A review of tonight's “Fargo” coming up just as soon as you gimme a chocolate glaze…
“You still think it's Tuesday. You have no idea what's coming.” -Lou
Last week on “Fargo,” everyone was raising a whole lot of fuss over the whereabouts of a man the audience knew to be dead. With “Fear and Trembling,” Rye's fate starts to become clearer to Lou (with some previous help from Betsy), Hanzee, and Mike Milligan, and the big question shifts to something else:
Who's already dead and just hasn't realized it yet?
The episode opens with a clear example of that, as we flash back to 1950, and a younger Otto using a very young Dodd to get him out of a jam with a business rival, murdering a man who thought he had all the power right up until the moment the little kid stabbed him to death. And it closes with yet another war story from Lou, as he tries to warn Ed and Peggy that they're on the verge of becoming like a fellow soldier whose brain stayed alive only slightly longer than his body.
We know from Lou's season 1 references to this time period that a lot of blood is still coming, so the only thing left to wonder is whose fate is already sealed and who (other than Lou, Molly, and Ben Schmidt, who will be Gus Grimly's boss one day) still has a chance to make it out of the story alive.
Let's look at some candidates:
Betsy: We know Lou largely raised Molly on his own, and the only pause I have putting Betsy here at all is that she very clearly knows she's dying, and that the clinical trial suggested by the doctor with the terrible bedside manner isn't likely to change that. She's more at peace with it than Lou, and seems more troubled by the notion of being treated differently than by the illness itself. The only question is whether she somehow becomes collateral damage in the Gerhardt/Kansas City feud and dies a less than natural death.
Ed and/or Peggy: Hard to picture a scenario where both survive, and I'd say her chances are better because she's slightly smarter and a whole lot more ruthless than he is. Then again, season 1 suggested some kind of moral force in the “Fargo” universe, and perhaps that force takes pity on Ed for being so hoodwinked by his special lady.
Hanzee: He knows Ed and Peggy were involved in whatever happened to Rye, having meticulously followed the clues – albeit pausing briefly to observe the UFO, or whatever it is, when it appears in broad daylight above the Waffle Hut – and the only way to keep them part of the game a little longer might be to have Lou or someone else take him out before he can relay the information back to Fargo. I like what Zahn McClarnon's doing – in a role with very little on the page so far, with his stillness bringing most of the power to that performance – too much to lose him yet, but it might be necessary if the show has bigger plans for the butcher's apprentice and his wife.
Dodd: Again, the episode opens with the start of his homicidal career, and it might seem fitting for the season to depict the end of it. He's so difficult to deal with that even his own daughter doesn't seem to mind the thought of Mike Milligan taking him out, and there are times when it looks like even his own mother would be relieved to be rid of him. But then when he cries in Floyd's arms like a little boy – like the boy he really hasn't been since that incident in the movie theater – she's a protective mother once again. Speaking of which…
Floyd: Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers successfully goad her into going to war with Kansas City, and while another of her sons – or, worse, grandson Charlie, eager to follow Uncle Dodd's lead, and good at shooting and reloading one-handed – seems the more likely victim in all this, it's also not hard to picture her suffering for their sins.
Otto: I don't expect him to die in the course of this story, but the stroke has rendered him the most overt example of the dead man walking concept. The Otto that everyone followed and feared is gone, and all that's left is this shell that can see and hear and think, but can't say or do anything about anything.
Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers: No, I refuse to even entertain this possibility, at least for Mike Milligan, a man so cool I must always refer to him by his full name. In fact, I'd put pretty good odds on one of the Kitchens having to mourn the other. But Mike? Please no. Let's move on.
Simone: Going against the family – even if the most direct relation of that family has treated you like garbage your whole life – doesn't tend to work out too well in this kind of story.
Hank: Not much doing this week, but if Lou has a Get Out of Death Free card in this story, maybe another lovable lawman will have to suffer in his stead.
It's really remarkable how this season has managed to balance this never-ending sense of doom with a comparable level of fun. So much is happening all the time – the season is, frankly, busier than “True Detective” was at this point in year 2 – yet almost every piece (maybe not the UFO, but we'll wait and see on that) of it feels clearly connected to every other piece, all of it being presented with a deceptively gentle touch, given how tense and violent it all is. Just look at the bakery scene, and how quickly it pivots from tough violence to the deadpan comedy of Dodd not only ordering the chocolate glaze, but billing it to the guys he and Charlie just beat up. Or look at Simone and Mike Milligan post-coital chat about her father, the Flower Children, the '70s as a hangover to the bliss of the '60s, etc., and the way the ease of it only somewhat masks how artfully Mike Milligan is working this girl.
It's not easy being this dark and this light at the same time, but through four episodes, “Fargo” is pulling it off remarkably well. I want to see so much more of every character, even as I imagine bad things coming to a lot of them, and soon.
Some other thoughts:
* Songs tonight included “Topsy” by Count Basie, “Too Much Paranoia” by Devo, and “Down in the Willow Garden” by Bon Iver & The Chieftains (a different version of that song is used in “Raising Arizona”).
* It's our second episode in a row with a credited writer (Steve Blackman) who is not Noah Hawley.
* Not the most convincing of wigs on Michael Hogan in the 1950 flashback, but it's hard to de-age an actor that much.
* “Moonbase Freedom,” like “Massacre at Sioux Falls,” was not an actual Ronald Reagan movie.
* After the first episode, some of you understandably compared Karl Weathers to Walter from “The Big Lebowski, but Karl kept his cool while facing off with Hanzee at the garage, whereas Walter (also a veteran) likely would have charged right into battle, against an opponent far more dangerous than the former members of Autobahn.
* The Kitchen brothers play Solitaire side by side, because of course they do.
* Between this episode (with Ed and Peggy's terrible sex scene, and Otto's physical exam) and last night's “Leftovers,” this has been quite the week for male nudity that will alter the way I view certain characters from previous shows when I watch the repeats.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com