Article by: Frank Memmesheimer
Fargo S2 E8 Loplop
Ya don’t ask, ya just go!
“Stories used to be a lot simpler, that’s for sure,” Floyd Gerhardt reminisced last week. The plot thickens this week as the unfolding events leave the world in disarray and noticeably accelerate towards this season’s climax.
The Little Things
The last straw. The ultimate drop. The final nail. Ultimately, it’s the little things that throw people off balance. One word too much too often, the wrong look at the wrong time, a word of recognition not spoken at all for the last time. One little injustice, carefully placed on top of the accumulated indignities, is all it needs to set the world is in fire. This episode parades a whole bunch of Fargoans waiting to ignite at any given moment.
Meet O’Hanzee Dent, war veteran. Fought for his country.
Three tours in Vietnam. Repeatedly. Dutifully.
Bronze Star. Awarded for heroic achievement or meritorious service.
Purple Heart. Bleed for his country.
The reward of his sacrifice?
“Not an American.”
The list of insults in word and deed is as long as the list of ungrateful coevals. The humiliation Hanzee has suffered on a daily basis for years, finally discharges in the back alley of an irrelevant drinking establishment. “I just wanted a glass of water.”
It might be best to let Peggy actually speak for herself. She does that, nowadays. Speak for herself. To herself. With people who are there and those who aren’t. “Here I am, trying to actualize fully. That’s no small thing to review, to reflect, to contextualize. […] I did have kind of a break through. A vision. I can see things a whole lot more clear now.” What a relief.
Ed: Honey, did you stab the hostage?
Peggy: I mean, I had to teach him some manners is all.
“We’re doin’ it, Ed. We’re actualizing!” – Are YOU actualizing fully?
As Ed strolls through the gas station’s convenient store, his gaze settles on a shelf full of Hamburger Helper™. Bad memories there. I mean, what is one supposed to do with 120+ pounds of Rye-flavored ground meat, eh!? Chances are Ed sold at least some of it before the butchery burned to the ground. Did we just witness the timid last breath of whatever is left of Ed’s conscience?
1951. Enter Dodd Gerhardt. His life of crime starts with a knife to the base of the scull of his father’s enemy. Speak of a traumatizing experience for a child.
1979. What an exit. Tasered. Punched in the face. Thrown in the trunk of a car. Tasered again. Bit his own tongue. Wrapped up and tied to a wooden post. Stabbed in the chest, twice. Feed some beans against his will. Freed himself. About to gain the upper hand. Then stabbed in the foot. Cut his own hand. Hit across the head with a fire iron. Final glimpse of hope before his assumed savior takes him out of the game for good.
“I think Satan is a woman.”
Get in line, people of Fargo, there’s enough PTSD for everybody.
This Looks Familiar
This episode has everything a good kidnapping drama needs. A prominent abductee, kidnappers who are in way over their head (and slowly losing it), misunderstandings and disagreement, a shady deal, and then there’s the matter of the guy breathing down their necks, trying to find them, and ending it all. The almost tangible danger of unknown proportions.
We’re back to the original Fargo’s erratic cabin life, where anything and everything can happen at any given moment.
This episode visually bows before two of the Coen brothers’ iconic scenes. Hanzee, stoically questioning a gas station owner about Ed, not taking no for an answer, recalls an infamous encounter of similar nature in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men. In both instances, the clerks behind the counter get to live on, not fully aware of how close a brush with death they had. Cut to the cabin by the lake, where Ed and Peggy hold Dodd until they have figured out their next move. While Peggy is trying to fix the flickering TV screen, their hostage is properly wrapped next to a wooden post in the cabin. Ring a bell?
Eventually, the kidnappers in the original Fargo turn on each other with fury. “Going crazy by the lake.” Clues hinting at the inevitable?
The body count does not fail to rise once again. We’re up by 4, totaling 46. The racist bar-owner had it coming (still am surprised Hanzee only kneecapped the shitkickers outside), the two Sioux Falls police officers were sadly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dodd, however – well, … that was … somewhat unexpected. Didn’t see that coming. Always felt he would make it to a point where he would see the destruction he brought upon his own. Then, after recognizing his ineptitude, and only then would he promptly die. His actual death speaks volumes to his way of life. UIn his most perilous moment, Dodd is saved by his confidante – and all he has to offer in return are words of scorn. Entitled, ungrateful and unaware of what is really going on in the world around him, he dies before he even can comprehend Hanzee’s betrayal.
46 people dead, two episodes left. There’s only one way this can go from here.
This season has turned out to be tremendous television. Rightly so, it has been pocketing praise, great ratings, and come 2016, hopefully an arm full of deserved awards. This season has been fantastic and my continuously high ratings of often 4,5 or 4,75 express the obvious: Fargo is as good as it gets. The suspense, the action, the surprises, character development, dialogue writing, cinematography – this series excels. At everything. In hindsight, I often found myself forced to exaggerate minor details in my forming of an opinion to arrive at differentiated numbers. “Loplop” breaks this cycle. It’s 5 for 5. Well done, Fargoans!
I cannot fail to mention the recent outburst of enthusiasm Guillermo del Toro and Steven King have shown for Fargo. One might point out, though, that it’s fairly safe to do so now, since a successful season accelerates towards its anticipated climax.
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Fargo S2 E 9 The Castle
We are not alone.
Let’s all sit down for a moment, catch our breaths, pick up our jaws, and think this one through with a clear head.
Let’s start by not beating around the bush here. The UFO. I mean, to see Hanzee betray Floyd and Bear like it was nothing was heartbreaking. Easily every episode’s peak, plot-wise. As if that wasn’t enough already, the looming uncertainty of the last eight episodes suddenly manifests in its inescapable actuality. The UFO is real. We saw it. They all saw it. It’s real.
But is it really? This season began with bright lights of unknown origin in the Minnesota night sky. One among the innumerous alleged sightings of a UFO in the US in the 1970s. Was it more than just a plausible, contemporary backdrop to the story? The clues were scarce but they were there, along with reasonable arguments against extraterrestrial involvement. With Rye Gerhardt witnessing the lights, the narrative focus of the story was on a character in an unreliable state of mind. Triple homicide on his hands, adrenaline pumping – was isn’t just Rye’s mind playing tricks on his senses? Fast forward to the recent incident. Similar story here. As the UFO appears, the narrative focus is with Lou as he is being choked by Bear, close to losing consciousness. A credible witness? A full hand of people actually see the UFO. Lou, Bear, Hanzee, Ed, and Peggy. But will they live to tell the tale? (Just a though I will expand on further down.) Their reactions vary widely: slight confusion, utter unbelieve, shock, even indifference. I love Peggy’s trivial sense of urgency: “That’s just a flying saucer, Ed. We gotta go.”
The factuality of the appearance of the UFO can only be determined in conjunction with the overall veracity of Fargo and the narrative devices of choice.
“This Is a True Story”
Once again, the notion of “trueness” of the events depicted here needs scrutinizing. More than ever after today’s episode. As many have argued before, regarding the prefixed notion in the Coen brothers’ original Fargo: its foremost goal is to suspend disbelief and to ease audiences into going along with aspects of the plot that seem unlikely, even hardly credible. A certain wood chipper comes to mind. The preface exposes the sometimes questionable choices and actions of the characters for what they are: outbursts of human idiocy. Rational thinking taking a break from it all. Mental blackouts. The one thing they are NOT is flawed writing, fiction calling attention to its own fictionality. As is the nature with stories, the underlying events might undergo some gentle changes every time they are being told to a character by a character. Their core, however, remains to be true.
Two years after the original Fargo movie, an introduction to its screenplay surfaced. Its writer, Ethan Coen, took his time to elaborate on the nature of ‘true stories,’ preparing the minds of readers for what they were about to encounter.
“Why not believe it? The world, however wide, has folds and wrinkles that bring distant places together in strange ways. […] The stories that are not credible will occasionally, however, turn out to be true, and stories that are credible will conversely turn out to be false.” (http://home.swipnet.se/~w-37337/l0dg3/film/fargo.txt)
So, when we ask “Is this a true story?” – what we actually mean to ask is “Was the UFO real?” Let’s take a look at the narrative device of choice for this episode: The History of True Crime in the Mid West. Season 1’s Martin Freeman lends his voice to the beautifully narrated case study of chapter 14, “The Waffle Hut Massacre” and the small town beautician and her butcher husband at its core. The book is a collection of various recollections of the very events that have been unfolding before our eyes for the past eight weeks. Question worth asking? Whose accounts are we being told to take for a fact? And how many alterations did their stories undergo before they reached the historiographer? Is the sighting of the UFO corroborated by numerous sources or is Lou ultimately the only surviving witness? Does his close-to asphyxiated state of mind corrupt his testimony? Would he have talked about his observations after all? And finally: Who is that narrator we’ve been giving our attention to and can we trust him/her?
The matter of the UFO, showing up all Deus-Ex-Machina, sounds as surreal as it gets. Could be a clever hoax. Or as factual as matter goes. The unlikely nature of the event alone, however unlikely, is not enough to proof it actually didn’t happen. It very well could have. Just because we don’t know about ‘something’ doesn’t mean ‘something’ didn’t happen. As with most aspects in life it’s not a “check-A-or-B-type scenario.” It’s up to the audience to decide what happened. And whether that’s important or not at all.
Body Count / Matters of Life and Death
The body count goes through the roof. Even Mike Milligan is rendered speechless at the sight of the Motor Motel’s parking lot. 19 lives violently ended in this episode alone. Constance, unceremoniously strangled. Floyd, gutted like a fish. The Bear, taken by surprise. The Gerhardt family betrayed and eradicated. The sole bearer of the family name, Charlie, is (un)luckily locked away in a county jail. Of all law enforcement officials involved, only three see the end of the firefight. Ben Schmidt, knocked unconscious by Peggy. Hank, gut-shot. Lou, hunting Hanzee hunting Ed and Peggy.
The only people we know for sure to make it out alive of season 2 are Ben Schmidt, Lou and his daughter Molly. They have season 1 plot-armor. As for Hank and Betsy, who are both clinging to dear life, I have not much hope. It’s the dilemma of the dichotomy of life that both the people closest to Lou are in most desperate a need for his presence, when his presence is the one thing he cannot give. Betsy is at home, waiting for her husband to return from a vile world to the safety of the familiar. She patiently suffers through his absence for the greater good of the surrounding human kind. Her man is keeping the world a safer and better place. She loves him for exactly that, for who he is. Lou is righteous, upstanding, and invested. His commitment to the case and the well-being of Ed and Peggy (who meant nothing but trouble for him over the course of the week) goes above and beyond the call of duty. Even after being told to stand down and being escorted out of the state, he does not shy away from doing what is right. At the crossroads between South Dakota and Minnesota, he arrives at the decision to not go home to his sick wife (which is what he to do) but to follow up on a new lead that may bear the chance to prevent more bloodshed. The insoluble dichotomous question of whose well-being takes precedent: one’s own (and that of those one loves) or the well-being of those one swore to serve and protect. Lou is dutiful, even to his own expense and to the expense of the dying love of his life and the heart of his family. It’s decision-making time at the symbolic crossroad. Has Lou sacrificed his chance of a final farewell for a case?
A second instant, not too long after the first, demands Lou make another decision. Ed and Peggy are on the run with Hanzee in pursuit. Hank is severely wounded on the upper floor of the motel. Which situation requires Lou’s presence more? He cannot rush to help both. He chooses to help Hank and arrives at a sight that bears painful resemblance to a conversation he has with Ed and Peggy in their living room.
“There’s a look a boy gets when he’s been shot. He’s lying there, in the mud, trying to get up. ‘Cause he doesn’t feel it yet. His brain hasn’t caught up with reality, which is he’s already dead. But we see it, the rest of us. And we lie. We say ‘Lie still. You’re gonna make it.”
The only difference between Lou’s war story and the present predicament: Hank and Lou both know what’s going on. So they lie. To themselves. Both trying to console the other.
Hank: “You go, I can make it.”
Lou: “Dinner on Sunday?”
Hank: “I’ll be there. In a suit armor.”
They both know that’s not going to happen. One last short-lived intense look into the other’s eyes. A silent, hasty goodbye before duty calls her man of law once again.
It presents itself almost like an inside joke that the persona of The Butcher of Luverne gains traction with and the admiration of Mike Milligan. Starting with last episode’s awkward phone call to Mike, the visible side of Ed’s actions brings forth great publicity, when all he really is, is a guy way out of his depths. A guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing. A guy who got lucky. When Ed hangs up the phone with perfect timing, he doesn’t do it to appear like a ‘been there, done that’ badass, he does it because he doesn’t know what else to say. During all altercations, it’s Peggy who musters the strength to get physically violent. She stabs Dodd and Hanzee. She knocks out Ben. She leads the escape of their hotel room. She’s the one who realizes that life is like you’re at school, waiting for the teacher to allow you to go to the bathroom. Old Peggy obeyed the rules. She waited. New Peggy, however, doesn’t wait. She doesn’t follow the rules anymore. “You don’t ask. You just go.” Ed doesn’t do a thing. He sits down when he is told to do so. His appearance even resembles that of a meek and berated school boy.
Funny how for Mike Milligan, based on the information he had when he arrived at the murderous scene after the shoot-out, everything must look like The Butcher’s doing. The Gerhardt matriarch and The Bear down? Must’ve been The Butcher, no doubt about it. “I have heard of you. And I must say: Brother, …. I like your style.” The only question left to ask is this: What is on the other end of Mike’s admiration for The Butcher? A job offer or a bullet?
Jaw-dropping. Mike Milligan couldn’t have said it better: “What the…?” And he didn’t even see half of it. Action-packed, full of twists and turns and surprises. The episode’s director Adam Arkin (he portrays the bald and bold Kansas City big shot) excels at conjuring up unbearable tension as he gathers the characters from near and far to converge at the Motor Motel. Between the Gerhardts arriving in town, Lou spotting them but being unable to call it in, the police officers sleeping the sleep of the just and naïve, totally unaware of the impending doom, and Hanzee orchestrating the unavoidable clash, there’s just no room to breathe. So we better do some breathing in advance. Adam Arkin is up to direct the season finale.