Fargo episode 10 review: Morton's Fork

Review Michael Noble 22 Jun 2014 - 22:47

Fargo's first season reaches a typically unconventional climax. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers

1.10 Morton’s Fork

As a piece of work, Fargo defied expectations from the outset. Retooling a highly regarded film for TV was always going to attract questions (chief among them being simply ‘why?’) and no small amount of hostility. Even after securing the blessing of the Coens themselves, Noah Hawley’s project carried with it the whiff of unoriginality. Starting well and sustaining its brilliance throughout a ten episode run wasn’t the expected outcome. Fargo, with an impish grin, defied that expectation gloriously. 

But then, defiance is coded into the show’s DNA. The primary characters invited particular expectations and countered them, either immediately or over the course of the series. Part of Lester’s success in evading capture for so long was down to the sheer improbability of his involvement. Molly’s tenacity was born in part of the frequent dismissal of her very real abilities. Gus, a mailman masquerading as a cop was eventually revealed to be a cop masquerading as a mailman (well, a little). And Malvo? The only thing that anyone could reasonable expect from him is that any encounter had the possibility of going south very quickly. Anything else was possible. 

Narratively too, our expectations were thwarted. Remember Numbers and Wrench? For a time it seemed that they were heading for a season finale showdown. We got the showdown, but six episodes in, rather than ten and, instead of a zero-sum shootout, Wrench survived and simply disappeared from the story once Malvo was done with him. A similar disappearing act was performed by Stavros Milos, a reasonably central figure for the first half of the season before becoming a general irrelevance by the end.  

This wilful denial of the audience’s expectations is a sign of maturity in a TV show and of confidence on the part of the writing team. Similar tricks have been pulled off in The Sopranos and The Wire and, while Fargo is not yet in that league, it’s a great sign that it has the balls to try it. 

Morton’s Fork was the clearest demonstration of this technique and a lesson in how to do it well. As a result, there will be many fans who feel a little bit cheated by the conclusion but it is at least consistent with the show’s style. The conventional thing would have been to have Molly take Malvo down before settling down to watch gameshows with her family, it’s what the season arc seemed to demand. Ultimately, Molly got the official recognition she deserved but the business of putting a stop to Malvo was outsourced to Gus, with a little help from Lester and, far from the Hollywood ending, the killing of Malvo was almost a minor act. 

If there was a reason for us expecting the ‘big’ climax, it was organic. The first half of the episode ratcheted up the tension smartly, before again defying the expectations it built. The time and effort the show deployed in the portrayal of Lou’s armed vigil outside the family home suggested that something (probably Malvo-shaped) was heading for them. Gus’s pleading with his wife raised the sense of dread even further and added painful emotion to the mix when he resorted to using Greta as the reason for Molly to keep away from the danger, saying ‘I can’t make her go to another funeral’, when every other response had failed. 

The build up was further sign of the show’s confidence. The scene with Gus checking out the house was left wordless for a very long time and Malvo himself was used sparingly in the early moments , which only served to heighten the sense of dark anticipation as things creaked towards the conclusion. 

That conclusion, with Gus shooting the (possibly mortally) wounded Malvo felt a little bit stolen, a fact that that the show acknowledged with Gus’ claim that ‘he’, as opposed to Molly, had solved Malvo’s riddle. By rights, it should have been her there, but that would have been the conventional approach and Fargo eschews convention. 

Molly’s success was more low-key and all the better for it. A quiet transition from Bill (who finally admitted that he lacked the stomach for criminal investigation, literally and figuratively) and a muted anti-celebration on the family sofa were sufficient victories. Her defining characteristic, brilliantly channelled by Allison Tolman, is quiet, dutiful persistence. Anything more showy would have been a betrayal of the character. Retaining Molly’s integrity was perhaps the smartest solution in a show full to the brim of cleverness. The same could be said of Lester’s demise. Effectively escaping the justice of the law, his end was laden with the grim hilarity that has accompanied him since the first episode. Death via self-inflicted idiocy is the most Lester way to go that I can imagine. 

The anthology format means that is is unlikely that Molly and Gus will return for a second series (it’s all but certain that Lester and Malvo won’t, though stranger things have happened) and this story can be regarded as concluded.  In ten episodes, Fargo established an attitude and an aesthetic that could be easily sustained across multiple stories and with a constellation of characters. A smattering of tiny connections, used sparingly, would be a treat for fans but it’s best to leave Molly, Gus and Greta to their quiet, undisturbed lives. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode,A Fox, A Rabbit And A Cabbage here

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