddenly envelops all characters involved. It’s as though when Emmit wakes up, he is waking up in a universe where Fargo is no longer thematically cohesive, and suddenly is a little too impressed with its own intelligence.
Admittedly, the cracks were showing a little bit during the shootout sequence. Why did Wrench allow Meemo to live in the previous episode if he was just going to gun him down here? Taking out Varga’s top guy seems like a pretty sound plan, when you have him cornered in a room with a silenced pistol to the back of the head. Sure, it might have made Varga more resistant to meeting with Nikki again, but what choice did he have? Surely, even in this encounter, he wasn’t going to let Nikki get away. The fact that she then allows Varga to escape makes the entire scheme fall a little flat, as well, but both of these things are forgivable. Much of what comes after is not.
Emmit wakes up, gets in his car, and then, somehow perfectly according to Nikki’s plan, he breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, when she planted the stamp on his head, she tampered with his gas tank or something in that vein, so this isn’t too much of a stretch. But Emmit confronted Ray in his own home, where, as far as Nikki can tell, he murdered him. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Nikki to do the same to Emmit, rather than some contrived plot to get him on a road when anyone could interfere at any moment?
Nikki starts off the season setting up schemes and then derailing them due to some sort of emotional impulse, in typical Fargo/Coen fashion. But after everything that happens with Ray, she’s different. Her time with Wrench turns her into an operator, someone capable of nearly taking out Varga, who is, for the most part, a criminal mastermind. How is she capable of this and yet simultaneously stupid enough to try to kill Emmit in a public area? By having her act in this way, Noah Hawley and the other writers are actively walking back huge swaths of the way she developed through the season.
Which is to say nothing of the more glaring issue, which is that she dies gunning down a police officer. Her interaction with Paul Marrane in the bowling alley granted her a new lease on life, and made her an agent acting in the name of divine justice. Having this collapse with her killing an innocent person doesn’t feel like the clever genre or trope subversion Hawley seems to think it is; instead, it is as though the character is once again taking an axe to her own development. This does not feel intentional, as though there is an observation being made about how people never change. Instead, it is almost as though the writers couldn’t think of anything better to do with the character, and thought the visual spectacle of a Justified homage would somehow remedy this. It felt abrupt and random, as much of Fargo does. But here, it did not work.
Compounding the issue further is the abrupt time-skip, another Fargo staple which normally works in beautiful, unexpected ways. Instead, it comes across as nonsensical that Wrench would wait five years to execute someone to avenge a woman he knew for three months. Maybe he really loved Nikki, and maybe he was in hiding after the police got hold of his picture, sure, but this seems like an extravagant amount of time for him to wait. The only reason for this is so it’s recent enough for Gloria to reference it when she meets Varga again, and for Sy to be sitting there at the table without it feeling like a cheat. But it feels like a cheat anyway.
Having Wrench kill Emmit is unsatisfying for a few reasons. Truth, and how untruth is often perceived as truth anyway, was an important theme of the season. To Nikki, the truth was that Emmit tricked and then murdered Ray, even if this isn’t actually what happened. In turn, it can be supposed that Wrench believed Emmit somehow killed Nikki, and this is why he shoots him. But Wrench was always an “intruder” in this season; the only reason he didn’t feel out of place was because he felt like an externalization of Nikki’s desire to lash out violently against the forces which had made her feel powerless while taking away the man she loved. So to have him play such a crucial role after she’s gone is less like watching a functional human engage in logical behavior, and more like seeing a major character get strangled by another’s severed arm. It falls utterly flat.
Wrench and Nikki were a great pair, and each felt like the culmination of the other’s arc of development. This episode squandered that, as it did with much of the rest of the season’s thematic underpinnings. Perhaps most egregious is that we never got a shot of two kittens together after Nikki’s death. That, at least, would have alleviated some of the pain of this utterly dysfunctional hour of television.
As for the final scene, Peter and the Wolf finally confronted each other… and Hawley elected to leave it up to the viewer whether or not justice won the day, or whether Varga escaped to continue his terrifying binges as a free man. The problem is, once again, much of the thematic framework of the season feels squandered in doing so. Varga recalling the line about pitchfork peasants is supposed to underscore the idea here, but instead it calls to mind how everything about the season felt like setup for his downfall. And vaguely alluding to quantum physics seven episodes ago is not laying down the proper groundwork to “resolve” the story with a Schrödinger’s wolf. (This might have worked better if Gloria’s “actualization” hadn’t happened in the previous episode, if she herself still felt like something that may or may not exist.)
Perhaps, had the rest of the hour felt less like a disaster, this ending would have been a pleasant surprise. Hawley describes Fargo as “a tragedy with a happy ending,” and to end the season with Gloria eating with her son, or putting him to bed, while reciting some monologue about the inner good of human beings would have felt like a retread. Fargo has been there, and it has certainly done that. The fact that it was willing to take a risk like this shows tremendous creativity. But for the first time in the show’s history, it felt like the risks it was taking weren’t paying off. I spent the entire season defending this season to its detractors, but honestly, at the end, it felt like the show set out to prove me wrong.
I adore Fargo, and aside from the finale and all scenes involving Moe Dammik (who, along with Winnie, never got any kind of conclusion), I thought it was brilliant. Despite the frustration with how it ended, I hope Hawley takes a few years off and then returns to it. Maybe returning to the series with a fresh mind will prevent future installments from imploding the way this one did.