There is a dissonance in “Fargo” right now, between what people want to be reality and the cold, hard, violent actual reality they find themselves in. Ed still dreams of owning the butcher shop and having kids with Peggy, not acknowledging the reality of the danger posed by the Gerhardts seeking revenge for the murder of Rye and the fact his wife doesn’t share his vision. Simone has a”Romeo and Juliet” vision of her and Mike Milligan’s relationship, yet the reality is she is a pawn in a violent game of chess that is the current mob war and it hits home fast for her. Bear’s son Charlie wants to take revenge on the person who killed his uncle, but once faced with the reality of having to murder someone, he wants out. Ronald Reagan is offering a vision of hope for the future as he campaigns in southwest Minnesota, but all he is really offering are platitudes and empty gestures because the reality is that fixing a broken, exhausted America requires more than that.
Reality is hitting hard in this episode. The war is on, and people are going to get hurt and killed. And that does not fit into a nice package that these characters want from the world. But the world doesn’t make sense when one ignores the reality of one’s situation. It fractures the pretty picture they all want to believe in.
Dodd has escalated the mob war with Kansas City by having Ohanzee kill Joe Bulo, a politician, some henchmen and half of the Kitchen Brothers duo while they are out hunting. He flames the rhetoric for war by claiming it was Kansas City that killed Rye, with an assassin he calls the “Butcher of Luverne, a contract man out of Kansas City.” He is talking out of his ass, of course, but his mother and family don’t know that, and are reeling from the knowledge that Rye is, in fact, dead. They need to send a message, and that message is no one kills a Gerhardt. They want this butcher dead.
That butcher, poor Ed, is in a state of anxiety. He is having nightmares, his wife Peggy wants to flee to California, his world is crumbling around him. He tries to keep his perceived reality alive, but it can’t because real danger is looming. It is not simply going away like he and Peggy want.
And Peggy tries to run away. She has her car back (“Don’t cash that check until the end of the month,” she warns the mechanic) and is packed and ready to split. But (a feeling of guilt?) she decides not to run, and sells the car so Ed can put that down payment on the butcher shop. She is trying to fix things, and that moment really gave us a moment to sympathize with the character. Almost like a reverse feeling for the viewers from Lester in season one, when we sympathized with the lovable loser until he went full-on sociopath.
Simone’s fantasy is shattered when she visits Mike, who is not in a good mood. Her family delivered Joe Bulo’s head in a box as a message to Kansas City. She didn’t know that, she doesn’t know the danger she is in until she sees Bulo’s head. Mike’s message to her is clear: No more surprises from her family, she tells him everything that is going to go down before it happens. Play time is, indeed, over.
Lou is working security for the Reagan campaign in the region when Ben Schmidt calls him from Fargo. Looks like he is going to need some help, now that the Gerhardts are on a warpath with Kansas City. “It’s a s*** sandwich up here,” is how he explains what’s going on in his neck of the woods.
Bear’s son Charlie is in Luverne with a Gerhardt henchman, looking for Ed. Charlie was all for it up in Fargo, but when the reality set in during the first scene in the butcher shop, he realizes he is in way over his head. The scene is loaded with tension, you could feel the anxiety (being “Fargo,” anything can happen at any point) as he fingers the gun as he talks with the girl who works there and Ed. He leaves, naturally, with some meat he purchases.
In fact, right before he goes in for a second time to kill Ed, he makes a call to his father wanting to go back to school. But he made the decision, and goes in to kill Ed. Which goes horribly wrong. The henchman comes in to find the place is on fire, and he shoots at Ed. But the bullet ricochets off some metal and hits Charlie instead. Ed kills the henchman, and saves Charlie and the girl as his dream is literally up in smoke before his eyes. The threat is in town, and reality is giving him a hard kick in the ass.
The scene that stands out is Lou’s interaction with Ronald Reagan in the bathroom. The candidate asks Lou where he was stationed in the war. After Lou shares some of his experiences from the war with Reagan, the Gipper offers his own war story from WWII — a story from a film he starred in during the war about the war. Lou experienced the reality of war, as Reagan only knew the scripted version of war. Lou asks Reagan how can we fix the mess the country is in, to which Reagan only offers snazzy quotes with no real answers.
The dynamic between perceived reality and the true reality is played up heavily in this scene.
The episode ends with “Fargo’s” answer to “The Gift of the Magi” story (also title of the episode) with Ed wanting to escape like Peggy did earlier, and Peggy now wanting to share in his vision of settling down. Both are too late for either of that as the police arrive at their front door.
- Karl Weathers is brought to tears during Reagan’s speech. “The son of a bitch is charismatic, I’ll give him that. But I’m not shaking his hand.” Why? Because Reagan once starred in a movie with a monkey, that’s why.
- Bear’s talk with Ohanzee was nice. Bear acknowledges Ohanzee as a member of their family. Dodd refers to him as “That’s my man.” It will be interesting how this dynamic will play out.
- I really enjoyed Betsey’s interaction with Hank in this episode. In a show full of flawed, violent people, seeing some hope is a nice thing — even when we know Betsey doesn’t know if she is taking the mystery drug or the placebo.
- Molly drew a UFO instead of a sun in that picture of the family.
- Ed’s co-worker at the butcher shop is quite the dark existential answer to his naive hopefulness.
- Bruce Campbell is killing it as Reagan.
- “I thought they’d negotiate,” Floyd says. Dodd’s answer is that her judgment was flawed because she is a woman. Because Dodd is pretty much a dick.
- The Blumquists have a basement full of old newspapers and books. It looks like a basement from a show about hoarders.
- I love how Dodd is selling everyone on Ed posing as the town butcher to kill Rye (which doesn’t make any sense because how would anyone know Rye would head to Luverne in the first place, let alone explain why someone would set up such an elaborate story to integrate into the town — way before Rye ever showed up — just for that one job).