Fargo Finale: A Gray and Bloodied Altar

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In my first Fargo post, I predicted that a lot more characters would “wake-up” to see the darkness that had seeped into what they thought was a very comfortable existence. I was spot on with this prediction. Lester awakened as a dark apprentice who learned to take what he wanted when he wanted it. Gus learned the hard way that the system of laws he so heartily prescribed to couldn’t guarantee his family’s safety. Even Chief Oswalt, the most sedated personality on the show, stepped down from his position to make way for Molly after accepting the dark world he found himself entangled in. Kudos to the Fargo team for bringing us a different world than the Coen film that inspired it. It was a morbid, but enlightening romp into what happens when people stop playing by the rules.

Now, in my second Fargo post, I wondered whether the series would end at Malvo’s altar of darkness or Molly’s altar of conviction. I never expected the answer to be: both.

It was hard to go out there and call this one a win for the good guys. I mean, look at Lester…after murdering his wife and framing his brother for the murder, he put together a flashy and successful life. Sure, Molly still had her board of evidence at home, but things were looking pretty cozy for Lester. In fact, the only thing that derailed his proud new existence was his inability to let Malvo, the lone wolf, walk away when their paths crossed for a second time. It was frustrating, really…what did Lester want? I suppose that once you get a taste of what life has to offer, you run the risk of never being satisfied. It was no accident on the part of the production team to show Lester ogling a potential female conquest just before he was tempted by the reemergence of Malvo. Lester had truly become a predator – and he couldn’t walk away from his fellow predator without the possibility of attaching himself to a bigger kill with fresher meat to feast upon. Sadly for Lester, Malvo refused to travel in packs.

Just after insisting that Malvo recognize him, Lester was treated to the answer that I started begging for in my second blog post: what does Lorne Malvo want out of life? Malvo responded to Lester’s persistence by swiftly and efficiently blowing away all three members of the social group he had been working to gain access to a target within the witness protection program. Malvo mentioned what a shame it was to see all of his hard work flushed down the toilet, but said it was worth it just to see the look in the eyes of the “friend” he had just killed.

That was the answer. What does Lorne Malvo want? He wants people to see the world as one big, winner-take-all battlefield. He wants people to see the weakness inherent in trust, loyalty, and compassion. Watching those facades dissolve in the eyes of his target gave Malvo the ultimate buzz…the fuel he would then use to play a sick game of cat-and-mouse with Lester Nygaard.

…and boy did Malvo get a lot of fuel. He creeped out a former state cop, gave nightmares to some small children, and offed FBI agents Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (more on this in a future post, perhaps). Then, things got interesting. Malvo found himself as the prey for the first time as his protege, Lester, lured him into a trap. A bear trap to be exact. Lester scared the big bad wolf away and gave himself a metaphorical pat on the back.

As a viewer I was…happy? Maybe? I wanted them both dead and I wanted them both alive…it was hard to know what to feel…about the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to watch the friendly neighborhood mailman empty a few rounds into a crudely-splinted hitman. Of course…that is what I got.

It was a rough ending for me. I didn’t feel proud of Gus. I wasn’t happy for him when he put an end to the Lorne Malvo Horror Show. I saw him learn his lesson from the master of darkness very well. He finally understood the way a predator sees the world (both scientifically and philosophically) and he pulled the trigger – repeatedly…desperately…violently.

Malvo…the lord of darkness…summoner of white-out blizzards, storms of dead fish, and the plagues of Egypt… would. not. die. Gus had to give it another go…and even then…life faded slowly from Malvo’s eyes as if the malevolence he was named for was desperate to sustain him. He had made a predator out of a poodle – and I imagine he couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate death.

So, why haven’t I chalked this story up as a victory for Malvo’s altar of darkness? Where was Molly’s altar of compassion during all of this? Easy. It was at home with her family (and arguably on the thin ice that ultimately served up Lester as a human Popsicle). Sure, Gus’s “bravery” didn’t make me cheer – but it felt necessary. Gus did the dark deed to spare Molly pain of doing it herself. He knew that she was brave and honorable, and he had learned that brave and honorable people get killed. He wouldn’t let her face that – not again – not after the close call in the blizzard. Ultimately, Gus sacrificed his world view to protect Molly’s. THAT was his act of heroism…not the sneaking and the taunting and the blazing gun. No, Gus was a hero because he let Molly continue to be Molly.

The world needs more Mollys.

Molly was a special character on this show, in that, she was aware of the darkness that swirled around her, but refused to see it as a reason she shouldn’t build a life based around HER morals. That was Molly’s victory. She didn’t have to pull a trigger or triumphantly throw a blood-soaked Lester behind bars…She took on the role of Hester Prynne. Her board of evidence was her scarlet letter. She decided to grin and bear the ridicule of her peers and boss, and keep quietly investigating, until they finally saw her for what she was – a brave policewoman and a skilled detective. As Molly said in the closing line of the show: “I get to be Chief.”

If we all mimic the hard-work, honesty, and patience of Molly Solverson…this world will be a better place…we just have to remember that the change we desire doesn’t come without some struggle and some pain.

Fargo brought us on a pilgrimage. At the end of that pilgrimage was a glimmer of hope… but sadly, that hope was obscured behind a gray and bloodied altar.

 

The Absent Pineapple – A Defense of the How I Met Your Mother Finale

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“Damn it Trudy…what about the pineapple!?” -M. Erickson

If I were to design a banner under which angry How I Met Your Mother fans could gather to sharpen their pitchforks, it would bear the image of the mysterious pineapple that was absent from the final chapter of the story.  Fans looking for the completion of a beautiful tapestry in which the details of Ted’s quest to find “the one” finally came to fruition were sadly disappointed. I think we all partly expected the finale to be the completion of a sort of modern-day myth that showed us the depth and power of true love in an otherwise chaotic world. With so much weight attached to the mysteriously misplaced tropical fruit, it had the potential to be the final puzzle piece in a grand tale of star-crossed lovers pulled together by fate.

Of course…

We all read (watched?) Romeo and Juliet ……that whole “star-crossed” thing doesn’t tend to work out so well in literature.

I contend that the ending of the series, though far from flawless, was ultimately the best and most appropriate ending.

First, let’s get the BS out of the way…the only element of the finale I can’t seem to make peace with is the fact that those bored-looking kids we watched for the last nine years suddenly morphed into attentive, empathetic, hyper-mature adults. Was the pace too fast? Yes. Was the season-long wedding extravaganza a bit emotionally manipulative? Yes. Was it sad to see the “Mother” character shuffled off quietly into death after we bought into her character in a single season? Yes. Were some of us kind of sick of Ted and Robin? Yes – I know I was. Yet, here I am…passionate enough about a silly TV show to defend its fast-paced, plot-bending finale.

It all comes down to perspective.

If you really believe this was a show about Ted patiently awaiting true love – you probably weren’t satisfied with the ending. If, on the other hand, you believe that this show was about a group of young adults who were reluctant to grow up and terrified to face the new phases of their lives, you probably found the ending kind of beautiful.

How I Met Your Mother was a silly show with both brilliant and utterly stupid episodes (an entire episode devoted to Marshall’s faux-spiritual journey to become a master slapper….come on), but it held a place in our hearts because its friendships were believable and the writers had fun experimenting with storytelling devices. It was also a show that spoke to my particular generation and demographic. I loved those characters because of their general refusal to grow up…and darn it…they tried hard. They cracked jokes, they stuck together in the old apartment, and hoped against hope that they would never grow apart. I hate saying goodbye to the phases of my life. I don’t want to grow up too quickly. I don’t want my friends to move across the continent. Who does? Yet..unlike TV stars bound by contracts and corporate money…we all must face these changes…

I started to buy into the finale when I finally started to see those friends accept that they couldn’t live life at the same pace or maintain the intense level of involvement with one another that they had grown accustomed to.

It was all of these difficult new phases that defined the show along its nine-year journey. With every change, the characters fought and worried and cried…but somehow found a way to settle back down together.  We even saw the mother struggling with her own baggage and fear of moving on in life in the brief time we spent with her. She lost the love of her life and even spoke up to the stars begging his spirit for guidance when she was faced with a proposal of marriage. Before the finale’s ultimate “meet-cute,” the writers showed us Ted and the Mother’s nearly disastrous first date. There was clearly still a lot of fear and hesitation for those two to overcome. Ted’s 7-year waiting period to marry the “mother” didn’t come out of left field, folks.

In the finale, those new phases and surprises kept coming at us. I don’t think the creators undercut the depth of Ted and the Mother’s love. I believe that their love was real, and pure, and cut tragically short. They would have stayed together forever if nature hadn’t intervened. I don’t believe that the ending was an attempt to imply that Ted was pining for Robin for all of those years, either. Obviously Ted and the Mother were a better match than Ted and Robin…but ultimately we were asked to mature along with Ted and admit that love isn’t as simple as “fate” or “the one.” It is something that we thirst for and need in order to survive. We were asked to look at love with complexity and admit that we all might have more than one “love” out there depending on the decisions we make and what life throws our way. In the end, Ted was moving on to a new phase of his life…just like he and his friends were asked to do time and time again.

When you look at the ending with this more open view of love, things start to make more sense. The Mother married Ted, but he was very clearly her SECOND love…this doesn’t discount her love for Ted, but it forces us to accept that we are capable of loving more than once. She was able to raise the family with Ted that she never got the chance to experience with her first love. When she died at the end of the series, she was either literally or figuratively reunited with the first love of her life. Ted, similarly, was able to raise a family and get a taste of the storybook life he imagined for himself…the dream that kept him from Robin in the first place…and a dream that would have been unfair to force upon Robin.

Meanwhile, Robin saw her world grow a little lonely and a little cold. She had to face the harsh reality that sometimes people can’t change and that all of her fears about marrying Barney (that we all knew were legitimate fears) came true. Fortunately, she was big enough to be happy that he was upfront about it. When the show-runners gave us that image of Ted with the French horn at the end, I thought it was beautiful to think that the connection those characters had really did mean something – and that they were still allowed to explore the promise of love in a later phase of life. All of their roadblocks had been removed, and we were left on the cusp of yet another phase in our character’s lives. They were moving on, just as fans were being asked to move on.

I think the absent pineapple says a lot about how thoughtful the finale really was. We were all speculating about a PINEAPPLE while, honestly, this ending was staring us in the face at all times over the course of nine years. Ted was ceaselessly pining after Robin (to the point that I would audibly groan whenever it happened), and within the context of the ending, all of that pining actually became valid and revealing storytelling. I had previously assumed that it was lazy, formulaic writing to compensate for a burned-out premise. I was THRILLED to be mistaken about that. It’s tough to call the ending a cop-out when we know that the footage of Ted’s children was shot nine years ago and that the writers always knew which love story they were most interested in telling.

Ultimately, the writers showed us that love can strike more than once, and that even though life sometimes forces us to move on from people and situations that we love, we may only be saying goodbye for a little while. We can find our way back.

My advice to you…don’t go chasing pineapples. Don’t forfeit your life to chance. Act. Grow. Love. Otherwise, you might as well be chasing Sasquatch (sorry, Marshall).

 

 

….or maybe the pineapple wound up on the cutting room floor due to time constraints.