This article contains major spoilers for Fargo, and a mild spoiler for The Man Who Wasn’t There.
Fargo is by far one of my favourite shows running at the moment and, along with Legion, it is cementing Noah Hawley as a major talent in TV storytelling. However, whilst seasons 1 & 2 grabbed me within the first episode, season 3 was much more of a slow burn. This season may be less immediately accessible than the previous two, but upon re-watch I found it much more engaging than I did initially, to the extent that I now consider it my favourite of the three. Whilst I found several aspects outstanding, it would take far too long to look at them all, so I have decided instead to look at the final scene (naturally, spoilers ahead).
The first season of Fargo was a near-perfect recreation of the tone of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 classic, combining the snowy landscapes with an overtly polite atmosphere, whilst also presenting relatively similar characters (Martin Freeman’s Lester as William H. Macy’s Jerry, Alison Tolman’s Molly as Frances McDormand’s Marge, etc.) in a new storyline. In season 2, Hawley infused these elements with those of other Coen Brothers films, most notably Miller’s Crossing in its portrayal of a mob war and The Man Who Wasn’t There’s sudden, unexpected appearance from a UFO. Season 3 did the same, but this time embraced the tone of A Serious Man, with the seemingly unrelated prologue, deliberately vague conclusion and even the presence of Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed. Even the title of the season finale, ‘Somebody to Love’, comes from a Jefferson Airplane song which plays frequently throughout the film. A Serious Man, whilst excellent, is maybe the Coen Brothers at their least accessible, and referencing it in season 3 of Fargo has a similar effect.
Season 3 embraced the words which accompanied the opening of the film and every episode of Fargo, which states that ‘This is a true story’. This is notably shown from the prologue to the first episode, set in East Berlin in 1988, and seemingly unrelated to the rest of the story, which sets up the theme of reality vs misinformation characterised by David Thewlis’ Varga. This theme of truth and delusion was particularly timely when the season was first aired and is arguably just as pertinent still, but that’s a whole other article.
This final episode ends with a scene set five years after the rest of the season, in which Carrie Coon’s Gloria, now a Homeland Security officer, questions a captured Varga, and tells him that he is going to go to jail. Varga replies that someone will soon walk into the room and release him, with the same uneasy calmness with which he has acted in the season so far, before the scene fades to black. This leads to one obvious question: Was anyone really behind the door?
The case for Varga
David Thewlis’ V.M. Varga may be one of the most horrible yet compelling characters I have seen in a long time, even matching up to Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in season one. Whilst Malvo was compelling because of his almost otherworldly evil however, Varga is terrifying because of just how real he is; he is a seemingly nondescript middle-aged man who gains power through telling the right lies at the right time, and with enough confidence to manipulate almost everyone he meets. Throughout the season we have barely seen Varga encounter any consequences for his actions; the only character who has managed to get the better of him is Nikki, who by now is lying dead on a Minnesota road. We have seen Varga get out of tougher situations than this, and he has proven in the past to be impervious to punishment by the police for his crimes.
Varga’s argument is strengthened by the fact that this is the bleakest iteration of Fargo so far; the first two seasons concluded with a family gathered together, an ending which is echoed with Emmett’s final scene, where he is sat eating a meal with his family and Sy. This is immediately subverted however, when he leaves the table to go to the kitchen, and is promptly shot by Mr. Wrench. This acts as the final scene of the story, a darker subversion of the previous two seasons, and the confrontation between Gloria and Varga acts as an epilogue. Following this theme of subverting what we expect from a Fargo finale, could it really be that Varga is simply set to walk free from his crimes?
The case for Gloria
One theme that stood out to me far more upon re-watching this season was that of colour. For the most part, the visuals are desaturated to the extent that some scenes seem almost monochromatic, particularly when the story is following Emmett, a man uncertain of the world around him. The most notable exception to this comes when Gloria travels to Los Angeles in episode 3, a stand-alone episode barely related to the rest of the story. This episode has a clear, satisfying ending; Gloria may not have found exactly what she was looking for, but all of the loose ends are tied up, a fact reflected in the brighter, more saturated colours which contrast those seen in Minnesota. Gloria questioning Varga visually echoes the previous episode when she spoke to Emmett, but here her new uniform is blue, standing out far more than the beige she wore previously. This brighter imagery could signal to the audience that Gloria has finally provided a satisfying resolution to this story.
As well as this, it is worth remembering that barely anything which Varga has said throughout the season has been true. His whole character is based around deception and pretending to have the upper hand even when he doesn’t. By believing his argument that he will be rescued, has the audience simply fallen victim to his lies, like so many of the characters have?
Naturally, this being Fargo, none of this really matters, and we’re not meant to know who is right. The ending has been left ambiguous for a reason, and the audience is encouraged to speculate on whether there is really anyone behind the door. Will this present a moral ending where the criminal is punished, as we have come to expect from Fargo, or will this season’s darker tone continue to the end? From the outset, Fargo has been a show obsessed with riddles and morality-based folk tales, as shown by the titles of the episodes. By giving us this ending to what is rumoured to be its final season, it has become one.
Words by Adam Wells