Article by: Frank Memmesheimer
Fargo S2 E6 Rhinoceros
What Would Elron do?
As masks come off and carefully maintained facades crumble, we learn who the people in Fargo really are. Buckle up, you’re in for a hell of a ride.
Ed is hauled away to jail instead of Peggy. There is no admission of guilt from her, no stepping into the breach for her husband. Her reaction tells it all. “You’re not going to proof my Ed did something wrong. It’s unprovable!” She is past denying the charges, yet further from grasping the reality of her situation than ever before. With Sheriff Hank staying behind to question her, Peggy’s only concern is to make it to her “Lifespring” seminar in time; the very seminar she voluntarily opted out of a few hours ago in order to make possible Ed’s dream of buying the butcher shop and saving their future together. Now, after Ed’s arrest, her decision is up for re-negotiation and right on the spot she desperately clings to her dream of self-improvement, of “becoming the best me I can be.” In the basement, beauty and travel magazines pile from floor to ceiling and give silent testimony to the unsatisfied expectations of disappointed life plans. Peggy is beset with what she does not have. She is ungrateful for the good in her life and ever unhappily longing for more, as the saying goes “Don’t read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” Peggy concedes, “I am living in a museum of the past.” There is no room for anything else in Peggy’s life but her unsatisfied desires. Revealingly, there is no room for anyone to sit down in her kitchen. All the chairs are inhospitably blocked by magazines.
Her fleeting chance for a new life is not only abstractly endangered by Ed’s arrest and Hank’s interrogation, it is visibly threatened by the Gerhardts’ arrival. We see Peggy’s survival instinct kick in as she charges Dodd and takes him out of the equation. She is in full fight mode. Woe betide those who from now on cross her path.
Dodd and Bear
There it is! The clash is happening. Just as I said – Dodd’s decision to task Charlie with executing the hit on Ed is what breaches Bear’s self-restraint. The provocation is obvious and deliberate, the consequence predictable. Bear is physically superior to Dodd. No question. If push came to shove and Hanzee was not around, Dodd wouldn’t stand a chance against his brother. Not in this world or any other. Dodd cannot back up his claim to leadership. He lacks the ways and means. His attempt to chastise his brother with a belt is meant to imitate their father’s tool of dominance but appears utterly out of place between grown men. “You want the strap or the buckle?” Bear’s reaction “Gimme the buckle, you piece of …” and willing surrender to the wrongful punishment is a sign of utter contempt, ultimate loyalty to the idea of family solidarity, and his submission under the appointed leadership for the greater good – even at his personal expense.
Mike is all about business. His adventurous stint with Simone might be an entertaining one, yet it is exactly that: business. She is an asset to him, not the love of his life. We need to remember this to understand his actions in this episode. When Simone calls with the demanded “state secret level information” of her brothers having left the ranch on a trip to beset Luverne, Mike Milligan has the upper hand he so waited for after Joe Bulo’s death. Simone finally takes sides and asks Mike to kill her dad Dodd for her. “Any last words for him, when I see him?” “Kiss my grits.” We see Mike load up, reciting The Jabberwocky, a nonsensical poem included in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, while the Gerhardts’ column of cars rolls toward their destination. An epic confrontation seems inevitable. I readied myself for it. Did it happen? It did not. Did I fall for it? Of course! I absolutely did. It was set up perfectly. Every effort (script, acting, editing, score) beautifully led me to the wrong conclusion. I expected an ambush somewhere along the road or in the vastness of the odd town. Kansas City’s strike against the safety of the ranch house hit me out of nowhere. Well done, Noah Hawley, well done.
Why do Mike and the gang go for the almost abandoned ranch instead of the whole outfit out there somewhere? Why this seemingly imprudent choice of the target? For one, they’d be plain stupid going head to head with an army prepared to wage war. Secondly, the lucid explanation is this: they are going for the head of the snake. Take out the long-lasting leadership (Otto and Floyd), then sit back and watch the rest tear each other apart. If Simone survives, she might feel betrayed by Mike’s devious offensive, yet he never promised her absolution and safety of passage. She is, after all, a Gerhardt.
This episode quickly becomes all Karl. Not only does he save the day, he singlehandedly defies everyone he comes across in the nicest intellectual way possible. When his back is against the wall and he is all alone in his corner (quite literally so), being the intermediary voice of reason between the armed police forces and the Gerhardt mob outside the precinct, Karl commits all to see sense and enlightenment triumph over wrongheadedness and outrage.
Just as the advertising says on the door: “Are you in trouble? You need Karl A. Weathers!”
I shall attempt to venture into Karl’s political views and feelings. Before you cast your stones in my direction, be warned about my political ineptitude. I may see hints and clues but might not be able to accurately name what you so obviously perceive. So what is the political climate of his day and age like that Karl seems to be tapped into? On one hand, Karl expresses his excessive mistrust of political institutions (paired with a noxious side order of conspiracy theories and surveillance dystopia). On the other hand he is transfixed by the savior figure Ronald Reagan, whose reiteration of the vision of American “manifest destiny” moves Karl to tears. He opposes the government’s intrusion into private life and disregards the state’s power endowed to its local representatives, he happens to be friends with. Yet without hesitation, the Lincoln-bearded lawyer utilizes the very rules and resources of the judiciary system to fight for the rights of his clients, all legalities aside. “I will return with the sledgehammer of justice.” So, is Karl a discouraged Democrat on a journey? A Republican? Can I call him an early Libertarian? A RINO maybe? There’s enough room here for us to mightily disagree on the issue. One thing is for sure, though: Karl is intriguingly conflicted.
Interesting tidbit: While the sober, private citizen Karl does carry a concealed firearm during daytime, inebriated Karl, the best (and only) lawyer in town does not. Don’t drink and carry, kids. It’s a big no-no.
In my review of episode 4 I called him “a blend of both the rational and the mysterious.” Let me elaborate further. In light of his Native American heritage, I had him pegged as the mysterious Native in an almost esoteric fashion: spiritually connected to all things around him, as I saw him “sense” the light phenomenon. In hindsight, I was wrong. I am glad I was and the creators didn’t fall for this corny trope. Hanzee is mysterious but only so because he reveals so little about who he is and what he is capable of. Let me recap a few bits and pieces from previous episodes to shine some light on his person.
Hanzee is a warrior. Remember the intimidatingly great monologue he delivers in front of Sonny in episode 4? “Do you miss it [Vietnam]? The country, the wet, the heat, the bugs. Do you miss it? It is this quiet I can’t get used to, this frozen winter. Do you work the tunnels? Send the Indian they’d say. Who cares about booby traps? Give Hanzee a flashlight and a knife and send him down into the black echo. Moving through the earth like a rat, killing Charlie.” Vietnam was the training grounds where he became a soldier. As a tunnel rat, his survival depended on his ability to read tracks and the world around him, to develop extraordinary situational awareness. He became invisible to the untrained eye. He picked up skills that benefitted his effectiveness as a commando soldier. In this episode’s both combat-like situations -when Dodd confronts Hank in front of Ed’s house and when Bear lays siege to the police station- Hanzee moves behind enemy lines to reconnoiter and take out key personnel of the enemy. He avoids the unnecessary killing of Hank, yet is prepared to take a shot at Ed. As Lou and Ed escape through the underbrush, Hanzee picks up their tracks and follows them. He follows mere meters behind them, completely unnoticed, until they meet Hank on a vacated road. Easiest thing in the world to use the element of surprise to his advantage and open fire on the three unsuspecting easy targets. Yet Hanzee doesn’t engage. He watches. And follows. He is not in for the easy kill. He is in for the thrill of the hunt. His appearance (both the iconic M-65 Jacket and the M16 assault rifle, which “premiered” in Vietnam) states the obvious: Hanzee is still at war.
He is the perfect soldier: self-sufficient and undemanding. Episode 3 shows Hanzee hunting his own food (a rabbit), episode 4 shows him returning from work and resting on the steps outside the house, drinking water from a garden hose instead of going into the ranch house and drinking water from a faucet in a glass. Bear thanks Hanzee for his service: “You never complained or made demands.” He is loyal to the Gerhardts, foremost to Dodd. Ultimately, he is loyal to Floyd, too. With Bear I am not so sure, although he extends his thanks to Hanzee (something Dodd never does) and reassures his belonging to the family. “I might not always have felt this way but you’re part of this family. There will always be a place at our table for you, with or without Dodd.” Despite all that, Hanzee is a warrior devoid of a proper cause and a true master.
+3 Gerhardt goons confirmed, totaling 30. Two unlucky guards are gunned down during the raid on the ranch; the third one falling victim to Dodd’s negligent jumpiness. I salute the bold move to keep from audiences even the slightest indication as to what happened to the people inside the ranch house. Are Otto, Floyd, Simone, and Dodd (in Peggy’s basement) well? Are they dead? Oh, boy. Noah Hawley (the creator of Fargo) knows how to build up tension.
Let me speculate. Dodd will turn out to be fine, if you exclude a headache and small second-degree burns. Otto might not make it. Even Floyd might turn out to die, protecting her treacherous granddaughter from the hail of bullets. What a turnout that would be for her imploring speech just moments before. “Simone, are you with us? […] Follow me example. Be a leader.” This might just be the hour of birth for the next generation of female Gerhardts to divide and rule, or, at the very least, exact revenge on the enemy’s leader Mike Milligan.
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Fargo S2 E7 Did You Do This? No, You Did It!
This family deserves the ground.
This episode was hard to stomach and caught me off guard several times. Bear taking care of the “Simone-situation” for example. I am still not over it. We neither hear him take the shot, nor do we see her body drop to the ground. Now, do I fear he did the unthinkable? I do. Am I certain he did the unthinkable? I am not. What could be worse than shooting his niece in a snow-covered forest? Leaving her behind, punished with exile and carrying the burden of being responsible for every death and misfortune the family experienced. “That’s all on you.” What’s worse than death? Living with fatal guilt.
Mike turning against the Undertaker is another such moment. The confrontation seemed unavoidable, as the Undertaker himself made sure his gun was where he thought it would be. But striking preemptively without the slightest provocation? Mike must value avenging his friend Joe Bulo’s life more than succumbing to the crime syndicate’s instructions.
Up by 12, totaling 42. Floyd has lost her husband Otto to the skirmish with Kansas City and buries her silk wedding dress along with the love of her life. Rough times for the Gerhardts. Remember Floyd’s associates who pledge allegiance to her? “When the Kansas City mooks come at you shootin’, we’ll cut their goddamn noses of their faces.” Hear, hear. Within minutes of this episode they meet their (un)natural ends. Consequently, KC’s headquarter is retaliated against. Mike and Bear are caught in this ever gaining vortex of violence where the only direction available is further down into the black echo. Escalation gives way to excessiveness and ultimately leads to indifference, just as Mike, loosely quoting the Duke of La Rochefoucauld foreshadows: “If the goal is to kill those who oppress you, what does it matter who goes first?”
What’s It Really About?
Family. That’s all this season has been about: stress-testing the idea of family in times of crises. With the Blumquists, the Gerhardts, and the Solversons serving as test subjects, different concepts of family are under scrutiny. A prospective young DINK couple about to cease the future, a classic father/mother/child family with traditional distribution of roles, and a long-standing, extended cross-generational family dynasty. They all “work” in one way or the other, yet show different characteristics when it comes to their inclusiveness (who is “in” the family and who is “out”), to how they communicate internally, and how they behave when confronted with unforeseeable circumstances that threaten the joint future.
The Blumquists, Ed and Peggy, the young couple (to this point without a child), are both full of dreams about their future. It is a recession, true, but a life full of possibilities lies ahead of them, waiting to be shaped. Is there reason for concern because their respective dreams are fundamentally different? Because they act in good faith and “do” for the relationship but misjudge the needs of the other? Because they don’t “see” each other’s true self? Certainly. The original problem, however, is their inability to communicate. Ed and Peggy are so focused on their own vision for a good life together that they are blind to the reality and needs of the partner (Ed’s plan to stay in his childhood Minnesota home to start a family of their own vs. Peggy’s desire to start over in California). Over time, the dissent results in a discrepancy of commitment (Ed willingly taking the blame for Rye’s death vs Peggy doing “her thing”). Ed is suffocatingly dedicated, while Peggy increasingly distances herself (the magazines, birth control pills), searching for a way out (the seminar). Ed and Peggy are both so full of themselves that their relationship is nothing more than a dreamy partnership of convenience.
The Gerhardt family ranch and business has provided for generations. When this very security and independence is threatened by an outside threat, the family does not stand as united as they should. Rather old differences emerge, greed for power has its way, and selfishness triumphs over community mindset. The Gerhardts are an example of almost Shakespearian proportion for the dissolution and the downfall of a family. The only good thing the Gerhardts ever did was taking in Hanzee at eight or nine years of age. “You’re family. There will always be a place at our table for you.”
The Solversons are the only hopeful family in Fargo. Father, mother, and daughter – the nuclear family that dares defy all difficulties life throws at them. There are plenty. Betsy’s mother dying a few years ago, her father being by himself now, Lou going to war in Vietnam, returning to work a dangerous job, her own cancer diagnosis. Life is busy throwing rocks at the Solversons. How do they deal with it? Two secrets. First: Lou and Betsy communicate. They’re a team. Their nightly phone calls and bedside conversations reveal the scale of caring intimacy and knowing dependence on each other. Second: They are inclusive; they welcome others into the family. Hank. Noreen, after her home burned down. Sonny and Karl, friends who offer and receive help. At the family’s very center is Betsy; she is the heart of it all. The classic family rises above its traditional scope. The people you let into your life – they’re family.
About that UFO. I was ready to forget about it, let it slide. But when Betsy enters Hank’s private study at his house the issue is back on the table, more than ever. Betsy is as surprised as we are. The way the room is “decorated” with symbols and hieroglyphs is similar to the way evidence is presented in a squad room; more chaotic, though. Is Hank conducting an investigation? Is he trying to decipher the symbols in an attempt to communicate? Is he plain crazy? Oh, by the way, Hank’s cat is missing. Isn’t that usually a precursor for alien interventions?
When Ed calls Mike to arrange handing over Dodd, he does so from a public phone booth. Take a good look at its glass wall. Someone has been playing hangman with a rather interesting mystery word. Sioux Falls, SD. The ominous place that lend its name to the horrifying case aged Lou and Ben Schmidt remembered in season 1. So far, 7 episodes into a season of 10, not a single person has visibly died in Sioux Falls. We learn that Hanzee shot at two police officers in Sioux Falls while looking for the Blumquists. Peggy’s seminar is in Sioux Falls. Ed is headed to Sioux Falls with Dodd in the trunk of his car. Where Dodd is, Hanzee is not far – thus completing the circle. Prepare yourselves for the worst.