FARGO: “The Gift of the Magi”

Fire, blood, and the best episode of the season so far.

Knowing we’re all gonna die makes life a joke.

–Camus, via Noreen

Fargo is the kind of show that is so consistently great that it’s kind of hard to write about. By now, we almost take its writing, casting, and stylish direction for granted, and I find myself wondering what more there is to say, aside from simply regurgitating the plot. So I’ll start doing us all a favor and, instead of a “proper recap,” just offer a few thoughts on last night’s stellar episode:

The Gerhardts

Even for a series as violent as Fargo, the speed and ferocity of the attack on the Kansas City goons comes as a shock. Viscera flies everywhere from shotgun wounds, legs get blown off, one of the Kitchen brothers gets his throat slit, and after a beautiful overhead shot of him running through the snow (hat tip to director Jeffrey Reiner), Joe Bulo ends up with his head in a box. It’s a resounding win for the home team, but it certainly won’t be the end of the carnage. And it may not have happened at all had Dodd not fibbed about the syndicate being responsible for Rye’s death. (Yep, they finally know about Rye.)

It’s interesting to see the change in Floyd. With Rye gone, she’s compelled to protect what’s left of her family, whatever it takes. This “Butcher of Luverne,” whoever he is, has to pay dearly, of course. I doubt she’d want Charlie to be the one to do the deed, but she doesn’t know that the infamous Butcher is just…Ed. She also protects her granddaughter, who returns from her latest secret sojourn with Mike Milligan to find Dodd dangerously close to acting on his suspicions. Jean Smart plays Floyd as a matriarch with a spine of steel.

Her middle son, Bear, also seems to be more than he appears. Taciturn and slow-moving, he’s content to just let his older brother think he’s the dumb one in the family, but he maneuvers behind Dodd’s back to let Hanzee know he’s appreciated, then warns Dodd that “There’s gonna be a reckoning one day, brother…in the end we all get what we deserve.” That’s a flashing neon sign in Fargo, a series which has already shown to be interested in matters of cosmic justice. Bear is a bomb waiting to go off.


The Blomquists

Speaking of getting what we deserve, this week’s episode title — a reference to that famous O. Henry short story — lands hard at the end of the hour. Peggy for once makes the right decision and it blows up in her face, having sold her car to allow Ed to buy the butcher shop… that just burned down, thanks to Peggy’s actions at the beginning of the season. Ed’s at first oblivious to Charlie’s intentions, or that there’s any threat against his life whatsoever — he’s “going to live a long life,” he tells Noreen, which is the kind of thing you say right before an assassin walks through your front door. Charlie, however, looks at Ed like he’s a horror movie villain, another clever directorial touch.

I was pretty sure Charlie wasn’t going to pull that trigger — and his adorable meet-cute with Noreen basically sealed it — but I was much less sure about Ed’s overall survival. Instead, he takes out a Gerhardt henchman with a meat cleaver and drags a wounded Charlie out of the ensuing inferno. So Ed had finally stood up to his wife, insisting that they stay in town (I loved Jesse Plemons’s exasperated head quiver as he stomps away), and Peggy finally does something good in return — not that “NOT deciding to flee to California, abandoning your husband” is really that praiseworthy, but it’s a step forward for her — and now they’re going to get punished for it. At this point it’d be kinder to bury them under their horrifyingly deep archive of magazines.

The Solversons

Finally, the third family in this story. As Lou rides security detail for Ronald Reagan (a pitch-perfect Bruce Campbell), hearing him give his “city on a hill” stump speech over and over again, Lou’s thoughts keep returning to where we left off last week: how have things gotten so dark? “I wonder if the sickness of this world is inside of my wife somehow,” he wonders to the governor while they’re both on a bathroom break.  But Reagan is less than helpful. Even his anecdote about “the war” isn’t his own, but from one of his movies. All he offers are empty patriotic platitudes, a hand on Lou’s shoulder, and a distracted shrug.  Whatever dark forces are conspiring against Lou, he’s going to have to face them on his own, like a real American would.

Elsewhere, Molly’s drawing UFOs, and Betsey is starting to wonder if the drug she’s taking might be the real thing. (Those two items are not related.) She has a lovely scene with her father, Ted Danson, where he tries to encourage her but isn’t quite sure how. She’s been incredibly strong since the beginning, but you have to wonder if she might have a breaking point, and if it will come at the worst possible time for Lou. We’re only halfway through the season, and the body count will keep rising.

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