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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After the pilot I had no idea where the show would be heading and I'm glad it kept me right on tenterhooks through and through. Billy Bob is masterful and never violence have been portrayed so beautifully. Bravo indeed.

Agreed!

This show has been awsome from start to finish and along with True Detective, it's been one of my unexpected tv highlights of the year so far

I am hopeful but not confident of a second series. Has anyone heard anything?

I felt that ending was exactly how it should have been. It was always Molly Vs Lester and Gus Vs Malvo.

The show had built the respect to allow itself to end in whatever way it deemed fit. And that.... is that.

Apparently there is a bit of universe building going on here, so perhaps Stavros Milos or Wrench may appear in the 2nd series (if/when it is confirmed), and it would be great to see Billy Bob again, after all who says series 2 has to take place chronologically after series 1...

The best for me was episode 9 - "is this really what you want Lester?"

Loved the use of the original theme at the end, it just floated in and quietly connected everything together at the most touching moment of the series, which oddly enough was also the most "normal", just a family watching TV.

One of the best shows of the year for me.

Molly's story to Lester about the man who drops his glove on the station platform, then realising this as the train he's on pulls away drops the second glove out the window so whoever finds the first glove can at least have a pair - can someone give me their take on that?
Lester had said that he wasn't the monster that Molly was imagining him to be.
I saw the story as being about self-sacrifice, accepting fate with grace, allowing your loss to benefit others, but that doesn't feel like it quite fits.
Maybe a monster would keep hold of the second glove out of spite.

Have to say, that story puzzled me, too, and still does. My current take on it was that she was making a point to Lester about the sort of man he was - he didn't 'get' the story (as she knew he wouldn't) because he was incapable of understanding what would motivate someone to discard the second glove. He would keep the glove because he'd rather keep something useless than let someone else benefit from his misfortune.

He simply couldn't comprehend the selfless kindness of discarding the second glove, because he was indeed the monster Molly imagined him to be. That's why his answer to "is this what you really want?" was "yes", when any sensible person would have steered clear of Malvo the moment they saw him.

I'd be very interested to hear other views on it, though.

Have to say, fantastic series - I've loved it from start to finish.

Yeah, that's sort of what I'm thinking, although i never thought to tie it back to Malvo's question in the elevator (which Lester repeatedly heard in his head in this final episode).
It's maybe significant then that Lester couldn't comprehend Molly's story of selfless kindness whilst later being able to understand and very concisely answer the FBI's riddle of the fox, the rabbit and the lettuce.

Although the fox/rabbit/cabbage riddle is also a nod to Freeman's role in the UK version of the Office, where he solves the same riddle during a works training day.

It's the best thing on TV I've seen this year. I was a bit sad to see our hapless due of FBI agents go. If no-one else, they would have been a shoo-in for any second series. But there was always something a bit Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern about them, so I suppose in that way they were always marked for death.

Malvo's death was absolutely fantastic

Episode 4, Season 1... now go and get the guitar.

The second season has to be the Sioux Falls 1979 story. They teased it far too much.

I thought it was a beautiful way to show Lester's true nature - after the story concluded, Lester just didn't get the point of it, showing that he was incapable of thinking about others as the man on the train had done. Lester would have just felt like a victim for losing his glove.

His selfishness made manifest through a parable was nicely done I thought.

I found the ending maybe a little too low-key after all that had gone before - but this was still an excellent series with some superb performances.

I thought that the glove story was telling Lester to admit that he was defeated. In losing one glove, the pair no longer existed, so holding on to one was pointless. Lester, having already committed or been complicit in one murder should just admit that the game was up - -it is only a matter of time before either the police or malvo gets him...

I missed the dark haired impish malvo & had only just started to get used to the white haired angelic demon malvo when Gus killed him (I swear I thought that he wasn't even going to die after Gus shot him!). They'll be hard pushed to top him as a villain if there's a second season.

Now you mention it I suppose it was significant, Lester could solve the fox/rabbit/cabbage riddle because it was about ensuring survival, but the selfless glove story... he just couldn't comprehend that.

We could also try and argue that Malvo was the fox, Gus the rabbit and Lester was the cabbage and in almost every scenario there could only be one survivor... but that's probably BS ;-)

I was pretty indifferent about Billy Bob before this series, but I'm really hoping that if they make a 2nd series they somehow find a way to include him, after all the story did fast forward a year and he was only a dentist for 6 months of it, so there are surely more stories to tell during that period (perhaps Wrench came looking for revenge?)

I think I know what the common theme from season to season will be. The bag of money. It ended up reburied where Milos found it. It will be found again and its new discoverer will find trouble of his own.

This is a show that is as much a tribute to the Coen brothers as a remake, and I felt the ending demonstrated their ideals perfectly. There isn't any imperative to fulfil the classical narrative mould - many directors would be compelled to have Molly narrowly finish off Malvo as the completion of the "unlikely hero" arc - but that just wouldn't be Coen. Instead, Gus had the opportunity to kill Malvo by blind circumstance, and I love that Mr Hawley had the guts to follow through with those chaotic, seemingly purposeless themes. Brilliant!

Agreed. Lester had it all at that point (even though he'd 'hammered' his wife to death) but his insistence on approaching Malvo despite being warned off was his undoing. I wonder what Malvo would have done if Lester had willingly helped him remove the bodies? Execute him, or see it as a nice return favour after he'd helped Lester on a cleanup job?

Yes I was thinking that. In the moment the man on the train realises the situation and accepts it with grace. Lester would just not accept the reality of the situation.

Having said that the scope of the parable and subject matter are open to interpretation.

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