Fargo S2 Finale Open Thread

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Glyph

Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.

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  1. Avatar Glyph
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    says:

    Since I made a top ten favorite electronic records list, I’ll do one for 2015 TV. I’ll even rank it:

    1. Fargo
    2. The Americans
    3. Mr. Robot
    4. Fortitude
    5. Mad Men
    6. Hannibal
    7. Game of Thrones (relatively weaker season than usual, but improved upon rewatch, and “Hardhome” was amazing)
    8. Review
    9. iZombie
    10. Justified (a relatively-weaker season, but still Justified).

    Honorable Mention:

    Silicon Valley & Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt & Togetherness (just barely missed the cut)
    Other Space (looks like a one-and-done…sniff)
    Better Call Saul (liked, didn’t love, though Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean and Jonathan Banks all killed it)
    Master of None (only seen 4 eps so far, but they were great)
    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (only seen 2 eps so far, but it’s very unique and funny)
    Red Oaks (midway through it, very enjoyable, if not totally original)
    Ash Vs. Evil Dead (still in-progress)
    Daredevil
    Jessica Jones

    Bailed on:

    The Last Man on Earth
    Walking Dead
    The Strain
    Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

    Watched all of, but was disappointed:

    With Bob & David

    Not great, but not as awful as some said:

    True Detective

    EDITED, because somehow I originally left off The Americans, so everything else had to get shifted down by one. Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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      says:

      Haven’t given it all much deep, deep considered reflection, but for me, not yet in any order, probably leaving something out – as you’ve left out THE AMERICANS – which I think you in fact quite dug:

      TWD, LIMITLESS, GoT (whatever season this is – agree that HARDHOME was a terrific single episode), BETTER CALL SAUL (far exceeded expectations), THE LAST KINGDOM, FARGO, TRUE DETECTIVE S2 (people overpraised S1, compensated by over-criticizing S2, IMO), PENNY DREADFUL S2, SILICON VALLEY S2, JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL

      Honorably:

      THE EXPANSE, might change it out for one of the above, but it’s only just debuted: Looks to be the “hardest” “middle-future” sci-fi ever on TV. Too early too judge. ASH V EVIL DEAD: Hilarious. THE LAST SHIP. BLINDSPOT. I’d put FTWD on the above list, but seems unfair since TWD is already there ( yes, I know why some didn’t like it – I don’t care). JUSTIFIED

      THE AMERICANS if I think about this longer would probably shift it into my top 10, but I’m influenced negatively by our own past discussion of it, and not sure which one of the top 10 to remove…

      Also watchable and quite-discussable, if occasionally ridiculous,in the way that Brit and Canadian sci-fi so often is : CONTINUUM, HUMANS, DARK MATTER. Add CHILDHOOD’S END here even though I don’t think it’s Brit, and isn’t done, but it is sci-fi, and not only sci-fi but SyFy, which latter, oddly enough, is actually doing sci-fi again these days! (Do “events” count with w/episodics?)

      Dang – I watched a lot of TV in 2015. I even watched all of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN S2, and a couple other shows probably aimed more at teenagers, but were on, and it was dinnertime…Report

  2. Avatar CK MacLeod
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    says:

    Well, fersure I enjoyed the show very much, admire much of the work that was done in it, and will miss it, but I think the weaknesses you point to are indicative of larger problems with the show itself and with the “Epic TV” form.

    So, I agree that Hanzee -> Tripoli is too clever by half – I won’t spoilerize it, because it’s way too obscure to be a spoiler for anyone who isn’t almost certain to have already seen the whole season – but the show itself is very much dedicated to being 1.5x as clever as other shows, so is very vulnerable to that danger. It was 1.5x clever with its Reagan caricature, the alien spacecraft, the WW2 TV show, with Mike Milligan’s intellectualism, and on and on. If you listen too closely or think too hard about it, the epic disappears into a pastiche of derivative gestures and false notes. If you don’t listen or look too closely (and why should you? – spoils the fun), it can remain quite diverting, and, if your first commitment is to the gamification of narrative form, then what’s important is that the note or gesture connects with someone else’s note or gesture, and can be noted on a fan wiki page or tossed to the comments somewhere, somewhen, knitting the great net, signifying nothing.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod
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      I loved Reagan and the UFO.

      Reagan because he wasn’t necessarily painted as a BAD guy, and in fact, his hearty just-muddling-through optimism seemed of a piece with what the Fargo universe may sometimes require. You can look at the universe TWO ways, and one of those ways gives it meaning. Plus, Bruce!

      The UFO because it was a literal deus ex machina, calling to mind the whirlwind at the end of A Serious Man. “God” may exist, and He may occasionally appear and cause things to happen via the very act of His observation; but He doesn’t appear to care about us, and we may not be worth caring about – the most direct alien observation literally spotlighted one moral man (Lou) blowing out the brains of another semi-moral one (Bear) like he was a rabid animal, with no real rhyme nor reason in that isolated moment.

      the epic disappears into a pastiche of derivative gestures and false notes. If you don’t listen or look too closely (and why should you? – spoils the fun), it can remain quite diverting, and, if your first commitment is to the gamification of narrative form, then what’s important is that the note or gesture connects with someone else’s note or gesture [but] signifying nothing.

      I used the ‘sampling’ metaphor in the OP; though I’d be interested for you to expand what you mean by ‘gamification’.

      1.) How do you feel about musical artworks that are heavily sample-based, say something like Paul’s Boutique or Endtroducing?

      2.) Assuming you are OK with those: why would “sampling” be sub-optimal or empty for narrative forms?Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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        says:

        Don’t have time to get into an aesthetic-theoretical match race, the loser never to wear the T-Birds uniform again, but your questions are excellent ones.

        So, permit me to ramble:

        I’ll note that sampling or sample-like cut-up techniques have been a tool of the literary avant-garde for a long time – a century as identified formal device, for longer if you expand the definitional parameters to include “cut-up-like” approaches by precursors and in other artistic forms.

        Their main application is specifically deconstructive: They were introduced mainly to subvert traditional narrative and allied reigning artistic forms, often with explicitly “revolutionary” aims. “Narrative” would be associated with “bourgeois narrative,” and the traditional novel especially with the entire civilization (i.e., European modernity) for which it stood.

        So, the European avant-gardists usually intend to put in question or simply to destroy or, alternatively, to record the destruction of prior assumptions about the production of meaning and the notion of “character,” and often as well about the “heroic” artist of genius. One of the key facts about Epic TV is that they are “teamwork.” The product incorporates the forms of the bourgeois novel, itself once a “revolutionary form,” classically a work by the singular Heroic Author-Genius striving to join the Pantheon of the Greats, whose works are unified by his or her authorship, and develop characterological depth as dialectic of individual and society, in history – but Epic TV shows are, by contrast, gesamtkunstwerk produced quasi-industrially.

        Movies are already compromised in somewhat the same way, but are still easier to interpret as, finally, the expressive works of individual auteurs. Epic TV shows will be sub-directed and sub-written episode by episode. In the end a BREAKING BAD might return to the control of its showrunner-as-author, but quite likely its best episodes – or its episodes that are most internally coherent and effective according to the still generally reigning standards of narrative art – will have been written and directed by someone else. They stand out, and are works that may someday make more sense within the personal history of the particular auteur than in relation to the “series.”

        So, to condense a potentially long and complex discussion into a formula: Cut-up and sampling methods are initially anti-narrative. They are meant to “de-cohere” the structure of the typically linear and character-driven meaning-productive narrative. Attached to an alternative narrative model – for instance a “progressive” discourse of revolution against bourgeois society – they advocate a better meaning-production or morality. Pursued as ends in themselves, however, they tend toward the anarchistic, nihilistic, or amoral – they “signify nothing” – or are taken to do so: As pointless diversion disappearing into complete disposability, they are taken to be “mindless diversions” or “sheer escapism.” Yet on further analysis they can be shown to be carrying a narrative freight that the “gamer” will be reluctant to acknowledge, or would find at best morally ambiguous if brought into confrontation with it. The gamer’s escape remains an alienation of life experience: It costs you all those minutes you’ll never get back – “surpluses” exploited by others or by the system, beyond the horizon of the individual’s self-consumption. It’s not accident that the main subject is usually killing and dying over and over: It seems to be about the annihilation of life.

        One of the common tropes in recent “ambitious” sci-fi and sci-fi horror is the “big release” that finally joins together all of our distributed communications media into one uniform, humanity-negatiing whole. Something similar occurs in other apocalyptic fiction, though the origin is often defined as biological or simply unknowable – Zombie apocalypse, pandemic. Key elements get “re-sampled” in “fantasy” fiction like GAME OF THRONES, which also pursues an annihilation of the human by situating it in a seemingly starless (and therefore finally non-navigable, un-finalizable) world pervaded by broken, pointless values-narratives. The whole point seems to be to re-experience the de-coherence or reduction to absurdity of anything we might want to believe in for longer than a Season. What we will re-learn in the end is what we knew at the beginning: Without God, everything is permitted. Or, where anything can happen, nothing happens. Or: We are the Walking Dead.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod
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          says:

          It’s times like this that I remember I’m probably in the bottom third of Big Brains around here, because not all of that is clear to me – but what you seem to be saying is that you perceive a philosophical or political problem here that, for you, conflicts with the work’s aesthetics.

          Assuming I have that right, it’s not an invalid way to look at it, but it does seem extraneous to the work itself, and thereby perhaps a little unfair to ding the work for it.

          I’d also call sampling of a piece with cut-up techniques, but (at least as used by Burroughs, for ex.) I see “cut-up” as a little different from how “sampling” is usually used today.

          I see “cut-up” as, as you say, decohering something; with the hope that new meaning and enlightenment may fortuitously leak in via the gaps and juxtapositions in the now-“broken”, fragmented thing.

          But something like Endtroducing, or, I’d argue, Fargo S2, isn’t seeking to break nor decohere like “cut-up” does; nor do these works simply hope that happenstance will allow some new meaning to unconsciously, unintentionally “leak in” via the cracks.

          Rather, sampling simply acknowledges that things are already broken (or, that the individual pieces and ideas can and do exist on their own, like discrete atomic units available to be rearranged by anyone with the know-how to do so), and uses them to build its meaning with deliberate intent; in the hands of the right creator, having some parts come to hand already pre-built, frees them to build ever higher (Hawley wrote or co-wrote six of the ten episodes in S2, in addition to any other duties.)

          It’s certainly possible for that to become glib spot-the-reference; it’s also possible for all of the intentional and obvious echoes to become pleasurable and even profound in themselves: the way a single beat in a rhythm means nothing on its own, until it is later repeated, and thereby links back to the prior beat in time (and more relevantly, in the listener’s mind).Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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            Glyph: not all of that is clear to me

            My fault for not being able to explain it all more clearly; your fault for asking questions that point to theory. OTOH, I think you got the main point well enough.

            I’m not sure if you ever read the BREAKING BAD essay of mind that I linked when we were hovering near similar turf in re THE AMERICANS, and that touches on the same problems with the moral-aesthetic problems of Epic TV, and nothing I say is a “ding” on FARGO S2 specifically, though will be evident in moments that I found jarring and false, but that for all I know you found to be high points – or amusing at worst.

            Consider the “alien spacecraft,” which I think you incorrectly identify as a “literal deus ex machina.” The never-identified occupant may be literally “ex machina,” but it’s not meant to be a “deus.” Aliens often take the place of deities in science fiction, but they are not deities. They are merely beings like us, human-like animals, more advanced technologically and perhaps in other ways, but mortals. As a literary device, the deus ex machina’s specific function was to resolve a narrative that could not be resolved in any other acceptable way. FARGO’s aliens play no role in the resolution. The last time they’re mentioned is during the discussion near the end, when the characters agree that the appearance of the spacecraft can be left out of the final report as “sub-text.”

            Now, it’s an amusing bit of irony that the characters with whom we sympathize all agree that the spacecraft can be left unmentioned, while the narrative, this “true story,” mentions them quite prominently. So, for us, they’re not “sub-text” at all. Yet their function within the text is to “alienate” – as per the Brechtian “alienation effect.” They mark and in marking extend our distance from the remote events of the story: Just in case you were taking all of this mayhem seriously, were tempted to forget that this is just a symbolic fiction, an abstraction produced by artists, not “real life,” here’s a spacecraft. Ha! You are the real aliens, also interested, for unexplained reasons, in putting a spot-light on extreme and murderous human depravity. Similar to the device Pasolini’s SALO, in which the final acts of sadistic violence are viewed through glasses, re-doubling, as frames within the frame, the viewer’s actual distance and actual disinvestment – reminding us of the fact that, however much we may imagine we are “affected” by the fiction, we are not in fact in danger or being tortured or killed: We are, for now, safe, and the fiction reminds us pleasingly of the fact. All of this apocalypticism in our contemporary popular art re-produces the famously pleasureful fascination of watching the shipwreck from a safe distance (Lucretius).

            The reference to “sub-text” was itself a similarly alienating, engagement-reducing move – a false move from the perspective of a naturalistic fiction. I believe as little in 1979 Minnesota cops discussing “sub-text” and uinvestedly noting and dismissing the appearance of alien spacecraft in their affairs as I believe in the alien spacecraft. In short, I think it was phony. I have little doubt that someone, or even I, could argue up a justification for it somehow, or support its necessity, somehow, but to me that would be on the level of an intellectual game – trivial, a reduction in the aspirations we might associate with great or greatly significant art.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod
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              says:

              Ah, so your beef is with the UFO. I should have guessed, that’s where a lot of people really got off the train.

              I disagree that the UFO is meant to be postmodern winking; within the context of this story, it is very much real, as it potentially was at that point in American history. That two LEOs and war veterans agree to keep it subtext is both plot and theme: one, they know it would destroy their credibility, and two, much of the Fargo narrative is about our ability – in fact, the necessity – to accept the inexplicable.

              The UFO appears at several points and, whether or not the situation COULD have been resolved in some other way, its presence/observation clearly radically-affected event outcomes – without it, Rye doesn’t get run over, sparking (or exacerbating) this whole mess, and Lou gets choked out by Bear. “God” both killed and saved, though in both cases it’s not clear that He meant to. He’s just the quantum physicist who affected the outcome via observation.

              This is not the first time paranormal or supernatural events have intruded into the Coenverse – as I said, there’s the whirlwind at the end of A Serious Man, and there’s the demonic bounty hunter Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona.

              Anyway, I know from already having been through this in another comment section that whether you view the you-know-what as “real”, within the narrative, is part and parcel of how you view its success or failure; suffice to say that I think it’s where the show went from “great” to “greatest”.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph
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                says:

                My beef wasn’t simply with the UFO itself, although I don’t think it functioned as a “deus ex machina,” which, again, does not drive the plot or alter the plot in its classic uses, but finally resolves the plot.

                I was using the UFO as an example of an “alienating” effect – and in multiple ways – so as much with how it was used as with its appearance at all. Specifically in regard to how our heroes responded to it, and regardless of how you might justify it logically or abstractly (why should I care whether something similar happened in some other movie by the same or related artists? – or even if it served to some thematic point – so what? – that’s fan trivia or artifice, not a higher purpose for or experience of great art), I don’t buy that cops in 1979 used the word “sub-text” conversationally – even incorrectly, even if one of them is working on his own (hitherto secret) personal project to reconstruct language itself as a hobby. I think it comes across as pure, non-naturalistic contrivance.

                Anyway, I don’t want to belabor the point, and don’t see a way right now to carry the discussion much further, without devoting much more time and effort to it than I suspect either of us can right now.Report

  3. Avatar Zac
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    says:

    Personally, I liked the “Hanzee-is-Tripoli” reveal and thought it was exactly the right amount of clever. He was already going to have to get significant plastic surgery anyway with how badly burned his face was, and given that he needed to get away with both the Gerhardt murders and killing those cops a couple episodes prior, the latter of which had made him so recognizable he was on the FBI Most Wanted list, it make sense to me he’d make himself look very different (I think he looks more ethnically ambiguous than it sounds like you do) in order to throw people off his trail. Don’t forget he was already half-white, that’s why the Gerhardts kept referring to him as “mongrel” and “half-breed”.

    It also keeps ties the season theme of The Myth of Sisyphus in, as well. For Hanzee, his “rock” was the pursuit of respect, and never feeling “less than” (another reason why he’d want to use the opportunity of the plastic surgery to look like a white man), and it takes a while, but ultimately Lorne Malvo comes along in Season 1 to kick his rock back down the hill.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Zac
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      says:

      Even if I could accept it thematically (and you make a good case), realistically, lightening his skin to this degree:

      http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/how-the-fargo-finale-revealed-a-hidden-secret-from-season-1

      …seems implausible to me (though, this IS a show with UFOs).

      And I went back and watched, and seriously, that picture there ^^^^ looks A LOT like Hanzee’s new ID provider. And like I said, why would the Fargo mob trust Hanzee, once it came out he’d killed his bosses?

      But this is a small complaint, and honestly, if Hawley hadn’t confirmed it, I would have been fine with the ambiguity of it (after all, this is a “true story” that’s full of liars and faulty memories and random chance and loose ends).

      I also liked Schimdt’s partial redemption – Lou may not think much of him as an upright or brilliant cop, but he’s a survivor, and he was ready to go back into battle with Lou.Report

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