The Coen brothers have a reputation for exploring biblical morality in many of their movies, Hail, Caesar! being their most religious yet. The writers of the Fargo television series have remained faithful to the Coen tradition. Seasons 1 & 2 serve as a cautionary tale of how belief fundamentally shapes moral behavior. This review focuses on Season 2 and concludes with a summary of both seasons. The review for Season 1 can be found here.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Season 2 is a prequel to Season 1, set in 1979. Lou Solverson is our hero, a young cop with a wife named Betsy and a daughter named Molly. Other than these characters, a connection to Season 1 isn’t immediately discerned. Many have said that the series could be watched in reverse without giving away spoilers. This much is true and will prove relevant to our conclusion.
In episode one, Waiting for Dutch, we catch a glimpse of Ed and Peggy Blumquist holding hands to pray before a meal. The Blumquists are religious to some extent, though we learn that it has no root in their lives. Ed has big dreams of owning a butcher shop and raising children, but he is oblivious to his wife’s needs and desires. Peggy is plagued with stress and anxiety. She’s a compulsive hoarder who yearns for satisfaction in what she perceives to be an unsatisfactory life. She isn’t happy at home, at work, or in Luverne, Minnesota.
The Blumquists become entangled in a web of lies and murder when Peggy accidentally hits Rye Gerhardt with her car. The Blumquists attempt to cover it up but without success; they quickly find themselves in the middle of a war between two crime syndicates. The season follows the Blumquists through one mishap after another. Ed and Peggy incur bad fortune as a result of their own actions. When faced with dilemma, they are wholly inadequate to make ethical decisions.
In the same way, Ed is unable to defend himself when challenged on matters pertaining to life, death, and faith. The cashier at Ed’s butcher shop, Noreen Vanderslice, spends her time reading philosopher Albert Camus. She agrees with Camus that life is ultimately absurd. Of course, Camus is an atheist and evolutionist, which should recall to us Malvo’s philosophy in Season 1. This is where Seasons 1 & 2 begin to find continuity. Ed and Noreen have the following exchange in episode five, The Gift of the Magi:
Noreen: Camus says knowing we’re all gonna die makes life a joke.
Ed: So what, you just–you just give up?
Noreen: You could kill yourself, get it over with.
Ed: Okay, that–that’s not… I-I mean, come on, you gotta–you gotta try.
Ed: You go to school, you get a job, you start a family.
Ed: That’s–would you please stop saying that? I’m gonna live a long, long life. My–my grandpa was 96.
Noreen: At which point he did what?
Ed then walks away from the conversation. The idea that life is meaningless does not sit well with Ed. He knows it can’t be right, but he is unprepared to give a defense for the hope within him (1 Pet. 3:15). The Blumquists are a nominal Christian family. They have the outward appearance of devotion, praying before meals and giving lip service to “traditional” family values – but a different reality lies beneath the surface. Faith plays no significant part in their lives.
In contrast are the Solversons. Officer Lou Solverson is a respectable family man. He loves his wife Betsy and daughter Molly dearly. He attends to their needs even while consumed with a complex mobster war; their safety and well-being is his top priority. Lou often lacks confidence in how to handle family crises – such as Betsy being diagnosed with cancer – but not without genuine effort. In his own way, Lou gives comfort to his family.
Betsy is a loving wife and mother. She is strong and determined, eager to help Lou find crime scene evidence and able to defend herself with a shotgun. Even nearing death, stricken with cancer, Betsy battles against the philosophy of Albert Camus. In the season finale, Palindrome, Betsy and Noreen have the following exchange:
Noreen: Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.
Betsy: Well, I don’t know who that is, but I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year-old girl.
Noreen: He’s French.
Betsy: I don’t care if he’s from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job and each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord… Well, you try tellin’ him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.
This is the first time we’re clued in that the Solverson family is religious. Just a few scenes later, their Christian faith is confirmed when the camera makes a point to show us The Little Golden Book of Hymns in Molly’s bedroom – a book filled with songs and prayers to Jesus Christ. The Solversons are a faithful Christian family. This family loves God, one another, and their faith is relevant to everyday life. Unlike Ed, Betsy exposes the absurdity of Camus’ philosophy and invokes the Lord. The meaning of life is found in him and his purpose for each individual – Camus be damned.
Rather than life being absurd, Fargo Season 2 shows us the absurdity of sin. It’s the life of crime that leads to a “meaningless” existence. The bad guys in this story either die, go to prison, or get the opposite of what they wished for. The Solversons, on the other hand, close out the finale drinking and laughing. Lou had a close call with death and Betsy still suffers from cancer, but in spite of it all they have peace and great joy. This is biblical justice. God causes the wicked to fall into traps and he upholds the righteous (Ps. 7:14-16, 37:35-40).
Season 1 depicts a world in which atheistic evolution reigns supreme; Season 2 takes us to an earlier time when the supernatural is accepted and defended. This explains the presence of UFOs in Season 2. They frequently appear in 1979 but are completely blotted out in 2006. Why? For the same reason God is blotted out. If the seasons are watched in reverse – from Season 2 to Season 1, in chronological sequence – we witness a drastic cultural shift. A world once full of faith and mystery becomes a world of insipid nihilism. Moral decline is the fruit of evolution.
When watched in order of release, however – from Season 1 to Season 2 – we are given hope for the future. We are reminded that the proper response to evil isn’t to embrace evil, but to turn toward Christ. This makes sense of Season 2 being a prequel. It points back to an ancient truth that must be rediscovered in every secular age: The Lord is your creator; your future is in his hands. An abundant life awaits those who embrace him.