As Fargo settles into its stride there’s a sense that nothing is real. Or at least some things are. We just don’t know. That’s the beauty of Fargo, this snow-bound wasteland where strange things happen. Where bad things happen. War was one of the unifying themes in this fourth episode – Korea was mentioned, Vietnam was referenced a lot, and the Gerhardts had to decide whether to go to war with Kansas City.
There was another stunning scene to begin the episode, one that was out of kilter with the rest of the timeline but crucial in explaining a character’s back story. We were taken back to 1950s Fargo, where a young Dodd Gerhardt was travelling with his dad, Otto, to the nearby cinema. There they were given an audience with a local crime lord, who asked Otto whether he wanted to sit on his throne. “A killer can’t be a king,” said the sneering capo. As he watched a sci-fi B-movie onscreen, the crime lord said there was no space at the table because there was no table. “It was stupid to bring your kid,” he told Otto, as he instructed his henchman to put a bullet in his rival’s head. “The boy’s gotta learn how men are,” replied Otto calmly. Just then young Dodd thrust a knife into the back of the crime lord’s neck. A career and a life had been born.
Fast forward to the present day and we see Dodd in full thug mode when, with Devo’s Too Much Paradise lurching onto the soundtrack, he expertly and fearlessly takes down two Kansas City men in a coffee shop with tasers. For no apparent reason. Not the best idea he’s ever had.
With him that day is Charlie, who’s eager to learn the ways of the Gerhardts. Like his before him, Dodd takes it upon himself to teach him.
Fargo’s families and residents begetting violent act after violent act is one of the feature of this second series. Once they’re caught up in the hamster wheel of violence, they can’t get off it despite opportunities to do so. The euphoris, the power… it’s what these Fargoans live for, and inevitably die for. There were two huge opportunities two families to jump off the hamster wheel in this episode, but it seemed the thrill of being in vortex was just too much.
The Kansas City intermediary, Joe Bulo, came to sit down with Floyd to discuss the terms of his Kansas City family’s buy-out proposal. In a scene redolent of the one she shared with her son around the family dinner table a few episodes ago, Floyd stared down Joe Bulo at the other end of the table and told him straight – that her family would not accept their terms, but would be willing to compromise. They wanted a power sharing deal that would make both sides happy. Bulo refused, with respectful reasoning. Dodd’s attack on his men earlier in the day hadn’t given the Gerhardt’s much wiggle room and Bulo told Floyd, just as firmly, that if she didn’t accept a compete buy-out, now at a reduced rate, every member of her family would be exterminated.
She had 24 hours to decide. She decided it was to be war.
For Dodd, war and violence is all he has known, ever since that day in the cinema. For him this is life; for him this is a natural cycle. There’s a touching scene in the car after the negotiations have broken down where Dodd is horsing around and acting like a puppy, trying to get his mother to cuddle him. He’s aware that Floyd hates him right at that moment, but his mother acquiesces and accepts him onto her shoulder. The look in her eyes say it all – she knows her son will die, sooner rather than later. That is the way of things and that is the consequence of their decision. This is the life they live.
The Blomquists were also at a crossroads. Their relationship was starting to break down, the business of the crashed car and Rye Gerhardt seemingly the tipping point to something irrevocable that had been bubbling under the surface for a long time. Ed wanted to buy the butcher’s shop and stay in the town, living a quiet, family life. Peggy, who had been hiding that she was still taking birth control from her husband, had also blown the couple’s life savings on the Lifespring course, thus denying her husband the chance to buy the butcher’s business. (Earlier, Ed asked Peggy to go on a cheaper course so they could afford to buy the butcher’s shop. “A cheaper course, so I could be a less good me?” she answered.)
They’re the most incompatible couple in television, but they still had a choice, given to them by Lou Solversen. Hahnzee, the Gerhardt’s expert and sinister Native American tracker, had been snooping around – to the tune of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – and found what he had needed to incriminate the couple. Lou got there just in time. After seeing the Blomquist’s car in the garage and putting two and two together, he went to see them to give them a way out. He used an old Vietnam story – about knowing when you’re dead – to gently lead them down the right road. Tell the truth now and they could fix what they had done.
Ed and Peggy decided not to tell the truth. Although this might be their death knell, this also might be the only thing that keeps them together.
And of course there was some other stuff, too. Mike Mulligan was surprised when Simone Gerhardt inserted her finger into his anus during their lovemaking session, and poor Betsy Solversen’s cancer had spread and was given an experimental drug in a painfully, tragi-comic scene. She was to be given a placebo, and had no idea what was real and what wasn’t.
With so much metaphor, symbolism and false metaphor (hello UFOs) if ever there was a metaphor for this excellent series, Betsy’s placebo pills were it.
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