The third season of Fargo ends with something of a cliffhanger, but it’s one that plays into exactly what this season has been about: the fluid nature of truth. In the final scene of “Somebody to Love,” the season’s embodiments of good and evil, Gloria Burgle and V.M. Varga, finally get their showdown. It’s been years since most of the characters have died, their fates becoming the kind of cautionary tales that Varga likely tells to whichever fly is currently caught in his web. And Fargo ends in-between two possible futures. In a sense, it allows us to finish the story ourselves.
Just think how close Gloria was to walking away from it all. “Somebody to Love” opens with her drafting a resignation letter, stopped in her tracks by a phone call from Larue Dollard, who found her phone number in the package of business documents he received about Stussy Lots. If the call had come five seconds later, Gloria wouldn’t have been there to get it. But when Dollard says the name V.M. Varga, giving the puppet master a name for the first time, she knows she has to investigate further.
While Gloria digs into paperwork, the final hands of the deadly bridge game being played by Nikki Swango are hitting the table. We see her and Mr. Wrench planning an assault with weapons spread out on a hotel bed. (Maybe I shouldn’t be that guy, but where is Nikki getting the money for all of this? Is Mr. Wrench financing it all? Just because they happened to be chained together on a prison bus? I guess so.)
For a hot second, it appears that Emmit Stussy may take care of it all for Nikki. After signing over his company, he grabs Meemo’s gun and points it at Varga, who doesn’t appear even remotely nervous. He knows Emmit won’t shoot him; he’s more likely to shoot himself. Emmit claims he’s “not food,” but he’s certainly close to it, more prey than predator. Emmit’s rebellion fails and Varga and Meemo march off to meet with Nikki, almost as if they didn’t just have a gun pointed at them.
In the episode’s first climactic sequence, Varga and company face off against Nikki and Wrench in a storage building. Meemo immediately senses this is a bad idea, but Varga pushes forward, claiming they need the drives. At King Midas Storage, they’re armed and ready for battle. Two elevators await in the lobby. They go up to the third floor, as instructed, but Varga waits in the elevator as his men go down the hall to unit 327. A note says to leave the money and go back to the elevators to go down to the second floor, and it almost seems like Meemo knows that’s where the ambush will happen. As Varga gets a text that the IRS has the drives, he pushes the button to close the elevator, dooming his men to the assault about to come from the unit across the hall. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the unit door rising slowly as the elevator door closes on Varga, leaving us with him as he hears the shots and screaming. Varga escapes through the ceiling of the elevator. Nikki leaves the money with Wrench. She just wants “the brother.”
Emmit Stussy wakes up alone, the Sisyphus stamp that started this whole thing stuck to his forehead. After seeing it in his car window, he throws the stamp to the ground, leaving it in a pile of rocks in his driveway. He gets to the office, which is being taken over by a company called Realignment. Ruby Goldfarb is there, revealing that she worked for Varga the whole time. She tells Stussy to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He’ll keep his personal wealth, but the company he created is dead.
Meanwhile, Gloria and Larue look into the history of the corporate takeover that got Emmit to this point. It was a corporate bleed-out. Morality aside, it isn’t illegal to strip-mine a company for profit, but they didn’t pay any taxes here. Before they can get too far, Gloria is drawn to the scene of the storage unit massacre, and we see a dead Meemo on a gurney. There were five bodies and it was “straight-up carnage,” but security cameras caught shots of Wrench and Nikki. Gloria figures out it was Nikki who sent the IRS the package, and Gloria says she needs to warn Emmit.
She won’t get the chance. The season climaxes in the middle of nowhere, on a lonely road in Minnesota. Emmit’s car breaks down and he can’t get a signal to get help. A car pulls up behind him and a shotgun-wielding Nikki Swango jumps out, asking Emmit if he’s “as low as he can go.” He begs her to let him call his wife before she kills him. Ray didn’t get that chance. He never got to say good-bye. Even if we know it was an accident, Emmit still let his brother bleed out on his apartment floor. There’s a striking moment in which the awfulness of that choice seems to cross Emmit’s face and he tells Nikki to kill him. She goes into the passage that Paul Marrane told her to say — Obadiah 1:4 — when a cop interrupts the showdown. In an incredibly tense scene, Nikki keeps inching closer to her shotgun, which she rested on her bumper when the cop pulled up. With Emmit caught between the cop and the criminal, shots ring out. Stussy lives. The classic Fargo theme plays as we slow pan the officer and Nikki, now with a bullet hole in her head, framed against the Northern sky so that it almost looks like she’s rising, the blood pooling around her like a halo. As the scene fades away with a Gloria-delivered “okay then” in that classic Fargo accent, the Minnesota landscape returns to normal.
After a couple of reunion scenes — Gloria and her son, Emmit and his wife — we jump forward six years. Emmit declared bankruptcy, got probation, and found more time on this Earth than Ray or Nikki. Even Sy makes it to the present day, although he’s disabled from the poisoning. Will Emmit actually have a happy ending? Of course not. As he looks into his fridge, he’s shot by a vengeful Mr. Wrench, the only character to tie all three seasons of Fargo together.
Finally, we get to that great closing scene. Gloria now works for the Department of Homeland Security in Minneapolis, and she’s called in when facial recognition software snags Varga. He says his name is Rand and he sells accounting software. She shows him a photo of the storage unit incident and his facade cracks a bit. He quotes a Russian phrase that means “The past is unpredictable,” and she calls him on making it up. And then he goes into a speech about the fluidity of truth. Series creator Noah Hawley has said that the end of this season reflects where we are today — stuck in a world of alternate facts and fake news. Who can say for certain what is true and what is fiction? Intertwining the uncertainty of 2017 with the “true story” concept of Fargo is this season’s greatest accomplishment.
In the final scene, we’re stuck in stasis forever with V.M. Varga and Gloria Burgle. She says that Rikers Island awaits him. He claims that someone more powerful than Gloria will come through the door in five minutes. They both look a little worried. He closes his eyes as the light fades on him and Beethoven’s “Appasionata” plays. The camera pans to the door. We don’t see anything to give away who is right or wrong. And we cut to black.
• Is the name of the storage place a reference to this great line from Inside Llewyn Davis? “Everything you touch turns to shit. You’re like King Midas’s idiot brother.”
• Who was screwing with Emmit? Or was he just going crazy?
• Do you choose to believe Varga will be rescued by another power player, or will he be eating mashed potatoes at Rikers? Are you disappointed that we don’t know for sure?
• Who was your season MVP? Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Stuhlbarg, and David Thewlis all seem headed for well-deserved Emmy nominations. If I had to pick one, it might be Thewlis, who gave the season its simmering menace, but McGregor’s work really grounded the story in the final few episodes.
• A lot of commenters have been disappointed that this season wasn’t as much fun as the previous two, which is undeniable. It didn’t have the playfulness, but it offered a different energy and brilliance. Do you still feel disappointed or did the ending help tie the whole room together?
• Thanks for reading all season. I truly hope the show comes back for another outing and I plan to be here if it does.