This show looks great, doesn’t it? And it sounds great, too. The colors are crisp and wintery and a little sad, and the music is full of unexpected song choices, plus some solid scoring that’s reminiscent of the original movie’s soundtrack. Even when scenes aren’t working perfectly, it’s a pleasure to sit back and enjoy them, and I feel like I don’t stress that often enough in these reviews. There are plenty of well-made shows on TV these days, but Fargo stands out, thanks to its setting and the overall consistency of its aesthetic.
That aesthetic can make for some odd situations, though. After he finds her coming out of Mike Milligan’s hotel, Bear drags Simone into the wilderness to pay for her betrayal. This should be a tense, even heartbreaking scene. Bear’s the Gerhardt brother we’ve come to trust over the course of the season, the only one of the three who doesn’t come off as a complete lunatic, and here is, threatening his niece in the woods, pulling a gun on her, and telling her how “It’s already done.” All the while, Simone is getting more and more desperate, begging for her life, accusing Bear of his responsibility in everything that’s happened, and how she’s the real victim here.
It should be agonizing, and it’s certainly directed like we’re supposed to care. Lots of eerie overhead shots, some fades in and out to indicate the passage of time as they hike through the woods, with discordant jazz to remind us how crazy this all is. It’s very easy to watch and appreciate how well the sequence was made, and how smartly and efficiently it goes about the business of making us care what happens next.
Unfortunately I didn’t care at all, because Simone’s plotline is the weakest element of the show thus far, even weaker than the weird UFO stuff—at least the UFO stuff, as potentially show-wrecking as it is, has an element of mystery (and, to be fair, is barely even present). Simone is a thinly written character whose efforts at rebellion are tedious and predictable. She’s been abused by her father, slapped by her grandmother, and, apparently, murdered by her uncle, and apart from making Dodd look like a creep (not that he needed the help) and giving Mike someone to threaten, she hasn’t had much purpose at all. Her suffering should make her more sympathetic, but it’s only made me feel guilty for not giving a damn. As Bear walked her into the woods, I was hoping he was going to kill her, if only because that meant we wouldn’t have to deal with her getting upset, shouting, and then driving to Mike’s again.
Thankfully, Simone’s end (if it was an end) was the only dud element in an otherwise terrific hour, an episode full of smart, unexpected choices that has us gaining momentum as we head towards the final stretch. Last week closed on what looked like a cliffhanger, with several questions raised without answers: what happened at the Gerhardts? What happened to Dodd? Would Hanzee catch up with Ed? Would Peggy run? “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” picks up two days later, dealing out answers in passing. Mike’s assault on the Gerhardt farm ended with Otto dead, as the episode begins with his funeral. Dodd is still missing, but in the meantime, the fight between the Gerhardts and Kansas City is heating up, with multiple deaths on both sides.
It’s enough for the local law enforcement to bring Floyd in for a chat, to try and calm the situation down. This turns out to work to Floyd’s advantage; after making a fuss over turning rat, Floyd feeds Hank and the police chief info about Kansas City’s operations, hitting them where they live and giving her own side an advantage. It’s something Lou picks up on late in the game, as the cops, in their efforts to figure things out, have inadvertently picked sides in a war with no heroes in it. Getting to see Floyd in action is a good turn, especially when that action reinforces what a mess this whole situation is. Right now, it’s hard to see how this is going to end. Do all the Gerhardts have to die? Because, as Mike himself tells Lou later on, Kansas City is the “future.” A local crime family just isn’t going to have the resources to keep this up long term, not even if they do bring in guys from Buffalo.
Speaking of Mike, he’s not doing so great. The poor showing against the Gerhardts has made his boss unhappy, and an unhappy mob boss isn’t a patient man. The first conversation Mike has with him, the boss (a bald Adam Arkin) threatens to send in “the Undertaker,” and when things get worse (I’m not sure on the timing, but it looks like Floyd’s “confession” to the police is the final push), the Undertaker arrives at the hotel with two goons in tow, only for Mike and the remaining Kitchen brother to murder all three on the spot.
This is a terrific turn. Seeing as how most folks watching this know that the seaon is building to some kind of explosion of violence (I suppose the two cops Hanzee shot in Sioux Falls could be the “Sioux Falls massacre,” but I doubt it), having someone called “the Undertaker” around seems natural. And when Mike kills him handily, it raises Mike’s threat level, and throws everything just a little more off-kilter. It’s like jumping two days ahead in time, and not revealing anything about the Blumquists until the very end—when the narrative twists and swerves in ways that that subvert our expectations, it creates tension and excitement about what comes next. None of these decisions threaten to break the core of the show. We knew Mike was a killer, and the Undertaker was just some dude with a threatening name; losing him means almost nothing in practical terms. But it does show us that Mike is desperate, and desperate men make dangerous choices. It also shows us that we can’t get anything for granted.
If this wasn’t already obvious, Betsy’s discovery at her dad’s house would’ve clinched the deal. We don’t have enough information to know quite what to make of any of this, but when Betsy comes by to feed the cat, she goes into her father’s study and finds a room full—walls and desks and tables—of papers and books covered in strange drawings. It looks like a language, maybe hieroglyphics or some alien text, and the sight of it nearly knocks Betsy off her feet with shock. Whatever the writing is, this is a room created by an obsessed mind, by a man who may not be as in touch with reality as we’ve always though. Earlier in the episode, Hank mentions to Floyd how he lost his wife a year previous, and while Hank seems level-headed enough, still waters run deep, and who knows what’s been happening since he’s been living alone. Who knows what’s been building in his mind in all that quiet.
We’ll have to wait and see (hopefully Hank’s obsession will tie together all the UFO stuff). For right now, this episode does a fine job of escalating conflicts on various fronts and concluding certain storylines, enough so that the pull to go forward and keep watching is grounded by a satisfying impression of a story building on itself. This isn’t solely about cliffhangers; we also get some lovely moments with Karl (as the King of Breakfast) and Betsy, and a general sense of a world out of joint. The build to Ed Blumquist calling Mike at the end works beautifully in part because, even as the Gerhardts have been getting calls about Dodd all day, and even as we know the Blumquists are at large, Ed reaching out to Mike seconds after Mke took out the Undertaker was not an expected development. That’s good storytelling right there, and is more than enough reason to overlook the occasional Simone.
- I wonder how Ed got Mike’s phone number.
- Hank says, “I should’ve checked on that girl,” which is all the confirmation I need about my theory last week, no, I’m not listening, go away.
- Floyd smokes a pipe. That’s great.
- Ricky from Buffalo is a bit of a hoot, ain’t he?
- Nice edit: Floyd says something about being a “snitch,” and a few seconds later, we cut to Simone driving to Mike’s hotel.
- It’s theoretically possible Simone’s still alive. I don’t think she is, and it would probably work better for the show if Bear really did shoot her, but so far as I could tell, we didn’t see the act itself. Just an overhead shot, a cover of “Danny Boy,” and then Bear was back at his truck, breaking his cast on the hood in a rage.
- “Just don’t be offended if next time I don’t say hello before I shoot.” -Lou
- Betsy Solverson hasn’t had a ton to do beyond acting maternal and tragic, but her conversation with Karl about how she wants Lou to get married after she dies (to anyone but this one woman who has weird eyes) is funny and sad.
- Hanzee calls to say he knows where Dodd is. Next week is going to be interesting.
- “This family deserves the ground.” -Simone
- “None of us are family anymore.” -Bear