It’s always worth taking a look at the title of a Fargo episode before you dig into it because it might just give you a clue as to what the theme might be. This fifth episode is called The Gift Of The Magi, which refers to a story written by William Sydney Porter, which, in turn, tells the tale of a married couple who deals with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. Only in Fargo do you find these strange links between cult literature and storylines in a TV show, and The Gift Of The Magi can only refer to one pair of characters – the doomed Blumquists.
But first this episode of Fargo started off in superbly jolting fashion. We knew in the lead-up to this second series that a young, then-governor Ronald Reagan (played by Bruce Campbell) would feature and as the opening scenes developed, they were intercut with a speech an electioneering Reagan gave in Luverne to the locals to canvas support. He talked about a lack of spiritual core in society, harked back to the founding fathers, the dignity that underpinned their quest in setting up the nation. Alongside this stirring speech, Joe Bulo was out on an organised hunting trip with a local politician, hoping to forge a new relationship. But what he didn’t reckon on was the presence in the bushes of the Gerhardt gang and they sprang forth, raining bullets down upon Bulo and his men with brain-popping violence. The Gerhardts had been steeled by Hanzee and Dodd, who had told Floyd that Rye had indeed been murdered by The Butcher Of Luverne, a notorious killer hired by the Kansas City mob. It gave her declaration of war a chilling new dimension, and tipped the situation over into deeds rather than words.
Bulo and his gang were summarily wiped out, including one of the seemingly indestructible Kitchen brothers.
The scene felt like an escalation in more ways than one – no pussy-footing around, it was a stunning change of pace and a line drawn in the sand. As set pieces go it was brilliantly choreographed and brilliantly shocking.
After the success of the hit, Floyd had ordered that the Butcher Of Luverne be exterminated as well, much to a grinning Dodd’s delight. Charlie, who desperately wanted to prove himself as one of the family, asked if he could be the one who could pull the trigger. Dodd acquiesced but told his henchman to watch closely and make sure everything went smoothly.
And the rest of the episode built up slowly to its second big, hideous set piece. Who was The Butcher Of Luverne, this fictional character constructed by Dodd to tip his mother over the edge and declare all-out war on the Kansas City mob? Poor old Ed Blumquist.
Ah, the Blumquists. Caught in a maelström; an inevitable downward spiral into doom. Every decision they’ve made so far, seeming like a good idea at the time, pushed them closer to the abyss. They’re stupid and hapless and have surely dug themselves into a hole they can’t get out of, but there were signs that they were going down unified, at last. Ed wanted to stay and buy the store and raise a family, Peggy took the car from the garage and began to set of without her husband for California and a new life. But something stopped her. Barely out of the lot, in a moment of clarity she stopped the car and sold it to the garage, to help raise money to buy the shop for her husband. It was a startling turn-around. The Gift Of The Magi indeed.
But what of the shop and Vernon and Charlie… and Ed? It was an expertly plotted scene, ratcheting up the suspense and tension bit by bit. Charlie going in to do the deed a la Michael Corleone, flirting with the assistant, Noreen Vanderslice. They seemed instantly smitten with each other and there was a moment when they gazed into each other’s eyes I willed them to take off into the sunset. Vernon had told him to leave no witnesses, and this command weighed heavy on their sweet interaction. Their reverie was broken and Charlie re-focused when Ed appeared from the back. We then cut to Vernon waiting outside, on the edge of our seats. Would (could) Charlie go through with it? He eventually came out with a few steaks instead of Ed’s head on a platter. Deep sigh of relief.
But then things got nasty. Vernon, Dodd’s henchman, took control of the situation and fought with Ed in the back of the shop. Something caught fire. Charlie was shot dead. Against the odds Ed defeated Vernon in the inferno. It was breathless, a nightmare in flames.
With no shop to buy, Ed collected Peggy and decided it was time to go on the run.
Two stunning set pieces, but there was more. Simone Gerhardt found herself caught in the cross hairs of battle – her fearsome, abusive father and a menacingly angry Mike Milligan, who showed her Bulo’s severed head in a box, sent to him by her family. It’s not looking good for her. There was also more of the heartbreaking story involving Lou and Betsy. With Betsy’s symptoms getting worse Lou found himself taking a leak next to Ronald Reagan in a toilet on the next leg of his election tour. They got into a conversation, with Reagan recounting a movie story that confused war fiction with war reality. Lou, feeling as though they had bonded, told Reagan that he often wondered if the sickness in this world, the sickness he had seen in Vietnam, had somehow gotten inside his wife, manifesting itself as a cancer. Reagan, a bit bemused, told him that he believed that there wasn’t a challenge on this Earth that couldn’t be overcome by an American. Lou asked how. Reagan shrugged, looked a bit dumbfounded, patted him on the shoulder and walked out of the toilet.
It was poignant, but you weren’t quite sure why. Like the rest of Fargo.
For all our Fargo news and review, go here