Saturday, June 24, 2017

Here's my really angry rant for the month


This post discusses the season three finale of FARGO that aired earlier this week. So if you haven’t seen it yet, come back when you do. Or you don’t watch FARGO and don’t care, stick around if you want to read an angry rant.

Last chance. The next paragraph I begin.


Readers of this blog know I am a fan of FARGO. Especially season two, which I thought was extraordinary. This season has had its moments and I even did a post about how clever they introduced exposition.

Over the last few weeks the season seemed to go off the rails. There was the police chief who was the cliché cockblocker every time Officer Gloria came to him with a plausible case. Then there was all the metaphysical mystical bullshit and if they weren’t trying enough to be TWIN PEAKS, they hired Ray Wise (from TWIN PEAKS) to deliver the nonsense spiritual babble.

But then came the finale. That ended on a cliffhanger or (worse) ambiguity (we'll never know the outcome). My reaction (which you can probably guess) in a second.

But out of curiosity I read a number of respected TV critics’ to see what they thought. One said the ambiguity “plays into exactly what this season has been about: the fluid nature of truth.” Another defined the two main storylines: “One is an act of capitalist savagery. The other is the culmination of personal animus.” And yet a third praised the storytelling that up until the finale he had issues with. All was forgiven as he gleefully stated: “The weird hiccups and sideways jerks of the narrative, the structure that never entirely coalesced into anything coherent — was on purpose.”   That's a good thing I suppose. 

Now may I offer my opinion – and granted I’m not as enlightened or perceptive as these professional television reviewers – I’m just a schmuck with a blog and podcast? But here’s what I thought:

The ending was a fucking cheat! I sat through ten hours for THAT? Ten hours of watching cast members just pick each other off and speak with accents that get more fake each year? And then we’re left with -- NOTHING? Does Varga get put away or doesn’t he?   Really?  Ooooh, that's for me to decide.

On serialized shows the audience puts trust in the showrunner that the time and effort they expend will be rewarded at the end.  It’s a huge burden and if not handled properly ruins the entire experience.  Look at LOST or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.  Not only do you need to make a choice, you need to make the right one (whatever that is for your particular show) otherwise you destroy all the good will you’ve built up over the years.  So to present an ambiguous ending is avoiding that decision.  To me that’s chickenshit.

Noah Hawley, in an excellent interview with Alan Sepinwall, admits that the "This is a true story" was lying to the audience.  You know what?  I get enough lies from my fucking president. 

I know it’s currently chic to embrace ambiguity and complexity and existentialism – hour dramas are so DEEP with so many LAYERS.  “Oh, the real world is messy. There are no neat conclusions.” But fuck that. Someone gives you ten hours; give them a fucking ending. The open-ended finale is not even original or fresh. THE SOPRANOS did it so much better.  And at least they were groundbreaking.   Plus, it was the end of the series.  David Chase did not ask the audience to continue taking the ride with him.   I wonder how many FARGO viewers feel like me.  

I'm certainly not saying you have to have a happy ending. It can be unsettling, sad, horrific, shocking, surprising, hopeful, weird, wistful – whatever. And you don’t have to tie up every loose end. You don’t have to wrap everything up in a pretty package. But give us SOMETHING. And I’m sorry but characters killing each other off like ducks in a shooting gallery is not SOMETHING.

Sometimes you can be just too artsy, too quirky, too clever for your own good.

They just lost one viewer.   And Emmy vote.  


Anonymous said...

Friday question - you've talked some about pilots, how about finales? How do you give a proper sendoff? If there's a spinoff, how does the transition work?

Douglas Trapasso said...

Is the statute of limitations past to discuss the last scene in Limbo (director John Sayles, 1999)?

Are the mom, daughter and boyfriend rescued or killed?

Stoney said...

At the very least, I have to thank David Thewlis for giving me more incentive to brush and floss every day now!

Aaron Sheckley said...

I didn't hate the third season, but I definitely didn't love it as much as the second (which I felt was the cream of the crop). When Ray Wise made his appearance, I pretty much rolled my eyes, because it was a blatant attempt to be meta and cute ("Hey Look! It's Twin Peaks AND the Big Lebowski at the same time! Wink Wink Nudge Nudge!")

Film makers tend to throw the words "layered" and "ambiguous" around to seem smart, but what it really means is that they suck as storytellers, and they substitute murky mysticism for coherent plot. And critics fan the flames, because none of them want to seem like they "don't get it".

Good layered storytelling example = Breaking Bad
Bad layered storytelling example = Anything puked out by Damon Lindelof

And I definitely agree with your assessment of the new Chief of Police's character; that was a cliche I would have expected to see in an 80's buddy cop movie, not in something as formerly excellent as Fargo.

Charles H Bryan said...

The ending didn't bother me - since much of this season was about capitalism at its shittiest, I think leaving the question open as to whether guys like Varna will always buy their way out of trouble is an important one.

For me, the big problem was most of the season. I didn't care what happened to most of these characters, other than Gloria. And the over the top Minnesota accents are not just annoying, they're insulting. It wasn't exactly must see for me. There just didn't seem to be a strong narrative drive.

But that episode of Gloria in L.A.? Worth it.

Michael Rae said...

The only thing that bugged me is that we will never find out what happens after the final scene and we spent limited time with the characters so, since it is anthology and it is for 10 episodes, the best way is to give us something since we watched them for 10 episodes and loved and we will never find out what happens next although some alive characters might come back on a future season, we will still never know. I mean Noah Hawley said that he doesn't know if there will be a fourth season. Plus, the ending is set on present day so we will really never find out.

When I watched it, my guess is Gloria Burgle was right since she half-smiled but, still, it's too ambiguous. You're right, Ken. We spent 10 hours and we deserve a proper conclusion that will like give us goodbye to the characters and the story since we won't see them again. Enough with the philosophical bullshit. At the end of the day, we're mostly a no non-sense type of audience. We want to be invested on the character's journey and give us an assurance that heck they are okay and the story is done. Case closed.

Anonymous said...

Well, then.

Unknown said...

Once again, we're in the land of Making It Up As You Go Along.
This gives an acronym -MIUAYGA - which is the sound I make when I see one of these.
I grew up as a fan of mystery/detective stories, and my feeling was that if you pose a mystery situation, you pay it off.
For good or ill, but you pay it off.
The Twin Peaks/Lost school believes that if you just keep piling on the absurdities, you can get away with no ending.
They've lucked into an era where pseudo-scholars have taken over the "critical" community.
In the near future, you'll see some very deep analyses of Fargo III - in several senses of the word "deep".

This is possibly irrelevant, but I'll give it a go:
Recently, I've been spending a lot of time at YouTube, where several intrepid souls have been archiving the last few years of The Edge Of Night, the late and (by me, anyway) much lamented mystery/detective soap.
In 1984, its last year on the air, Edge's head writer, Lee Sheldon, spent weeks setting up an elaborate storyline with several layers of adventure, leading up to a "locked-room murder" scenario.
This in its turn led up to a sensational murder trial, where the wrong person was accused, and ultimately to a surprise solution that I, at least, didn't see coming.
All of this played out on Edge over the first two-thirds of 1984, five days a week (with two weeks off for the Summer Olympics), and I, as a fan of Edge of very long standing, was caught up in the twists and turns right up to the payoff.
And that's my point - there was a payoff.
Unfortunately, Edge was in a steep rating decline at that point (that two-week Olympic pre-emption didn't help); it was cancelled at Christmastime, which only goes to show.
My point(?) is that Mr. Sheldon had the story planned out in advance; he didn't just pile on the nonsense for confusion's own sake.
That latter seems to be the style du jour - and people seem to be buying it.
I say it's spinach ...

Bob Local-Lee said...

My reaction, as the credits popped up, wait...WHAAAAT? What was THAT? (In Jimmy Cagney's voice after the boiler exploded in "Mr. Roberts.")

gottacook said...

The 17th and final episode of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner (1967) - "Fall Out," which he wrote and directed - remains, in my opinion, a standout example of how to do it right. The result was very entertaining, baffling (in a good way), and somehow felt like a resolution while abandoning nearly all of the established story infrastructure and raising a bunch of new questions. By contrast, the ending of Lost totally ruined, retrospectively, the entire series for me.

Pat Howard said...

Your right it sucked

James Van Hise said...

The final episode of Seinfeld got this reaction and years later Jerry Seinfeld realized that the fans were right. He said that the show should have ended with them getting out of prison, meeting in the coffee shop, sitting there looking stunned and silent until finally George says, "That was brutal!" That would be perfect Seinfeld.

Chris said...

I'm starting to notice this in some genre fiction, especially young adult stuff where the mysteries and speculation start being delivered with the desperation of a QVC/county fair barker.

Our Hero has woken up in a strange place with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Cool!
But wait, there are other people there, who've been there for some time and, while they have no clue either, they expected him because of a calendar. OK, I can see that.
But hold on to your hats, because the "calendar" breaks. O... K?
And now, we'll also throw in yet another mysterious character before you have a sense of what's going on! Oh for god's sake just quit.

Give me something to wonder at, throw in a twist or two to keep me entertained with interesting characters and then get out of the way. It's hard to be surprised when a baseline hasn't been maintained, let alone established!

thirteen said...

The ending may not have been as ambiguous as all that. Gloria's in Homeland Security now, and she's smiling too damn much as the five minutes tick by. In any case, I consider my ten hours well spent.

D. McEwan said...

Thank You!

That was exactly how I reacted to the finale of Fargo The movie and the first two seasons set a high bar that season 3 failed to clear. I got in a (Polite and respectful) argument with a writer friend of mine on Facebook on whether or not Fargo III blew it with its shapeless season and its non-conclusion. He thought the finale was of a piece with it and had a whole bullshit theory as to why the ending was consistent with not just that season but of a piece with the whole Coen Brothers oeuvre. (Mentioning the unexplained UFO in season 2 in as some sort of non-justification justification.) I pointed out that it wasn't the Coen's universe, it was Hawley's, and none of that made an ending out of a non-ending.

Also, they needed a scene where the cockblocker police chief had to admit to Gloria how wrong he'd been.

But that ending just did not work.

If there's a season 4 (and so far Noah Hawley is iffy on that point, admitting he has no ideas for a fourth season, as clearly he had no idea how to end season 3), it damn well needs to be better than this was. But I believe him, since he obviously ran out of ideas before he finished season 3.

However (and this will invalidate my opinions for some of these commenters), I liked the Lost finale. It worked for me.

Charles Jurries said...

I thought it was the weakest finale of the three seasons, but I didn't feel cheated by the final scene. (I would have ENJOYED Varga getting his comeuppance, though!) The ambiguity matched not only the isolationist tone of the third season, but also the modern time period it was set in.
(Notice too how if you watch the seasons in chronological order how the colors seem to leave the world? The world gets bleaker, eat Popsicle with your kids while you can!)

Maybe Gloria's story was the robot. She traveled and traveled as was useful, but as soon as she did her last useful thing... that's all there was to her story and it was abruptly over.

Ficta said...

First, up front, if you don't like it, you don't like it, I'm not going to tell you you should like it. That's silly.

I think some viewers, i.e. any viewers who aren't as obsessed with the Coen brothers as I am,
underestimate how much Fargo seems to be structured around tributes to specific Coen brothers movies. While there was a whole lotta Lebowski this season, there was also a lot of A Serious Man: the Job-like trials of Emmit Stussey, his wastrel brother, the parable-like prologue in an Eastern European setting, and several other parallels I'm forgetting at the moment. I didn't find it at all surprising that we finished, as A Serious Man does, with an ending hanging in mid air.

Loosehead said...

To be fair to Lost, and it's really hard for me to say that, their last few seasons were ended without knowing if they would be renewed, so each finale had to conclude the story threads, in case they didn't come back, but leave some threads going, and bad guys un-dealt with, in case they did. Some of the outrageous story elements were also there to try and prevent cancellation. It's not really an excuse though.

gottacook said...

Loosehead: Sorry, but the opposite is true. At the end of the third season, the producers and ABC made a deal for three more seasons, with a definite number of episodes to wrap things up, 16 per season (although the numbers ended up varying a bit). See the story at this link, for example:

Barry Traylor said...

Because I loved both season 1 and 2 I was looking forward so much to season 3. Boy Howdy was I ever disappointed. If there is a 4th season they can have it without me. I am done.

Terrence Moss said...

You look at the finales of "Dexter" and "How I Met Your Mother" -- then do the exact opposite of what they did. Worst finales ever.

cadavra said...

We don't know. That's why the movie is called LIMBO.

Fred Vogel said...

There is nothing wrong with having to use your imagination every so often. The ending was fine.

J Lee said...

Critics have a bad habit in a number of genres (movies, TV, books, music) of bending over backwards to support something they love when it goes off the rails, even though they know it's gone off the rails, in hopes by not trashing the person or their work, they'll get back onto the rails.

The problem comes when the artist or show keeps producing substandard work, but keeps getting praised by the critics -- who retroactively now tell you their latest work is a big improvement from that steaming pile of poo they put out last year/season. That's the point where you give up paying attention to what the critic thinks, because if they lied to you last year, how do you know they're not lying to you this year?

John H said...

I loved every second of this season. It was terrific watching the protagonist and antagonist sitting at opposite ends of the table "knowing" that they won. Keeping with the theme of the characters throughout the show, I believe Varga was correct. Since Numbers made a cameo, you can't rule out having this enigma solved in a later season.

Michael Taylor said...

Given that I didn't watch any of "Twin Peaks" back in the day, the inclusion of Ray Wise in this season of "Fargo" didn't bother me at all. Ray brings so much to every role, and I was happy to see him back on screen. If the ending was a bit ambiguous, it was consistent with Varga's constant and eloquent re-interpretations of "reality" that ran through the entire show. And as for over-the-top mystical BS, it's hard to top the UFO in Season Two of "Fargo" -- but that didn't ruin it for me. I think you just have to accept a certain degree of off-the-wall wierdness when it comes to the FX interpretations of "Fargo."

From a structural standpoint, Season One was built on the strongest foundation, but all three seasons have been interesting in their own ways. Each kept me tuning in from week to week, and if this last finale was more than a bit mysterious, it certainly wasn't a deal-breaker. If anything, it made me think a lot more than the finales of most good shows -- and that's not a bad thing.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I've always questioned the ending of the movie version of "Pufnstuf" (wait... hold your scoff). This was a 17-episode series about a teenager stuck a groovy puppet island, trying to get home. The feature film didn't really resolve his plight, but rather the finale sequence to cut back and forth from the boy in his earlier "home" scenes to his later "Island" scenes. So did he get home or not? I even asked Marty Krofft once. He hemmed and hawed.

Now, if "Pufnstuf" had been a high falutin' critics' darling and not the wonderfully wacky Saturday morning kids' show that it was, the pretentious set might have been tempted to stretch the "liquidity of its truth" to mean that perhaps the boy had never left his home at all, but that the whole adventure took place in his mind and that he "coexisted consciously in both worlds, not asleep but in thea daydream of his yearning, as a safe haven from his lack of acceptance by his schoolmates."

Naaaah. The quickly-made movie cost less than a million to shoot, made back its money and then some, helped the Kroffts stay in business and provided Universal with some tidy matinee money. All the movie's ending did was allow room for a sequel or a subsequent series. Let's not strain our brains!

Just offering some perspective. Time is very precious and it allows for only so many TV shows. Thanks for giving me one less reason to make less time for Fargo and more for Better Call Saul. And The Bugaloos.

Clarence Odbody said...

It's been demonstrated over and over again the the proper way to end a story like this, which begins with simple people with simple goals and then grows more and more complex, is to have complete resolution at the end. Questions get answered, and then even when it's over you still have someone tell the viewer it's over. The "He's dead, Jim" moment. That's when it's satisiying.

Rebecca said...

I agree with Ken. I hated the ending. It's a story, end it, dammit!

I read several articles about the "meaning" of the ambiguity of the ending and I disagree. It ruined what was otherwise an enjoyable season for me.

Cabernet said...

"The Leftovers" did it much, much better.

Andrew said...

Since you brought up The Sopranos, I'd love for you to write an entire blog post about what you appreciated about the series. In particular, there were so many moments of great humor. It was funnier than most comedies, despite the dark subject matter.

So consider this a Friday Question, which I've actually asked before. The problem is I don't really have a good "form of a question." I'm just interested in your perspective, now that so many years have passed.

Anonymous said...

"Based on a true story"... just wanted to point out that there was an oscar-winning film made about two decades ago that began by saying it was a true story. The filmmakers later admitted that it wasn't a true story, but they wanted the film to be in the genre of a true-story movie.

That film was... uh... Fargo.

McAlvie said...

One of the many reasons I don't do serial dramas. Aside from the fact that I don't like feeling obligated to keep up, there is always the possibility that the whole thing gets cancelled before it ever gets to where it is going. I don't see the point in investing my time in a show that just meanders. And yes, if they end a series without bringing major plot lines to a logical conclusion, I feel ripped off. I think it's just poor planning and lazy writing. They were focusing on just the fun bits and not paying attention to where they were going. And no, ambiguity is not just like real life. In real life, you get the job or you lose the job. You get the girl, or you get a divorce. You survive the wreck or you don't. Your kid grows up to be someone you are proud of or a loser. Life only appears ambiguous because it has so very many plot lines going on at one time. But ultimately they do all finish up, one way or the other.

In any case, if I want something that's just like real life, there's always, you know, REAL LIFE.

Jeff Maxwell said...


The next Fargo should open in a dental office.

Jerry Smith said...

Nailed it, Ken. The end of Fargo was extremely unsatisfactory. 10 hours this season, 30 in all, and THAT'S the ending we get? No, that is not acceptable. Have the guts to give us a real ending. Some ambiguous endings are fine, I suppose. That one wasn't. A letdown to an otherwise great show and great season. Thanks for saying it out loud.

Rich Shealer said...

An example of a great ending was Six Feet Under. Showing the final fates of the major cast members over the next decades to come. I don't think a spoiler alert is needed because we all will die over the next 100 years.

Loosehead said...

Gottacook: And the best they could come up with was **SPOILER ALERT** "Its gods waiting room"? Sheesh.

D. McEwan said...

OK, I just watched this week's episode of Twin Peaks. The ending of season three of Fargo is Citizen Kane by comparison. But I've figured out what it was about.

It was about an hour.

Now I shall watch something that is clear, straight-forward story-telling, like the last half-hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Prairie Perspective said...

Exactly, Ken. After a great first season and a terrifyingly perfect second, this was a disappointment from start to, especially, finish.

Tom S said...

I thought the ending was a bit baffling, but only because it was an opportunity for Varga to be ensnared by a long-game investigation instead of being somewhat ambiguous. After all the bad things that happened to so many people, we all wanted to see somebody decent get the win.

Having said that, I didn't think it was as ambiguous as most seem to think. That smile from Gloria was it. No one walked in and told Varga he was free to go, like he said would happen. He wasn't free. He was done for. I would have preferred to see Gloria hold up show that she had "smoking gun"-level evidence, or for the guards to drag Varga out of the room while his face melted into the realization that he hadn't slithered out of trouble this time. But it's not a travesty or anything.