There’s never an easy way to accept a dark fate, especially when one strives to turn the inevitable on its own head. The residents of Fargo, stretched throughout Luverne, Minnesota, as well as Sioux Falls and Fargo, North Dakota, are constantly pushing to hammer a circle into a square. The saddest part is that, at least for some, doing so can only change so much, as it already may be too late.
“Fear and Trembling” isn’t introducing these inherently dangerous dilemmas that our heroes(?) and villains are preparing to confront. The first three episodes of the season had our backs there, and along with characterizing this vintage, afro-bobbing, Jimmy Carter-running era in American history, they’ve invited us into the lives of a large cast of characters we have – or at least I have – already began to genuinely care about. The character study has come in full form since the proverbial tape started rolling, but it is here, specifically in this week’s chapter, that we begin to get an idea of where these individuals just might find themselves under the circumstances of their actions.
Take Ed and Peggy, for example. From what we’ve seen so far, a happy ending for them certainly isn’t in the cards, but either they don’t know that or they’re simply too stubborn not to try and reverse their bad luck. Rye is as good as gone, and Peggy has to live with being the one who murdered him, but there’s nothing Ed can do at this point to keep that hidden from the rest of the townsfolk. Hanzee’s deductive reasoning led him not only to the smashed up car that ran Rye over, but also drove him straight to the Blomquists’s doorstep, where he finds Rye’s un-melted belt buckle in their living room fireplace. He’s yet to exert brute force or relay his findings to the Gerhardts, but he definitely assures the couple that he’s well on top of their bullshit when he casually strolls down the block where Peggy works, staring them down keenly in his pickup truck.
That’s all we needed to push this story arc forward this week, but considering how much we’ve already learned about them and the rest of this cast of characters, why would Fargo stop there? We learn moments before the stare-down that Ed’s check to bid on the butcher shop – the supposed gateway to a future he can’t live without – was bounced; the result of Peggy’s determination to paint her own roads. She siphons a fraction of the check to pay for her Lifespring seminar, and since her boss proclaims that there’s no way she can refund it, Ed winds up shit out of luck. All he can do now is declare his importance to the butcher shop, while marginalizing Peggy’s to chasing her dreams; all of which plays out in the aforementioned scene where they share an aside in the same alleyway Hanzee is seen oogl-ing them from afar in. Not even the saddest part of “Fear and Trembling,” both Kirsten Dunst and
Meth Damon Jesse Plemons display the now-glaring tragedy of their relationship to the fullest extent. Dunst’s unnerving anxiety mixed with Plemon’s gradually increasing disappointment combine to create a moment in time where Fargo becomes more than a television series, and my goodness gracious, what a scene it was.
Let’s not forget Lou’s involvement here, as well. He, too, has become wise to the Blomquists’ secrets when he also inspects their car and goes over to their house to try and put their situation into a narrower perspective. A Vietnam war veteran, he notices fear when it’s staring him dead across his face, so it makes perfect sense that he would recollect his encounter with Ed at the butcher shop when he’s struggling to get definitive answers from both him and Peggy inside their own home. They’re a scared couple, afraid of the winds of circumstance both because they are not truly prepared to face it and because they have never faced adversity the likes of this before in their lives (and by that, I mean covering up a murder and stretching a lie instead of simply confessing and facing the consequences.) But Lou doesn’t show up to their front doorstep to perpetuate their fear – he simply wants to alleviate it. He asks them to verbally fess up to their crime so that he could somehow squeeze them out of a potentially nasty jam, and does so in the softest, most caring tone a police sheriff could possibly have. But like I said earlier, the Blomquists are stubborn folk. Despite Lou already hinting that he knows they’re responsible for Rye’s death, they stick to the plan and ask him to leave. This is mostly Peggy’s doing, which now raises suspicions about where and how far she’s planning on taking this. One wonders if she’s testing the extremities of her lifestyle, challenging fate and the law as an excuse to live a life more exciting and consequential than manning a station at a hair salon. There have been scenes earlier this season that have brought this ideal into focus – it’s not completely coming out of left field – so it paints an even darker cloud on the future of her marriage with Ed.
Almost without a doubt, however, there’s just no way this couple is going to make it out alive here. They literally have no where to run, the Gerhardts are one Hannzee-de-breifing away from mercilessly hunting them down, and even if Peggy plans to attend her seminar, she’ll still have to constantly answer to the police questions regarding the shitstorm she and her husband have carefully mustered. They’ve become victims of circumstance, pinning themselves into a corner of which there’s no escape, all because of bad timing, mutual disagreements, and poor decision-making. But it’s all heart-wrenching because we have seen them (briefly) play out their lives before Peggy introduced Rye’s dead body hanging in the windshield of her car: it was peaceful, generic, but most of all, happy. They were content with what they had, even though they eventually decided they wanted more. And since they have actually fought previously to get more, it’s unfair to watch them see it all dissipate before their eyes over a moment that happened so suddenly.
That right there is what sets Fargo apart from anything else on television; that it could immerse you into just a portion of its trappings while the big picture comes together. The Blomquists’s troubles only make up for a quarter of “Fear and Trembling,” but I personally believe that a whole episode dedicated to just them would’ve been a fantastic watch. It’s a testament to the writers and Noah Hawley’s vision that, only four episodes in, the lives of everyone involved here are as engaging as they are.
Such is especially true about the Gerhardts, as they are currently competing for the most tragic crime family ever assembled on television. The way Dodd’s flashback with Otto juxtaposes with his trip to Kansas City with Charlie is perhaps one of the greatest writing decisions in recent memory. You see the innocence in young Dodd when he approaches the movie theatre with his now-health-stricken father, and it makes for a beautiful, yet somehow hilarious contrast to Charlie’s matter-of-fact advances in contributing to the Gerhardt business of present. Young Dodd never had a choice, whereas Charlie is chomping at the bit for what his uncle had then and has now. In addition, the Coen brother’s style of violence is oh so perfectly illustrated here, especially in the donut shop scene where Dodd struggles to not only keep one of his sudden adversaries pinned to the ground via taser, but also to get the proper donut order from the clerk behind the counter.
Of course, such moments play a bigger part in how we’ve gotten here and where we’re likely to go. Bulo and his boys are made well aware of the donut shop incident at a rather convenient time, which destroys any hope of Floyd being able to convince him in accepting her counter offer. Dodd could give a rat’s ass, though, especially since he refrains from ceasing his supposed rights to the head of the Gerhardt table. He’s glad he sent the message he did, and he’s more determined to emphasize it than anyone else in the family when Floyd decides to cut the shit and gather the troops for an all-out war. The result of decades of misongynistic, blood-fueled business-making, this is what Dodd lives for. This is his code. If his father never showed him the ropes to this life at such an early age, maybe we don’t see him stir things up with Kansas City. Maybe he pushes Floyd to play it safe and take Bulo’s original offer. Maybe we don’t see him plant a stake in the business at all.
Unfortunately, this is the road that’s paved for him, and no matter how many guys he beats down, chances are the price of staying the course all these years will catch up to him. “Fear and Trembling” only accelerates the due date. We all know how this story ends. Even though last week’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” assured that his family won’t back down from a fight, this already appears to be one they’ve already lost. There’s no better way of realizing this than the ride home, where we see Dodd and Floyd quietly, progressively sobbing; the former endlessly reaching for the latter’s hand until they connect in a tunnel of unraveling fear and sadness. They, too, are keen to how this story ends.
Before I conclude, here are some extra notes from this week’s episode:
-By sleeping with Mike (and supposedly putting her finger in his ass,) Simone’s already poised to drill a huge knife into the heart of her own family. You can’t really blame her, considering how Dodd’s insisted on shunning her from the family business. This also proves that Mike isn’t exactly the second-coming of Malvo; that he, like everyone else here in this era, is vulnerable to the chaos surrounding him. I could be wrong, and he could just be screwing Simone because she enjoys a fine sniff of coke as much as the next gal, but now I’m almost certain that he’s cut from a different symbolic cloth, and that his intentions are a whole lot clearer in comparison.
-Another couple striving to hammer a circle into a square is Lou and Betsy. Even sadder than the tragedy surrounding the Blomquists, the two are struggling to come to terms with the nature of Betsy’s cancer. What makes it so damn powerful is Lou’s insistence that everything’s going to be okay, even though it won’t. Along with the nature of the Blomquists’ situation, it makes him question the values he was strung up with, and the changing perspectives of the country at that specific timeline. He’s so accustomed to having a solution for everything, that seeing people resort to alternative measures (Peggy) succumbing to long-fought battles (Betsy) is forcing him to seek ways to remain positive, and you can tell that it’s really destroying him inside.
-Let me also say, for the first of many times, that Patrick Wilson has been absolutely phenomenal here. He speaks so much in his emotions and in his character’s ideals and war-driven stories that rooting for him to accomplish any mission or feat becomes automatic.
-Diddo for Cristin Milioti, who kills every time she’s on screen. An absolute tour de force of hope and acceptance, I find it difficult to imagine anyone else nailing the character’s playful quirps and unfettered optimism with as much precision. She also wins my personal award for best line of the episode: “No, it’s not a war on you. It’s a war against your body.”
What an episode. “Fear and Trembling” is masterful storytelling, weaving into and out of varying story arcs as effortlessly as it parlays the tragedy that has become of them. It’s a declaration of television at its finest, demonstrating how a vision or an idea could create something magical, if only for a brief period of time in our lives. It also prepares us for the worst that’s yet to come, constantly reminding us that all of which has come before next week’s proceedings, as beautiful, dark and comical it has been, has simply been window-dressing. I can’t even begin to imagine how Fargo, with more than half a season left to go, is going to top itself yet again.
+ The tragedy of Ed and Peggy, and their secrets beginning to leak
+ Lou seeking a solution for the Blomquists, Betsy’s cancer
+ The Gerhardts declaring war on Kansas City
+ Excellent sprinkles of Coen brothers’ comedy and direction throughout