It’s a massacre, as promised.
This thing’s officially out of control.
Almost lost amongst the bloodshed, betrayal, disposal of major characters, and the freakin’ U.F.O., the most heartbreaking moment of Fargo’s penultimate episode comes with no fanfare and receives no follow-up. As I feared, Betsey Solverson collapses just when her husband is in no position to help (or even find out). He calls home just to check in, but she’s already been taken to the hospital (we assume), and the phone rings and rings…before he spots the bullet hole in the window and he’s off again, doing his job. It’s not his fault, of course. He’s in the middle of the biggest gang war of a generation, and everyone’s lives are at stake.
Molly comes agonizingly close to losing both her parents and her grandfather in one episode. Can you imagine? Now my hunch from two weeks ago has been thrown into doubt, again. Hank takes one in the gut because Hanzee doesn’t care who he shoots; Lou nearly gets strangled by Bear before a literal deux ex machina grabs everyone’s attention (except Peggy’s, of course: “It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed!” she stage-whispers in the line of the year). But when the dust settles, the only corpses are the Gerhardts, and the idiot officers from South Dakota. For now, anyway. (Also, I think if Hank were going to die, it would have happened in this episode. I hope I’m not wrong.)
There was so much muchness in “The Castle,” it’s easy to see how some viewers find Fargo to be anathema. Not only did the spaceship (or whatever it is) return in a big way, the style of the show was pitched more aggressively than ever, full of sliding split-screen panels and freeze frames on the gun flashes during the firefight. But the cherry on top was the storybook narration from a certain former member of the cast — in his native accent, no less.
Noah Hawley has spoken before about each season of Fargo making up a chapter of “The History of True Crime in the Midwest,” but we never expected he would present it quite so literally. I loved it, though. Martin Freeman’s return was a fun surprise, and it gave the entire episode a level of detached whimsy — rather like the voice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (coincidentally, another film starring Freeman). It also elevates the events of the episode to the level of myth, and every character’s decisions drip with dramatic irony.
The cannon fodder are the bumbling troopers of Sioux Falls, led by Captain Jeb Cheney (because of course), and played by O Brother Where Art Thou?‘s Wayne Duvall. His introduction to the story goes completely as expected: he never buys into the reality of the threat; he wants to use the Blumquists as bait; he has to admit his own precinct isn’t really safe; he has Lou escorted to the state line for asking too many questions. But Hank stays, and Lou will eventually turn around and return, and both will save the Gerhardt attack from being even bloodier. However, it’s the kind of annoying “idiot plot” that Fargo is usually smart to avoid; even Bob Odenkirk’s character from last season was fleshed-out enough for us to understand his blindness as he got in Molly’s way. Here, Cheney and his squad are here to make the wrong decisions, talk about peeing in things, then die. Ah well.
Also not without blame is the skeevy Ben Schmidt; he’s rude to Hank, and his go along/get along M.O. with the Gerhardts blows up in his face (and not for the first time: “This is just like Rapid City!” he wails). Decades from now, he’ll release Lorne Malvo into the wild against Gus Grimley’s advice, too. So he’ll have learned nothing. He gets a few good shots in, though, before Peggy beans him over the head and makes her getaway with her husband.
Hot on the Blumquists’ tail, as he has been from the very beginning, is the enigmatic Hanzee Dent. Even Martin Freeman’s narrator isn’t sure when he decided to turn on the Gerhardts; was it when Dodd insulted him? When Bear tried to poach him? Or has he been planning to all along? He leads the entire remaining Gerhardt force into a slaughterhouse, letting Bear and Floyd think they’re just there to grab Dodd from “The Butcher,” and stabs the matriarch himself the moment the tide turns. But whatever his reasons for betrayal, he’s still committed to hunting down the Blumquists. The narrator supposes it’s because they saw him at his most vulnerable; I think that’s only half-right. He opened up to Peggy, and she tried to kill him anyway. I’d find it hard to come back from that. (We also learn that he strangled Constance, which is cruel; is that only meant to make him more villainous in time for the finale?)
The entire setpiece is masterfully directed by Adam Arkin, who utilizes Jeff Russo’s tick-tock score to increase the tension, showing the Gerhardt gang appear outside the windows like silhouettes in an old Film Noir. And in just a few shots, the geography of the sequence is clearly laid out: smart use of screen direction and actor eyelines are the kind of things a film student could spend a day analyzing. It’s easy to focus on the greatness of the writing and the performances, but Fargo’s stable of directors have done a remarkable job of creating a cohesive tone as the episodes get handed off. I wanted to be sure to acknowledge that before the end.
So with one hour left to go, we’re left in an interesting place: the Gerhardts are done, Ed and Peggy are still running, Hanzee’s still following them, and Lou’s still following him. With Mike Milligan taking one look at the carnage and smartly (and hilariously) leaving just as quickly as he arrived, it’s hard to see how Kansas City will fit in, except to claim their place at the top of the food chain once it’s all over. The finale will likely center on the final four, but I’m not sure that’s an hour’s worth of story, so I’m betting Hawley has a couple more surprises up his sleeve. That said, I’m hoping the biggest mystery — that flying saucer — remains defiantly unresolved.