A Rewrite of Fargo’s Season 1 Finale (Spoilers galore; ye’ve been warned)
Season one of FX’s TV series Fargo is an incredible take on the movie by the Coen brothers, simultaneously paying tribute to the tone and general style while carving a creative groove all its own. Unfortunately, the finale falls short of the standard established by the movie and the previous nine episodes, actually contradicting a major character arc established in order to try and emulate the ending of the movie. This was a mistake.
The character in question is Lester Nygaard, who is supposed to be the TV version of Jerry Lundegaard. Lester’s arc is that he starts out as a meek, bumbling, emasculated insurance salesman, then circumstances evolve in which he encounters a hit man, Lorne Malvo. After, Lester kills his own wife and ends up having to con his way out of murder. Lester’s remaining arc is him transforming into Malvo by way of realizing that there are no rules as long as you can manipulate things to suit your needs.
Jerry, on the other hand, doesn’t have much of an emotional arc. He simply digs himself deeper and deeper into a horribly bungled con that he set up. His final scene in the movie is him, on the run, getting captured by two local cops who had nothing to do with the events in the movie. A traditional movie would have had the main cop character, Margie, capture him in some kind of climactic sequence. But the Coen brothers don’t really do traditional—thank god— so Margie was at home with her husband watching TV while someone else wrapped the story up for her.
The problem with the season finale of the TV series was that they tried to emulate this ending with Lester even though Lester’s arc differed greatly from Jerry’s. They are absolutely not the same character, so their demise should then be different. In the finale, Lester flees Bemidji, goes on a snow mobile trip, gets chased down by local authorities, runs across a lake frozen over with thin ice, and falls through the ice. Dead. This is all while Molly, the main cop character of the season, sits at home with her husband Gus and daughter Greta.
The ending works for Jerry, but not Lester. This is because of what Lester has become through his transition into Malvo. Now, he’s a conman, a liar, and, above all else, a killer. So he should die like it.
Here is my scene by scene rewrite of season one’s finale to reflect that fact (again, spoilers henceforth):
Necessary to Establish in a Previous Episode
– When we first see Gus on his mail route immediately after the “One Year Later” transition, we learn that Lester’s new house is on his mail route.
– Lester lives on lake Bmidji, not just in a forest.
– Lester ice fishes from time to time, so when he first goes into his basement to scrounge through Chaz’s old hunting gear to find the handgun, an ice rotor similar to Wrench and Numbers’s is in the background.
– Lester had a crazy expensive surround sound system installed in his house just like Chaz did in episode one. Have him say something along the lines of, “You can hear it crystal clear all the way upstairs.”
Season 1 Finale—REWRITE (New or Slightly Changed Scenes are capitalized and in Bold)
SCENE 1: Series of shots showing blood trails in snow leading up to a large hole cut into an iced over lake.
Scene 2: Lester is waiting in his car outside his insurance shop immediately after Malvo killed Linda. He watches Malvo leave.
Scene 3: Lester goes inside and tampers with the crime scene to make it look like Linda dropped him off and went to the shop by herself.
Scene 4: Cut to: Lester goes to Lou’s Diner in order to solidify his alibi.
Scene 5: Lester “uses the bathroom” but sneaks outside, calls the police from a pay phone, and reports having heard gunshots. He goes back in and ends his interaction with Lou as police cars speed down the street, sirens blaring.
Scene 6: Cut to: Gus, Molly, and Greta are at home, watching TV. The phone rings. Molly answers it and learns of the homicide. She suits up.
Scene 7: Cut to: Nygaard Insurance shop. Crime scene. Molly arrives and does cop stuff with Bill. Lester shows up, acting the part of the shocked, grieving husband. Molly and Bill take Lester to the police station.
Scene 8: Cut to: Malvo in his cabin listening to the police scanner while he makes a meal. He hears that FBI agents Key and Peele have been summoned to the police station. Malvo heads out.
Scene 9: Cut to: The police station, where Key and Peele discuss dreams in a pseudo-philosophical way that’s apropos of nothing. Lou is at the police station and tells Molly about the unsettling encounter he had with Malvo in the previous episode, only now realizing its significance. He decides to camp out on Molly and Gus’s porch, with a shotgun to protect Greta or something.
Scene 10: Cut to: Malvo breaks into Key and Peele’s car and steals a field manual from the glove compartment while they’re inside the police station.
Scene 11: Cut to: The police interrogation room, where Molly, Bill, and Key and Peele proceed to interview Lester and warn him of the danger he’s in w/r/t Malvo. Lester isn’t charged with anything, but they hold him a little longer.
SCENE 12: Cut to: Morning. Lou on Molly and Gus’s porch after a night of playing lookout. Gus comes out, dressed to go on his mail route, and has a brief dialogue with Lou regarding Malvo. Gus goes back inside real quick.
Scene 13: Cut to: Molly briefs the other police officers about Malvo.
SCENE 14: Gus is in his mail truck driving to the police station. He calls Molly at the station, interrupting her meeting. He convinces her to stay at the station and let everybody else go out instead, citing it’s too dangerous since she’s pregnant, and he couldn’t bear making Greta go to another funeral. Gus says he’s taking off work and going to the station to meet her. Molly convinces him otherwise. He hangs up and we see that he has his revolver with him for protection, which he got when he went back in the house after talking to Lou in scene 12. Gus proceeds to go about his mail route.
Scene 15: Cut to: At the police station, Bill tells Molly that he’s going to quit, and she’s to be the next police chief. Reveal that the FBI is calling in reinforcements from HQ.
Scene 16: Cut to: Using the field manual he stole, Malvo calls FBI HQ and cons them into canceling reinforcements.
Scene 17: Cut to: Malvo at the used car dealership. He kidnaps the car salesman and steals a fake FBI cruiser.
Scene 18: Cut to: Police station. Molly tells Lester he’s going home, but Key and Peele are going to drive him and hang out at his house for a while. Lester protests, but this is non-negotiable. Lester gives her attitude, and she responds with an off-the-cuff anecdote. Lester is baffled by this, and they part ways.
Scene 19: Cut to: Key and Peele driving Lester home. We see Malvo’s fake FBI car follow them. Lester and Key and Peele talk about the boat riddle.
Scene 20: Cut to: Key and Peele and Lester arrive at Lester’s house. Key and Peele emphasize once again that Lester is in danger. Lester blows them off. Key and Peele make camp in the driveway.
Scene 21: Lester is up in the bedroom emptying the clothes from his suitcase, throwing them around the room so they cover the floor. He goes into the basement to get Chaz’s bear trap. We see the ice rotor in the background.
Scene 22: Lou is still on guard at Molly and Gus’s. Greta joins him.
SCENE 23: With Key and Peele in their car in Lester’s driveway, the fake FBI car casually rolls up and parks halfway down the driveway. Key and Peele exit their vehicle to investigate. They wisely choose to stagger, with Peele going to investigate the fake FBI car while Key lingers back by Lester’s front door. Peele sees that the driver—the kidnapped car salesman—has his hands duct-taped to the steering wheel. A trap! Key runs inside to check on Lester.
SCENE 24: Cut to: Lester hears the commotion from inside and proceeds to watch from a second story window.
SCENE 25: Cut back to: Outside, where Malvo emerges from the woods and kills Peele and the car salesman.
SCENE 26: Cut back to: Lester reacts to the murders and retreats to his clothes-covered bedroom/bathroom. From inside the bathroom, he pretends to call the police.
SCENE 27: Cut to: Key downstairs, gun drawn, clearing each room and looking for Lester. He hears the bathroom door slam from upstairs and goes upstairs.
SCENE 28: Cut to: Malvo breaks into Lester’s house using a backdoor. He finds Lester’s stereo system and hooks up his tape recorder.
SCENE 29: Cut to: Key sneaking around upstairs. He hears Lester calling the police from the bathroom, whispers, “Lester!…Lester!” He goes into the bedroom and steps on the bear trap that was hidden under a pile of clothes. Key goes down in pain. Lester bursts through the bathroom door, gun drawn, but doesn’t shoot once he sees it’s Key and not Malvo. Just then, Malvo’s tape of Lester’s phone call from episode one blasts through the house, easily heard from upstairs. Lester and Key listen and it becomes very clear that Lester is guilty of killing his wife. They share a look, and Lester kills Key. Malvo hears the gunshot.
SCENE 30: Cut to: Malvo upstairs. He follows the trail of carnage, into the bedroom. There, he sees Key, dead. He follows a trail of bloody footprints from the body to the shut bathroom door. He goes up to the door, fires a handful of shots in a calculated pattern, then cautiously proceeds into the bathroom. The bathroom is empty, and a window is wide open, with evidence of someone escaping. Malvo investigates to confirm, turns and sees in the mirror Lester hiding behind the drawn shower curtain, gun up. No words, just fury in Malvo’s eyes. Lester kills Malvo and completes his transition into becoming him. Show Lester’s bloody sock or shoe as he exits the shower. The music here should be reminiscent of the sting used when Lester framed Chaz for Pearl’s murder in episode seven.
SCENE 31: Molly is at the police station, alone, listening to mundane check-ins on the police radio from officers out on the street. She’s restless, thinks about leaving, but doesn’t.
SCENE 32: Cut to: Later, Gus is on his route, approaching Lester’s house. A wolf is standing in the middle of the road, and Gus slams on the brakes just in time. They stare at each other, then the wolf trots over to Lester’s house. Gus sees the two idling FBI cars, doors flung open, with blood trails clearly visible in the snow. Knowing this is Lester’s house, he gets his gun, checks it, takes a deep breath, and then goes out to investigate. He passes the fake FBI car, notices the blood and the ripped duct tape on the steering wheel.
*The following sequence should be shot identical to the final scenes in the movie when Margie investigates the cabin and finds Grimsrud manning the wood-chipper.*
Gus ducks into the trees for cover and weaves through the forest, following the loud hum of a motor echoing from the back of the house. When he gets to the edge of the tree line, reveal what Gus sees: Lester is finishing up drilling a hole into the iced over lake with his rotor. Beside him lie the bodies of Malvo, Key, Peele, and the car salesman. Gus cautiously approaches under the cover of the noise. Lester finishes up. Gus, gun raised, yells, “Freeze!” Lester spins around, startled, slips, and falls into the hole, where he drowns/freezes to death. The camera should pan over the hole, similar to Scene 1, showing Lester’s hat floating.
SCENE 33: Later, Molly is driving the prowler back to the station, with Gus sitting in the front seat. Gus is looking sourly out the window, “I just don’t unnerstand it.” Molly waits a beat, then says, “Well…here we are. And it’s a beautiful day.”
Random Seasonal Notes
– When we first meet Wrench and Numbers—the fixers from Fargo—they do a very Coen brothers thing and make a big deal about a totally arbitrary thing—they express their perplexity that Bemidji doesn’t have a library. This is contradictory to the first episode in which Lester is attempting to sell insurance to a couple who are expecting a baby (the husband later becomes the car salesman that Malvo cons for the fake FBI car). In this interaction, the husband tells Lester that he works at the library.
– Episode 7: The fish falling out of the sky that kill Stavros’s son, Dimitri, and his security guy is the stupidest thing I’ve seen on screen since Paul Thomas Anderson’s ill-advised decision to rain frogs from the sky in his movie Magnolia. This is explained away in the next episode as a weather phenomenon—a tornado sucks up a lake with its fish and flings them a distance to rain down on some innocent town. This has actually happened, so it’s not unrealistic; it’s just unnecessary in terms of the story. The mechanism to crash the car was already in place—the blizzard. So this ends up being a desperate attempt to put a climax on a B-story and cap off Stavros’s biblical journey. The problem with this is that all of Stavros’s biblical journey was contrived by Malvo, except the fish. By actually having an act of god, you cancel out all the work Malvo put in to show how ridiculous living in the name of god is. Further, the vast majority of tornadoes that occur in Minnesota take place in the spring to summer months. Warm and humid conditions are needed. So a tornado in the middle of a blizzard simply doesn’t make sense.
My edit: Have Dimitri and security guy be driving through the blizzard, and a deer darts across the road (à la the opening scene in episode one, in which Malvo hits a deer in the middle of the night). They swerve, hit a telephone pole, die. Stavros finds them driving home after having stashed the money.
OR have them be driving through the blizzard, white-out conditions, and while Stavros is stashing the suitcase of cash on the side of the road, security guy and Dmitri’s car drills Stavros’s SUV that’s parked on the shoulder. They die all the same.