For an episode and a half we haven’t seen Ed and Peggy Blumquist, that dysfunctional, mismatched couple who have made bad decision after bad decision. The last we saw of them Peggy had survived Dodd Gerhardt and his gang’s attempt to take her out, while we saw Ed telephone Kansas City’s Mike Milligan to tell them he had Dodd in the boot of his car and wanted to make a deal. Other than that we didn’t really know how Ed and Peggy got to that point. Stand by – all those questions were about to be answered in stunning style.
I’ll start off by saying that this was one of the best hours of television I’ve seen this year. It was just stunning. All those strands in Fargo that we all love – the surreal humour, the tension, the darkness… everything aligned into something just about perfect.
As I mentioned at the top, this episode was about the Blumquists, Ed and Peggy. Peggy, of course, has, throughout this series, been driven by an insatiable need to ‘self-actualise’, which has led to dangerous, sometimes head-scratching decisions that have put her and her husband in mortal peril. This need for ‘self-actualisation’ is really a need – a desperate need – to escape her surroundings. So when Ed and Peggy decide to go on a little road trip to Ed’s uncle’s isolated cabin by a lake, with a trussed Dodd Gerhardt in the boot, the excitement and joy she shows in this change of location is palpable. While Ed chatters on about the pragmatic details of their situation – evading cops, using Dodd as leverage with the Gerhardts – Peggy is full of herself. The opening scene saw her sit in her basement after having tied Dodd up and hallucinate. Instead of Dodd she saw John Stanley Jr (the real-life founder of Lifespring), who told her (in a kind of Matt Berry-style voice) to stop thinking, and start being. So as Ed and Peggy were driving to their cabin bolthole, she was certainly high on the Kool-Aid of this hallelujah moment. You got a real sense that the situation, which had been weighing heavily on them both, was now energising her. At least in her mind – I actually felt that some of quest for ‘self sctualusation’ has been more of a coping mechanism, and a sort of psychosis was enveloping her.
(Once again, the title of this episode, Loplop, is important. It refers to a painting by surreal artist Max Ernst, and a character that is ‘an avowed codification not only of how artists see the world but of how they see themselves.’ ie. a persona.)
When they got to the cabin, Fargo almost shifted into warped sitcom territory. There has always been a sense of space in Fargo, the wide-open, white snowscapes giving a feeling of isolation and slightly supernatural wonder. But now, in the cabin, everything had narrowed into a much smaller space and, consequently, everything felt condensed and more intense. It wasn’t just the spacial differences that added to the tension. As Ed went out to call the Gerhardt family and make a deal (unsuccessfully), Peggy was left alone with Dodd, sitting on a chair and tied to a post. Dodd, lest we forget, is a brutish, misogynist killer, and there was always a ‘he could escape at any moment’ feeling lingering. But Peggy, clear-headed, confident and breezy even, was making chirpy small talk with her hostage. ‘The foot’s on the other shoe now,’ she smiled. This was met by a barrage of abuse from Dodd, so to show him who was in charge Peggy jabbed him with a knife in the fleshy areas of his chest. ‘Ow!’ shouted Dodd, and it was comical.
He was helpless and he knew it, and it was something he wasn’t used to. Dodd had regressed into a child as Peggy fed him beans. He still had sauce smeared over his lips as he spoke with petulance to Ed and Peggy. Again, it was funny. The dialogue, the choreography, the set-ups. It was pure farce and sitcom.
But this finely balanced mix of funny and menace couldn’t last, and it didn’t.
Once Hanzee (who had already downed a couple of police officers and a barman, and had forced Peggy’s friend Constance to half give away the couple’s location) crept into the area, you know there was trouble.
Ed, who tried for the last time to get in contact with the Gerhardts and instead contacted Mike Milligan, got back to the cabin to find Peggy unconscious on the floor and then found himself punched, noosed and strung up onto a wooden beam by an escaped Dodd, who was peacocking and grandstandingly espousing his thoughts on the female race. And then it all happened in a terrifying, hand-on-your-mouth blur: Peggy regained consciousness and reached for a knife, Dodd saw her and moved to intercept, Peggy stabbed him in foot, Ed was turning a deeply disturbing shade of purple as he swung from the beam, Peggy smashed Dodd with a metal fire poker, Peggy cut Ed down from the beam… it was thrilling, tense and followed some textbook elements of suspense. And it wasn’t over yet.
In walked Hanzee.
The Blumquists were done for, surely. In a stunning twist the faithful henchman turned his gun on a relieved Dodd and shot him between the eyes. He calmly turned to Peggy and asked for a haircut. Something professional. He was tired of this life, he told her. he looked tired, and as Peggy took his long hair in her hands he closed his eyes as if it was the first time he had been touched, basking in the sensuality of the moment. Incredulous, Peggy took some scissors and hovered over this most ruthless man realising that he had given her a chance to kill him. All this tension… over a haircut.
It was a stunning enough twist that Hanzee had killed his boss, who he had previously shown unwavering support, but now we were being thrown into another loop – a tense stand-off involving a haircut. It was unexpected, surreal and genuine genius.
In the end Hank and Lou had edged their way to the cabin, and Hanzee, stabbed by Peggy in the kerfuffle, was shot by the cops. He didn’t get the haircut he wanted.
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