more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

Fargo, “Fear and Trembling”

If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness, if underlying everything there were only a wild, fermenting power that writhing in dark passions produced everything, be it significant or insignificant, if a vast, never appeased emptiness is beneath everything, what would life be then but despair?

– Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard

What indeed.  The fourth episode of Fargo‘s second season takes its title from Kierkegaard’s philosophical examination of Abraham’s “anxiety” in sacrificing/murdering his son, and the allusion is pretty on-the-nose. “Fear and Trembling” sets in motion a series of events that will surely lead to lots of anxiety, lots of sacrifice and/or murder, and lots of writhing, dark passions, lots of despair in Sioux Falls – our terminus for this season.

FARGO -- ÒFear and TremblingÓ -- Episode 204 (Airs November 2, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt. CR: Chris Large/FX

Some of what’s to come will undoubtedly be terribly sad.  In a flashback, we see one of Dodd’s most important memories: on a winter day in 1951, when his father took him to a movie theatre (where a Ronald Reagan starrer was playing), and little Dodd stuck a knife in one of Otto’s rivals.  Otto, it’s clear, has always lived by the sword, and Dodd aims to keep it that way.  In the present (well, in 1979), he takes his nephew with him to a donut shop where a couple of the Kansas City operatives are enjoying a quiet breakfast.  He tasers one and encourages (the surely doomed) Charlie to punch the lights out of the other.  He’s a dangerously loose cannon; and when Floyd brings him to an arbitration meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett), Bulo swiftly singles out Dodd as the X factor.  Floyd has offered a perfectly reasonable counter-offer, and Bulo is inclined to accept it – but he knows that his bosses, shadowy figures that they may be, will never accept anything other than total surrender.  Bulo tells Floyd that, if his lackeys had acted as Dodd in the donut shop, he’d have shot them.  Bulo knows Floyd won’t do that – and so it’s either acceptance of the buyout, or war with Kansas City.  In the car on the way back to their compound, Floyd and Dodd are sitting in the back seat.  Dodd – asking for forgiveness or affection or both – keeps taking his mother’s hand and placing it on her face, and she keeps grabbing it back.  After a pause, a wave of emotion washes over her, and she places her hand on her idiot son’s face of her own accord.  She must know he’s going to get them all killed, but better all of them go down together than to allow Dodd to bumble his way into a shootout alone. “It’s war,” she tells her family.

The Gerhardts are a crime family.  They do terrible things to those in their way.  They extort and intimidate others into doing “business” with them.  They are, after all, a family – and Fargo doesn’t shy away from showing them as criminals or as human beings who love and need each other.  This isn’t news, but it’s worth praising.  Look at the other shows on TV now: even the good ones, the ones eminently worth watching, occasionally stumble in creating fully fledged, truly human characters.  Fargo always hits emotional truths, at least as far as I can tell.

This episode’s real emotional wallop, while we’re on the subject, went to the Solversons.  At a doctor’s appointment, Betsy and Lou hear that her prognosis “is not, how they say, good.” The cancer is getting worse.  The good news is that the doctor is testing a potential new wonder-drug, which he calls Xanadu.  The bad news is that Betsy – if she opts to take part in the test – might get Xanadu, or she might get a placebo.  Betsy and Lou, like Floyd, see the writing on the wall.  Lou asks her if she wants him to treat her any different; of course she doesn’t.  She does want him to be sure to take better care of Molly, giving her better lunches than just beef jerky, that kind of thing.  Lou isn’t an idealist or a dreamer by any stretch, but Betsy is obviously more capable of facing the truth head-on, while Lou still wants to glimpse at it from behind his fingers.  Understandable.  Again, this is a show full of emotional truth.  Even though we know Betsy won’t survive her cancer, even though we know that no one except Lou and Molly are guaranteed to make it out of this season alive – it still hurts to watch, and to know how inevitable their demises will be.

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I anticipate plenty of tragic endings to come, and I also anticipate plenty of terrifying massacres.  Some will surely come about by the ruthless hand of Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers.  It turns out that Mike and Dodd’s daughter, Simone (Rachel Keller), are sleeping together – well, I mean, they’re fucking – and Simone seems pretty gung ho about Mike taking out her father.  Mike and his two soldiers already took out three of Otto’s attendants outside a doctor’s office, so it’s clear that they’re not just whistling “Dixie” – but the one to watch will be Hanzee.  On Dodd’s orders, he’s tracking down Rye’s whereabouts.  It doesn’t take long before he figures out that Rye was hit by a car, that the car is in a nearby repair shop, that the car belongs to the Blomquists, and that the Blomquists haven’t quite expunged their home of all evidence that they got rid of Rye’s body.  At the body shop, he tells the terrified mechanic, Sonny, about how eerily quiet he finds it up here in the cold, dead Midwest: when he fought in Vietnam, he was sent down into the tunnels – because he was an Indian, and because they assumed he’d be a natural fit for the job, and if he wasn’t, who cares – to attack the enemy and cut off his ears. (You may recall that Hanzee had cut the ears off someone Dodd was interrogating, per Dodd’s orders; you can bet that, if Hanzee cut off your ears, he wouldn’t accidentally kill you in the process – it would be entirely on purpose.) Sonny’s co-worker, conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers, arrives and brandishes his gun.  Hanzee has a knife – and he’s not out for their blood, not at the moment – so he leaves.  When Karl calls the police, Lou realizes what happened.  He waits for the Blomquists to return home – just after Hanzee has decided the same thing.  Lou probably saved their lives, but they’re certainly living on borrowed time.

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Lou tells them that he knows.  He tells them that he can help.  When Peggy and Ed stick to their story, about slipping on some black ice, Lou tells them about his own experience in Vietnam.  He describes the look of a soldier who’s been mortally wounded, but who doesn’t realize it yet – and that’s the look on their faces, he says.  He tells them that the Gerhardts are looking for them, and that only the police can save them.  Peggy insists that he leave the house; Lou advises, on his way out, that they lock the door behind him.

It’s all incredibly tense, and I’m afraid.  The Blomquists’ marriage is unraveling, and maybe would have been anyway.  Ed wants a couple of kids, a butcher shop, a bigger house, and a dog.  Peggy is secretly still taking birth control, and emptied their checking account to pay for a seminar in Sioux Falls. (Ding, ding, ding.) The strain of having destroyed a body, being investigated by the police, and now being hunted by criminals – it’s all looking pretty bad for our tarnished golden couple.

And as a final observation: I still don’t know where they’re going with the UFO subplot, but it appears that Hanzee loses a couple of hours outside the Waffle Hut while he’s searching for clues.  What does it all mean?  I don’t know!  Will it pay off?  I’m not sure – but if that’s the one flaw in this season’s carpet, that’s not so bad.

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This entry was posted on November 3, 2015 by and tagged , .
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