Thin Ice: The Morality Tale of 'Fargo'

For the past 9 weeks, the FX series has kept viewers in suspense wondering what will be the final fate of its characters. They range from a deranged hit man to a hapless guy turned psychopath and finally a determined police officer. All represent a different facet of human nature, they are not easily categorized. In fact, those aforementioned descriptions are only a tidbit, a slight taste of the characters that roam the frozen tundra of “Fargo”.

When viewers began their trip to Bemidji, Minnesota over two months ago, the stage was set for a tale that would lead its captive audience down a trail of unforeseen twists and turns. The pilot introduced two very distinct characters, Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) and Lester (Martin Freeman), two guys that at the beginning of this journey couldn’t have appeared to be more different. In the first episode, Malvo a ruthless hit man takes all of Lester’s troubles away and then aids in the cover-up of Lester’s own crime. As the story developed it’s made clear that Malvo doesn’t let anyone grow wise to his activities and live. He nips things in the bud with no discretion. There’s only been one exception, Lester.

Why? Why did Malvo “help” him in the first place? It’s the nagging question that has persisted throughout the run of the show. What made Lester so special and has Malvo created the monster or revealed one? One theory is that Malvo, a man disillusioned with the world and ready to destroy anyone in it, who gets in his way, sets his sights on Lester. 

For all intense and purpose, when Malvo first meets Lester he is the picture of “goodness”, a quintessential “nice guy”. It is possible that Malvo, sensing that he might be getting a glimpse of an elusively good person, decided to do an experiment. Was Lester really as pure as he appeared? Was he simply the victim of other people putting him down? By removing all of the so-called “obstacles” oppressing Lester, Malvo would learn his answer.

As it turned out, there’s more to Lester than met the eye. Once a downtrodden insurance salesman, he went from being a bullied victim to a cocky psychopath. Some might argue that Malvo corrupted him, made him feel invincible and beyond the law. Once Lester had gotten the slightest taste of ambition and reward, he was a goner.

The beast lingering within had been starved into submission and Malvo released the monster. It’s also possible that Malvo sensed the devilish side of Lester that had been dying to get out; like they say “it takes one to know one” and he relished the opportunity to set Lester “free”. It’s a complex psychological combination. 

“Fargo” is a highly metaphorical series. In last week’s penultimate episode, Malvo stands in front of a splattered wall that’s pattern projects blood-soaked wings behind him, the “angel of death” is a logical conclusion to draw. This whole story could be the opposite of anything literal, a veritable allegory for the dark forces that persist around us.

The finale might not answer all of these ruminations before signing off and that will be fine. Thought-provoking, subversive, and luridly presented, “Fargo” has packed a punch with dense characterizations. Revealing that Lester’s soul was as ice-cold as an igloo was a brisk chill that never felt inevitable and that’s what makes this series a standout.

[Featured Image by FX]