The first four episodes of Fargo this season were kind of a slow burn, which is a hell of a thing to say about a show that opened with a mass murder at a waffle restaurant and more recently featured a hapless typewriter salesman getting buried alive. But still, it’s true. Ever since Rye Gerhardt took out a judge and the staff of the Waffle Hut, everything that’s happened has been inching us toward a mob war between his family and the Kansas City mob. Last week, Joe Bulo and company rang the opening bell in the parking lot of a doctor’s office. This week, the festivities began in earnest. And things started happening quickly.
The beauty of that opening bloodbath was that it was the flip side of the tension coin that Fargo has been spinning all season. There have been multiple scenes so far where everything that was happening screamed impending doom, only for the show to pull back at the last second and let everyone walk away. (Sheriff Hank pulling over Mike Milligan and the Kitchens, Lou showing up at the Gerhardt compound and staring down Dodd, Lou running into Mike and the Kitchens in Skip’s typewriter store, etc.) Contrast that with last night, when the show set up this grand metaphor — a hunting trip where the Kansas City mob was preparing a war strategy, all laid over Ronald Reagan’s famous “shining city on a hill” speech — only to interrupt it with multiple people suddenly getting their heads blown off. This dramatic changing of the pace is one of the many elements that makes Fargo so great, and such fun to watch, with its long, slow moments where things develop punctuated every now and then by a dozen bullet-riddled exclamation points. Rest in peace, Joe Bulo and one of the Kitchen brothers.
The other big development in the Gerhardt-KC war was the little improv scene Dodd and Hanzee did at the dinner table, spinning Peggy and Ed’s involvement in Rye’s death from a set of cascading unfortunate circumstances into the actions of a notorious Kansas City hitman named “The Butcher of Luverne.” Dodd’s goal, clearly, is to manipulate Floyd and his family into going full-bore with the war he’s been pushing for from Day 1, but here’s the thing about that: Aren’t we kind of at full-bore already? I understand the murder of a child might make Floyd, like, angrier, but I’m not exactly sure how one turns the intensity up from “ambush your enemy, cut off his head, and mail it to his associate.” I’m sure they’ll figure it out. All I know for certain is that things will not end well for Dodd this season. There’s apparently gonna be a reckoning.
And while we’re on the subject of Dodd and people he mails detached heads to, I suppose we should mention Mike Milligan going about half-Draper on Dodd’s daughter in the hotel. Weird, generally unpleasant times all around for Simone Gerhardt last night, what with her lover combining demands and moderate sexual menace to push her to sell out her family (“If you want me to take you seriously, you have to be a serious person”), and her father basically threatening to stab her (“Being grown has a price”). But, I mean, at least she didn’t die in a butcher shop? Silver linings, I guess.
The case, in brief, that Fargo might also be the best comedy on television right now, in addition to the best drama:
- The show sent a teenage hit man into a butcher shop to commit a murder, only to have him fall in love with the morbid teenage employee at the register — whose name, according to IMDb, I swear to God, is “Noreen Vanderslice” — and end up leaving with a sack of meat.
- The show cast Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan and then had him stand at a urinal and compare Lou’s story about the evils of war to a movie he starred in once that he doesn’t remember the ending of.
- Everything Nick Offerman’s character has done this season. It seems like his funniest moment is going to be caving immediately after declaring he won’t shake Reagan’s hand because Reagan starred in a movie with a monkey (“It’s not dignified”), and then he turns around and asks Lou to pepper a presidential candidate with questions about which Hollywood actresses may or may not have venereal disease. The man is a treasure. If he gets killed, I will be inconsolable.
All of this brings us to the Blomquists, and the title of last night’s episode, “The Gift of the Magi.” The famous short story tells the tale of a young married couple so in love that they sacrifice their prize possessions — a gold watch and long, flowing hair — to buy gifts for each other, only for the gifts to end up being useless without those possessions. (Spoiler alert on that 110-year-old story, by the way.) The Blomquists’ story last night was kind of like that, except instead of “long, flowing hair,” it was “the recently repaired car that Peggy had almost killed a man with,” and instead of “a gold watch,” it was “Bud’s Meats, the butcher shop Ed wanted to buy, but is now a pile of ash after a struggle in the back led to the shop burning down and him driving a meat cleaver into the forehead of a Gerhardt assassin who was sent to kill him.” Basically the same. Shout out to O. Henry.
We are now at the halfway point of the season. There is a full-fledged mob war and a convoy of police cars are about to show up at the Blomquist home. Things are progressing nicely.
Odds and ends
– Bokeem Woodbine continues to be the MVP of this season, with his Mike Milligan being the equivalent of Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in season one. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a great piece about his performance for Vulture last week. You should read it.
– Are… are we assuming Bear’s son, Charlie, is dead? It sure looked like he died, via friendly fire to the temple, but we only really saw him fall down. No blood, no gaping head wound, etc. Fargo rarely leaves such murder-y things open to interpretation. I hope next episode opens with him taking Noreen to a movie with a giant bandage on his head. A long shot, given the fact that she watched him try to kill Ed and, again, the thing about a bullet possibly entering his brain? Sure. But let me dream. (UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, Charlie is alive, as you can see him getting loaded into an ambulance near the end. I will now resume writing my Charlie/Noreen — Chareen? Norlie? — fan fiction.)
– It’s very fun to know that the cop responsible for taking down Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard in 2014 liked to draw spaceships as a kid.
– Favorite line of the night, Non-Karl Division, was a tie between “So, we’re rooting for nausea, then” and Peggy pronouncing “tail of the snake” like “tail of the sneak.”
– Peggy pulling a 180 and bailing on her escape to California was an interesting development for a character who has shown very little interest in staying in Minnesota to become the wife of the local butcher, but it is not even 10 percent as interesting as her preposterous magazine collection. I must know more about this.