The best new drama of the fall season, year two of FX's Fargo, wraps up Monday (10 p.m.) with many fates still on the table.
But while the show deserves the avalanche of praise it has received, even a very good show sometimes takes a misstep, and Fargo took a couple this past Monday.
They didn't compromise its greater quality. They were distractions that may have been noticeable mostly because its handling of a complex story has generally been so sure-footed.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead from earlier in the season.]
Last Monday's penultimate episode, like all good penultimate episodes, built to a climatic event, the "Sioux Falls Massacre." The loathsome Gerhardt gang and a bunch of foolishly overconfident local law enforcement personnel were mowed down in an ambush/shootout orchestrated by Ohanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) (above).
Ohanzee, a Native American, had long been a loyal Gerhardt soldier. He saw himself as family. But when the late Dodd Gerhardt called him a "mongrel" in front of Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst), that apparently made Hanzee realize, after years as a hands-on accomplice in the Gerhardts' ruthless, cold-blooded crime empire, that the Gerhardts were not good people.
Hmmm. Imagine that.
So Ohanzee plugged Dodd and slipped away plotting how to eliminate the other Gerhardts, which eventually involved luring them to the motel. The premise was complex, but suffice it to say the unsuspecting local Keystone Kops were already holed up there, primed to nail some Kansas City mobsters. Once the shooting started, it didn't stop until nothing moved.
That included Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), the clan matriarch, who avoided the shootout only to have Ohanzee gut her with a knife. Bummer.
Ohanzee also wanted to kill Ed and Peggy - he's just that kind of guy - but conveniently for the Monday's final episode, they escaped. So did State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson). Sheriff Hank Larson (Ted Danson) is on the "unclear" list, having been wounded by Ohanzee. Whether he survives is one of those fate questions that should get answered Monday.
Rooting for Hank to survive is just one of many reasons to watch Monday's finale. Other include finding out what happens to a half dozen other engaging characters, as well as miscellaneous matters of justice, karma and wry humor.
The show's level of quality has fittingly earned creator Noah Hawley a blizzard of critical acclaim, a gratifyingly large audience, a third season from FX (Yes!) and a long-term deal under which he will develop several other shows for FX.
Against that triumphant backdrop, it feels rather petty to take issue with a couple of small points from last Monday. But, again, perhaps they stood out simply because that has happened so rarely.
At the beginning of the episode, where ordinarily we see a screen tag about events being retold "exactly as they occurred," we saw a stately old book in which those events were apparently written down.
An unseen voice-of-God historian - who, in a nice touch, was Martin Freeman from Fargo season 1 - dropped in throughout the episode to offer solemn commentary about Ohanzee and the Sioux Falls Massacre.
It didn't ruin the show. It just wasn't telling us anything we couldn't figure out from the screen. All it did was make us wonder why it had suddenly shown up so late in the game.
This being Fargo, of course, it could have been simply a goof, a way to impart mock-stateliness to this down-and-dirty story. But the episode had enough going on that it didn't need this unannounced visitor.
The filming of the massacre, in general, was fine. Right in the middle, though, some bursts of gunfire were suddenly frozen, stopping the action for a flash of lethal light.
Why? Good question. This massacre needed nothing to enhance its impact. We already got that it was, well, a massacre.
But Monday's main "Huh?" moment was the arrival of an alien spaceship.
It looked like it flew directly from Close Encounters to the motel parking lot, where it hovered and sent circles of bright light onto the pavement.
Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson), who had been choking Lou, was so distracted that Lou was able to grab his gun and shoot Bear through the head.
So in that sense it was fortunate that the spaceship arrived.
As a dramatic device, though, it was as bizarre as finding a dollop of chocolate pudding on your Beef Wellington. Hawley is way too good to have decided that was the only way he could save Lou.
It seemed more likely that he felt the scene was a perfect place to drop in some surreal Fargo weirdness. But in a series that previously had no elements more mystical than Peggy's hilarious psychobabble, the spaceship took a scene that was purring along nicely, wind at its back, and slammed on the brakes.
There was no need for any viewer to come away from the massacre wondering why aliens were hovering over a Sioux Falls motel parking lot.
Unless even aliens figured they should check out Fargo.