Three main things happen in the ending. Two of them involve revenge on diabolical financier Hans-Erik Wennerström, and the other involves love and heartbreak. Some readers and reviewers find the ending lacking in energy and anti-climactic after the crazy thrills and chills of the mystery of Harriet Vanger. Alex Berenson of The New York Times says, "The story of [Blomkvist's] revenge is boring and implausible, relying heavily on lazy e-mail exchanges between characters. And so 'Girl' ends blandly" (source). And, sure, we can relate. Not everybody wants to hear about a convoluted international money laundering scheme.
But let's not forget Salander's revenge on Wennerström, which is decidedly spicier and more provocative than Blomkvist's. And how about the love and heartbreak laid out on the final page? That definitely had us racing to the bookstore for the sequel, the tears still dripping down our cheeks.
So what did you think was up with the ending? Well, while you think about it, we'll dive into more of the specifics of exactly what happened at the end of this one.
Blomkvist's revenge on Wennerström is exacted in print and in the media. He does with the Wennerström affair what he really wanted to do with the story of now-dead Gottfried and Martin Vanger, father and son serial rapists/killers. Namely, he exposes it to the light of public and official scrutiny. (In Blomkvist's "Character Analysis," we go into why he agrees to keep a lid on the serial killer story.)
Blomkvist's actions against Wennerström, whom we never actually meet, are only partially motivated by revenge. Sure, he wants to get back at Wennerström for destroying his credibility and making a fool out of him. But he's most concerned with actually stopping Wennerström from committing financial fraud, and facilitating a host of unsavory activities. As we learn,
[…] the Wennerström empire of obscure companies was linked to the heart of the international Mafia, including everything from illegal arms dealing and money laundering for South American drug cartels to prostitution in New York, and even indirectly for child sex trade in Mexico. (Epilogue.33)
So, this ties into the overarching issue of crimes against women that the novel explores. Exposing Wennerström also does wonders for Blomkvist's self-esteem, and renews his faith in himself as an agent for justice. Up to the point when he releases the dirt on Wennerström, Blomkvist's having the lowest year of his life. His good name is trashed, he's fined, and he's jailed, all on account of Wennerström. Then Blomkvist gets chained up in a psycho killer's basement, and pressured into keeping quiet about the matter, which screams against all his principles. After a year of losses, and a year of uncovering secrets only to bury them again, this win is much needed. Furthermore, Millennium is restored to previous dignity, something necessary to the plots of the future novels.
Salander's revenge is a tad more exciting than Blomkvist's and is exacted in two phases. First she goes to Stockholm disguised as Monica Sholes and Irene Nesser and steals most of Wennerström's money. Then she tells someone who wants to kill Wennerström where to find him. And, sure enough, Wennerström gets shot.
Salander's approach to revenge and her motivations are somewhat different than Blomkvist's. As you know, she operates with a different, though in some ways quite similar, code of justice. Salander doesn't care so much about Wennerström's financial fraud in and of itself. In fact, other than giving Blomkvist the info from Wennerström's computer, she doesn't feel any extraordinary need to go after the guy herself. When Blomkvist learns that Wennerström pressured a sexual partner into having an abortion by having his goons threaten her and hold her head underwater, he shares the info with Salander. She says, rather casually, "One more man who hates women" (28.196). But it's this very detail that puts Salander in hacktivist/vigilante mode and on Wennerström's trail.
Stealing Wennerström's fortune seems, in a sense, like a sport for Salander, something she can't resist doing when she figures out how (not that she tries to resist). But, it's also intended to bring about his death. The money Salander steals doesn't belong lock, stock, and barrel to Wennerström. Rather, much of it belongs to the other gangsters he's laundering it for. When they suddenly can't get paid, Wennerström is a man marked for death. So, why does Salander reveal Wennerström's whereabouts to a gangster but not to the cops? Salander can best answer that question herself: "I never talk to authorities" (25.71).
How do you feel about all this? Is Salander a better agent for justice than the authorities would have been if they'd captured him? Based on what we know about Wennerström, did he deserve to die? Does Salander deserve to have his money? What do you think she'll do with it? (In future books, this question gets answered.)
What she had realized was that love was that moment when your heart was about to burst. (Epilogue.71)
Now, here's another non-boring aspect of the ending, and the part which leaves us scrambling to get to the next book. Something important happens to Salander – she discovers she's in love (for the first time ever!) with Blomkvist.
So, what does she do? She tries to love, and it takes much more courage than it did to steal millions of dollars or to golf-club a serial killer. She goes and buys Blomkvist a present, so she'll have an excuse to visit him and tell him of her love. Inspired by his love for Elvis, she buys him a metal sign featuring the King and the words "Heartbreak Hotel." A fittingly ironic present given the circumstances, right?
But then it turns out to be not so ironic. Salander see Blomkvist with Erika Berger on their way for a love tryst (should've called first!) and her jealousy valve and fragile heart almost crash to pieces in the Stockholm streets.
This is Salander we're talking about so, no, she doesn't save the Elvis sign to give to him later, and then return to her place to calmly wait for another time when Blomkvist's more available. Rather, she tosses the Elvis in the trash. And that's how it ends.
Like Cecilia Vanger and Blomkvist's ex-wife, Salander can't cope Blomkvist and Berger's relationship. Like Cecilia, she can sort of deal with it, so long as she doesn't have to see it. It's not that Salander judges Blomkvist for his lifestyle; she's simply jealous and in love for the first time. With her super-low self-esteem, her answer to the pain is to cut herself off from it. Want see how she cuts herself off from it?
Well, first think of just how much money Salander has at the end of the book, in spite of her broken heart. Then check out The Girl Who Played With Fire. But before you run off to the bookstore, what are your predictions for the Salander-Blomkvist romance?