‘Fargo’ Season 5 Finale Recap: Debts

‘Fargo’ Season 5 Finale Recap: Debts

The show may be called “Fargo,” but setting aside the Upper Midwest setting and colloquialisms, this fifth season has been more in conversation with a different Coen Brothers thriller, “No Country for Old Men,” their faithful rendering of the Cormac McCarthy novel. From the beginning, Roy Tillman has served as a malevolent twist on Tommy Lee Jones’s Ed Tom Bell in “No Country,” both hailing from a long line of county sheriffs patrolling arid stretches of countryside occasionally pocked with outlaws.

Bell worries about an encroachment of evil that his predecessors never faced and that he feels increasingly powerless to contain. Tillman is that evil, a Black hat with a badge.

And then there’s Ole Munch, a contract killer who doubles as an ageless arbiter of justice, impossible to outwit and nearly as difficult to mollify. He has been the season’s answer to Anton Chigurh, the mirthless and equally style-challenged assassin of “No Country.” Both cling rigidly to codes that seem obscure to the mortals they hold in judgment. Both seem part of the American landscape, manifested rather than born. But Munch has shown the capacity for fairness and mercy, and his 500-year journey from Wales to chili night is rooted in humility. In a season where debt — and its flip-side, forgiveness — has been at the front of the creator Noah Hawley’s mind, Munch is always acutely aware of what’s owed.

Munch’s appearance in the Lyon house at the end of this moving final episode stands in contrast to the scene in which Chigurh waits for Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald) at her home weeks after killing her husband, Llewelyn (Josh Brolin). Chigurh had threatened to kill Carla Jean if Llewelyn didn’t surrender the cash, and now he has come to make good on his promise, even though Llewelyn is already dead and she has nothing to do with any of this sordid business.

That is Munch’s task, too: He let Dot, “the tiger,” go free to settle a score with Roy, but she took a piece of him during their confrontation, and he has a contract to settle. The scene plays out quite differently with Dot and Munch than it did with Carla Jean and Chigurh.

But before the show — and I — can get to that heart-rending coda, Dot has to wriggle away from Tillman Ranch while it’s under siege. At this point, Roy is engaged in a battle royale against the Feds, which is like a fantasy that he has sold to the anti-government disciples who are now drawing fire on his behalf. When his father-in-law smugly savors the moment on his porch while criticizing his leadership, Roy’s patience for the old man dries up as quickly as the blade he slashes across his neck.

Around the corner, however, Dot waits with a rifle and shoots Roy in the gut, and his incredulity over a woman’s getting the drop on him seems to keep him alive. “Can you believe that?” he asks Deputy Witt Farr in the dugout afterward, before stabbing him in the throat. “I am an emissary of the Lord!”

For Witt’s arc to end in martyrdom is a disappointing fate because it means that Dot saved his life earlier in the season just for him to die on her behalf later on. But the show does extend some mercy to Gator, who seeks forgiveness from Dot when she emerges safely from the ranch. He gets it immediately, despite having once led a Halloween raid on her house. Dot has never stopped thinking of him as an impressionable child who has been led astray, and she offers to bring the boy oatmeal raisin cookies in jail. Dot may be “the tiger” when cornered, but her new life with the docile Wayne has reinforced the value of kindness and decency. That soft power has it own kind of potency.

And so, one year later, when Munch turns up on chili night to settle their dispute, Dot isn’t in a position to defend her family with improvised weapons. She has to fracture the calcified logic of a man who has known only 500 years of hardship, cruelty and the bitter sins of humanity.

She makes three different arguments to him, each more persuasive than the last. The first pokes holes in the notion of a “debt that must be paid,” which could be an argument with her mother-in-law, too. Maybe there are circumstances that make paying back a debt impossible, she tells him, and it’s more “humane” for that debt to be forgiven. The second is practical: Munch took a job that had a risk to it and got hurt. How is that Dot’s fault?

The third is a batch of store-bought biscuits, brought to life by fresh buttermilk and a little bit of honey. At the end of “No Country for Old Men,” Carla Jean quickly discerns that she will never be able to appeal to Chigurh’s humanity because it is nonexistent, so she opts instead to refuse to die on his terms. But as Munch tells the story of his sin eating, describing a starving man having to feast on “greed, envy, disgust” and other sins of the rich, Dot identifies with his helplessness and offers the simple, redemptive “cure” of tasting something sweet for once. This is why she’s whisks up pancakes for Scotty every morning. She appreciates the taste of love that was denied to her.

The ending is the kind of sentimental moment that would be anathema to the Coens, but it’s not out of place philosophically with the original “Fargo.” When Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) has one of the kidnappers in the back of her squad car and talks to him about the shame of what has happened over “a little bit of money,” she is asserting the same bedrock values that Dot is expressing here. In the film, it’s purely rhetorical because the man in the back of the squad car is beyond hope. But that’s not true of Ole Munch. He’s traded in misery his whole life. Kindness stirs his soul like a whisk.

  • A reference outside the Coen-verse: When Roy stabs Witt in the dugout, his dialogue (“There it is. Don’t fight it, son. It’s all over now.”) echoes the scene in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” when Albert Brooks’s gangster slashes Bryan Cranston down his wrist with a razor blade. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Don’t worry. That’s it. It’s done. There’s no pain. It’s over.”

  • Lorraine’s scene with Roy in the prison visitation room at the end does well to relieve the impression that she has been turned into a softy. Dot may believe that debts should be forgiven, but that’s still bad business for Lorraine, who leverages the debts of others to make Roy’s life more miserable.

#Fargo #Season #Finale #Recap #Debts

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