Fargo: 1.10 Morton's Fork
If there’s one thing Fargo has not been short on over its first season, it’s been tension. The precision with which it has controlled the drama and guided its audience through varying stages of excitement, fear and hilarity is almost unparalleled in modern television. “Morton’s Fork”, the final episode of the first season, continued that trend perfectly and could not have brought things to a more fitting end.
Many television shows, approaching their finales, allow things to explode with action and flashy visuals. Thankfully, Fargo chooses to forgo that habit. Its strength has never been in fast paced action but in the slow build of anticipation, and creator and writer Noah Hawley has been wise enough to realise that. No shots are fired in “Morton’s Fork” until at least halfway through, and by that time the tension is so high that the audience are on the edge of their seats. Lesser writers might have given in to Hollywood expectations of gunshots and explosions, and that Hawley doesn’t is testament to his genius.
The episode centres around the confrontation between Malvo and Lester, who manoeuvre around each other with the utmost guile. Malvo’s drive for revenge sees him manipulating events, often with a brutal kind of simplicity. When he neutralises the possibility of FBI backup, just by stealing the right code and calling the bureau to cancel that backup, it’s a perfect demonstration of his cunning and ruthlessness. What’s more, it heightens the fear that he may get the better over Agents Budge and Pepper, and find a way to his target.
Lester, in the meanwhile, refuses to be made the quarry that Malvo intends. Even though he is being hunted, he never feels like the prey. He proves himself resistant to police questioning and resistant to the fearful panic that characterised him in the show's early episodes. Martin Freeman has provided one of his best performances ever in Fargo, growing Lester from scared rabbit to callous, amoral survivor. Again and again throughout “Morton’s Fork” he recalls Malvo’s terrifying question – “Lester, is this what you want?” – but he never flinches, even knowing how many deaths he’s caused.
Although Molly’s tenacity has brought the show to where it is, she actually plays the least important part in this finale. That may seem peculiar, but the strength of Allison Tolman’s performance means that it isn't much noticed. Furthermore, since it’s her relationship with Gus that leads Fargo to its ultimate resolution, she facilitates proceedings rather than driving them. This might be an unusual move but it is not a forced one; things play out naturally, and Hawley never has to shoehorn events to bring out the show’s brilliance.
Gus himself has been so underused in the last few episodes that seeing the name "Colin Hanks" on the main cast list almost seems accidental – but that has finally been rectified. Though he is given little screen time, the role that he plays is absolutely vital. He has spent some time stuck in an unsure sort of limbo, but “Morton’s Fork” sees him find his courage and decide what kind of man he wants to be. Although the show took too long and wavering a path to get him there, it’s extremely satisfying to see Gus discover his rightful place in the world of Fargo.
Whatever else it may be, “Morton’s Fork” is an absolute triumph. It demonstrates the very best of what television can offer by bringing all of Fargo’s interweaving plot points together into a sumptuous crescendo. A show as great as this deserved a finale of equal greatness, and Noah Hawley has delivered. It may have only lasted ten episodes, but Fargo has told a bigger story than most shows can manage in twice the time. If it gets picked up for a second season, Hawley has confirmed it will feature a different cast of characters – but if there’s one thing you can be certain won’t change, it’s that the first season is a true masterpiece.