In which Lou puts it all together, but is powerless to stop the coming storm.
We’re just out of balance. The whole world.
Two fateful decisions return the story to its tracks this week, but also return some genuine kinetic energy to a series that has been a little slow to ramp up. Both the Gerhardts and the Blomquists get made offers they shouldn’t be able to refuse. Both would save an untold amount of bloodshed and future heartache. And yet, the stubbornness of these two women — Floyd and Peggy — sets every character on the path to war.
It’s also significant that the one woman who does choose to take the lifeline offered to her, Betsy Solverson, doesn’t even know if what she’s reaching for is genuine. Her doctor with the atrocious bedside manner has her convinced that she’s on the placebo end of her drug trial, and later she finds herself simply staring at the bottle, hoping that something might reveal itself to her. And poor Lou, who is doing a bang-up job putting the pieces together in the Rye Gerhardt case, finds himself adrift at home. Betsy says he shouldn’t treat her any differently because of her illness, but Lou can’t help but feel guilty about that. Because one day his wife may be gone, and he can’t wait forever to confront the truth.
He shares an anecdote with the Blomquists about a friend he had in Vietnam, who had gotten his legs blown off in a trench but will still trying to crawl. “His brain hasn’t caught up to the reality that he’s already dead,” he tells them. It’s meant as a cautionary tale for Ed and Peggy, who reject the life preserver Lou throws their way by refusing to admit to what he already knows, but one wonders if Lou’s speaking about himself. Sure, there’s a chance the drug trial might actually work, but while he exudes warmth and optimism with Betsy, when he’s alone he’s much less sure.
In any case, the Blomquists have likely sealed their doom. It seems for a moment like Ed is ready to confess everything, but Peggy interrupts, as she seems to often, and asks Lou to leave. They’ve been too worried about their financial futures to even consider how Hanzee Dent has been skulking around their house before they arrive. Dent knows everything now, too — the belt buckle in the fireplace seals it. (Excellent work from Zahn McClarnon in what are some essentially dialogue-free sequences.) But the Blomquists have already put the incident behind them; Peggy’s focusing on her self-improvement seminar, spending the money that Ed needs to buy the butcher shop as her boss acts as the devil on her shoulder.
Peggy may not be rotten to the core like Season 1’s Lester, but her blind selfishness is showing on multiple fronts. We learn that she’s the reason she and Ed haven’t conceived yet. She’s not interested in having a family with Ed because she’s not really interested in Ed. There’s a pang of guilt when he confronts her about the money, but it doesn’t last. She brought Rye home, she convinced Ed not to go to the cops, she spent the money they needed, she refused Lou’s help, and now? Ed’s too polite (or emasculated) to push back.
“You’re so great now, I don’t know what I’d do if you got any better,” Ed cluelessly sputters in a state of state of post-lovemaking euphoria. But when he discovers that his check for the shop has bounced, all he can do is ineffectually repeat “We talked about this! Insufficient funds!” Every terrible thing she does comes as a surprise to him, and he might even convince himself that this transgression is okay, too, because he loves her. Odds are one will die in the war to come, but will it be cosmic justice, or mercy?
Meanwhile, the Gerhardts’ attempt at a detente with Joe Bulo’s Kansas City syndicate fails spectacularly. A lot of that is Dodd’s fault, who in his effort to impress his nephew assaults a couple of KC goons just for the heck of it (before ordering “a chocolate gleeeeaze” in perhaps the line delivery of the year). In the big meeting, Bulo rightly doubts that Floyd will be able to keep her sons in line, which causes an outraged Dodd to essentially prove his point. But for Joe, that’s just a convenient excuse not to take the Gerhardts’ deal. He’s a bad-faith negotiator from the word go, having already sent Mike Milligan and the Kitchens (I’ve got to use that phrase every time) to make a show of force against the patriarch.
Imagine how furious Dodd will be when he learns Mike has been schtupping his daughter. It’s Denise who tells Mike where to find her grandfather, the “legume,” and he doesn’t even have to work very hard for the information. (Bokeem Woodbine is just irresistible, what can we say?) “Joe Bulo says hello,” Mike later says to the man who not only can’t respond, but can’t even communicate what happened. He’s just as powerless as the others — he sees everything, but is trapped in his own body. Yet Floyd still goes to him for comfort, just as her eldest son still leans his head on her shoulder on the ride home.
Dodd has been a man ever since he got his first kill, alongside his father in the screening of another fake Ronald Reagan movie, but his small (but significant) breakdown shows that even a hardened criminal needs his mother’s love. The Gerhardts might be violent and dysfunctional, but they’re still family — which, as Joe attests, can be as much of a weakness as a strength. Time will tells whose remains strongest.