This article contains spoilers for Fargo season 5 episode 10 and No Country for Old Men.
After an underwhelming fourth season, FX’s Fargo found excellence again with season 5. The fifth season of this anthology series inspired by the Coen Brothers’ film and created by TV auteur Noah Hawley returned to the “present” (or 2019 at least) for an inspired yarn about family, debt, and the creeping fascistic rot in small town America.
The cast was at the top of their game including Juno Temple (Ted Lasso) as the resourceful Dorothy “Dot” Lyon and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as “constitutional” sheriff Roy Tillman. Fargo season 5 didn’t need to stick the landing for its 10-episode saga about Dot winning her life back from the abusive Roy to have weight. Still, a good ending would have been one hell of a bonus. That ending arrives in the final episode “Bisquik” and thankfully, it’s a good one.
Let’s examine that ending now to examine how it serves the season that was and even the larger Coen Bros. canon.
R.I.P. Officer Witt Farr
If “Bisquik” has a flaw, it’s that its first act is spent hastily wrapping up what the penultimate episode already should have. It was quite clear that Sheriff Roy Tillman’s world was about to come crashing down all around him in episode 9 “The Useless Hand.” Both the feds and the local police were invading his North Dakota compound. It didn’t matter how many heavily armed sovereign citizen-types answered Roy’s call to make this the next Waco. Roy was finished, it was only a matter of how many people he’s going to take with him.
The answer to that question turns out to be: two. Roy begins the episode by killing his nagging father-in-law, who seems to have a lot of annoying opinions on how to resist the federal government. Shortly after that, Roy is non-fatally shut in the gut by Dot. That begins the shootout in earnest as Roy escapes to his underground tunnel system called a “dugout” where he scurries like a rat towards something resembling freedom. While down there, Roy is confronted by Officer Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris), one of the few unambiguous heroes in this story. Unfortunately, Witt is stabbed and ultimately dies for his morals.
Witt is still able to accomplish his central mission of keeping Dot safe though. For, as Roy emerges from his dugout, he is met by a cadre of officers, both state and federal. They were led there by Roy’s son Gator (Joe Keery), who despite now being blinded by Ole Munch (Sam Spruell), still knows where to guide the authorities to catch his pop.
Sheriff Roy Tillman Receives a Fate Worse Than Death
It turns out that Roy Tillman probably would have preferred that Whit Farr stabbed and killed him instead. Because one year after the shootout at his compound, Roy receives a visit from his nemesis, Dot’s mother-in-law and debt empire ruler Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at the federal penitentiary in Thompson, Illinois where he’s being held.
Roy seems to think that he’s going to do decently fine in prison, what with being a charismatic far right extremist and all. But Lorraine quickly reminds him that she possesses something far more powerful than he does: pretty much everyone’s debt. As she points out, 85% of all prisoners are in some form of financial debt or another. So she has kindly started a fund to help the prisoners in Thompson, Illinois relieve themselves of some of that debt – just by doing some small chores here and there. And by “small chores,” we mean “making Sheriff Roy Tillman’s life an absolute never-ending hellscape of pain and humiliation.” Lorraine makes sure to tell Roy that he is going to be feeling every bit of pain that his poor, abused wives felt.
What About Lorraine’s Debt Empire?
But also: maybe not “yay?” Something peculiar about the Fargo season 5 finale is that it doesn’t quite resolve one of its biggest themes of the season: debt. Sure, it addresses the concept of karmic, religious, or person debt quite well (more on that in the next section) but it falls short of addressing financial debt.
Yes, it’s great that Lorraine is in a position that’s powerful enough to properly punish a villain who truly needs punishing. It’s just that Fargo stops short of interrogating what it means for anyone to be in that position in the first place. As far as we can tell, Lorraine’s exploitation of the American debt class remains intact by the end of this story and her son Wayne Lyon (David Rysdahl), his wife Dot, and their daughter Scotty (Sienna King) are able to continue to live a comfortable middle class life because of it (surely Wayne didn’t buy a Kia dealership with the saving in his piggybank).
We’re all adults here and we don’t need Fargo to fully spell out “exploiting debt = bad” for us. At least some acknowledgement that Lorraine helped create a world in which a Roy Tillman could flourish would have been nice though.
Ole Munch’s Anti-Anton Chigurh Ending
Fargo season 5’s finale (and maybe Fargo season 5 overall) saves the best bit for last. As a triumphant Wayne, Dot, and Scotty settle in for a family chili night, they receive an unexpected visitor. Ole Munch* is sitting on the Lyon family living room couch to remind Dot that she still has debt to pay.
*Side note: it turns out that “Ole Munch” is pronounced in an incomprehensibly Welsh fashion – something akin to “Ooo-lah Mawnk.” It makes me feel like a dumbass for pronouncing it “Ol’ Munch” during my interview with actor Sam Spruell.
Dot’s debt is that, even though Roy Tillman is gone and even though Ole Munch helped her get out of a “tiger trap” before she could be killed in an unfair fashion, she’s still a part of this thing. She still killed Ole Munch’s partner. As the cursed Welshman puts it: “A man’s flesh was taken. Now a pound is required in return.”
At this point, it’s worth remembering that Fargo, the TV series, is based on both Fargo the movie and the larger canon of the incredible works of Joel and Ethan Coen. What happens next between Ole Munch and the Lyon family is highly reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ 2007 Oscar-winning epic No Country for Old Men.
The antagonists of Fargo season 5 and No Country for Old Men have quite a bit in common. Both Ole Munch and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) share bizarre haircuts, vaguely European accents, and mysterious origin stories. As we saw in episode 4 and as Ole Munch confirms to the Lyons again here, he is a relatively ancient creature – growing up in 19th century Wales before a sin-eating pact with a rich man locked him in to a life of damnation. While we don’t know exactly where Anton Chigurh comes from, it stands to reason that his history is equally tinged with evil and maybe even the downright supernatural.
In No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh is quite simply a force. By the time he appears before you, you’re already dead. The only prayer of survival that he’s willing to offer you is a coin flip. Several times throughout the film, Chigurh flips a coin to determine the fate of his victims and each time they lose.
In the film’s final scene, Chigurh similarly offers his target’s widow Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald) a coin flip to save her own life. But she does something amazing. She simply refuses. Carla Jean, despite being an undereducated small town Texas woman, picks up on Chigurh’s bullshit in a way that no one else can.
“The coin has no say, it’s just you,” she says.
We never see whether Chigurh kills Carla Jean but the fact that he investigates his boots for bloodstains upon leaving the house suggests he probably does. Regardless, something about Carla Jean calling him out fundamentally changes the nature of Chigurh. As he attempts to drive away from the scene, he gets in a car accident, severely wounding him in a way that would have seemed unthinkable throughout the movie. Whatever “power” he had is gone now. He’s not the boogeyman. Carla Jean turned on the light and revealed that he’s just a man.
Pretty much the exact same thing happens in the Fargo season 5 ending, albeit in a more optimistic context. Like Carla Jean, Dot Lyon possesses a folksy wisdom and she uses it to point out that Ole Munch’s “code” sounds really stupid.
“I understand keeping a promise,” Dot says. “But people always say ‘debt must be paid.’ Except, what if you can’t? If you’re too poor or you lose your job. Maybe there’s a death in the family. Isn’t the better thing – more humane thing – to say that debt should be forgiven? Isn’t that who we should be?”
Instead of indulging Ole Munch’s silly insistence that debt must be paid, Dot and Wayne merely invite him to dinner. When the chili is ready and the biscuits are made, he’s certain he won’t be able to taste them. After all, he hasn’t been able to taste anything since he ate that sin all those centuries ago. Dot, however, invites him to try anyway.
“It feels like that, I know,” she says. “What they do to us. Make us follow. Like it’s our fault. But you wanna know the cure? You gotta eat something made with love and joy. And be forgiven.”
Ole Munch eats the biscuit and his smile betrays that it tastes incredible. If only someone had thought to invite Anton Chigurh to dinner as well.
All episodes of Fargo season 5 are available to stream on Hulu now.
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