not in our stars, but in ourselves
The title of this week’s episode of Fargo may refer to the Ionesco parable of fascism – but we get a lengthy recitation of another work of literature, courtesy of Mike Milligan’s dulcet tones*:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
And so on. Even though Lewis Carroll’s poem is comprised mostly of non-English, it’s not nonsense: the narrator describes being sent to confront and conquer the fearsome Jabberwock, his eventual triumph, and his superior’s joy at the evil having been defeated. It’s not a bad distillation of this season of Fargo: a clear sense of menace in a world that ceased making sense a long time ago.
Shit is really starting to get real, in other words. To wit: Charlie survived the fight and the fire in Ed’s butcher shop, but he’s in state police custody. (As is Ed, to Peggy’s furious protests.) Charlie calls his dad, and Papa Bear is very unhappy with Dodd for sending poor his son to do a job he’s simply not capable of doing. The brothers come to blows, with Bear clearly dominant – until Hanzee arrives with a gun. Dodd is powerless without his bodyguard. Fortunately, Floyd – the most reliable voice of reason among the Gerhardts – tells them to knock it off and go get Charlie out of lockup, and kill the butcher. Simone watches the army of Gerhardt muscle driving away, and calls Mike to fill him in. She wants him to kill her father; when Mike asks if she has any last message for him, she says, “Kiss my grits.” That’s when he recites “Jabberwocky” – and Brian Tallerico notes in his Vulture recap that “only Fargo” would make a reference to the TV sitcom Alice and then segue into the most famous part of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Good catch, Brian. Dodd goes to the Blomquist residence, where Hank had been interrogating Peggy, and makes the mistake of trying to find her in the basement. Her hoarder’s haven of magazines gives her ample opportunity to hide from Dodd and his goons – and when he drops his taser, she picks it right up and tasers him until he’s unconscious (or even dead – we don’t know yet.) Bear, meanwhile, has pulled up to the police station with his guns blazing. He wants his son, and he wants the butcher. Unlike his brother, Bear poses a credible threat. Lou knows it – so he sends Luverne’s lone defense attorney, Karl, out to negotiate. Karl is drunk, but he successfully convinces Bear that he’s making things worse for Charlie by staging a standoff. If Bear leaves, Karl promises, Charlie will be tried as a minor, receive a light sentence, and eventually have his record expunged. Also unlike his brother, Bear listens to reason, so he calls off his men…except one. Hanzee has been sneaking around the building, trying to get a clear shot at Ed inside, when he realizes Lou and Ed have snuck out and into the woods. Silently, steadily, he tracks them. When Ed makes the foolish mistake of running away from Lou, he’s going to have a particularly malevolent shadow following him. Back at the ranch, Floyd tells Simone she’d better still be loyal to the Gerhardts – and then Mike and a small army of his own open fire on the house. Oops.
That’s the general sketch of the episode. One scene in particular made me wonder about something that’s been nagging at me all season, however, even though it wasn’t one of the big set pieces. Hank and Peggy sit down to talk about the mess on her and Ed’s hands. When Hank makes it clear that they all know she’s lying, she tells him she doesn’t want the life she has with Ed. They live in his parents’ old house, and she feels trapped in a museum of the past. This might be true. Certainly, it’s clear that Peggy presents a different face – a mask of sanity, you might call it – to Ed than what she really feels. But I’m beginning to wonder if Peggy isn’t a real, honest-to-Jeebus psychopath. She exhibits at least some of the symptoms, and has from the beginning: glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse, lack of genuine emotional depth, lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility for her actions, need for stimulation, lack of realistic/long-term goals, impulsiveness, irresponsibility. This isn’t to say that her psychopathy makes her evil. However, when Hank says Peggy seems “touched,” he might be mroe right than he knows. I don’t think her mind works the way a more neurotypical mind works. Calmly driving home with a dying man crashed through your windshield, locking him in the garage, preparing dinner for your husband, and then insisting that your husband help you get rid of the body rather than go to the police – that all speaks to the sort of thrill-seeking and emotional blankness of a psychopath. In this light, her would-be poignant “confession” to Hank – that she’s trapped in a life she doesn’t want – feels much more like the kind of skillful manipulation for which psychopaths are (in)famous. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if any show could depict a convincing psychopath – and a female, at that! – it’s Fargo. In season one, remember, Lou recalls that he encountered a “monster” at Sioux Falls. Not all psychopaths are monsters, but if they decide to go that route, they’re going to out-monster just about everyone else.
For all the menace, for all the escalation of the war, this was a terrifically funny episode. There was Hank’s swift put-down of Dodd: “Son, I can fill a steamer trunk with the amount of stupid I think you are.” Get wrecked, Dodd! The real MVP, for comedy and for problem-solving (eventually), was Karl. Nick Offerman** has always been great on the show. Karl and Sonny’s interactions remind me very much of the relationship between Walter and Donny in The Big Lebowski, but with slightly less verbal abuse. Last night, though, Karl really got to shine. Offerman has traded his Parks and Rec moustache for an Abraham Lincoln-style beard, and he’s certainly a great orator. As he drunkenly holds forth on the nature of law, mankind, brotherly honor in war, etc., he never misses a beat. He’s incredibly funny – but Offerman is proving that he can act for real, too. His fear when he tries to talk some sense into Bear is palpable, but his commitment to helping Lou (more than his commitment to helping either Charlie or Ed, the two would-be clients he’s going to have to defend) forces him to stare down a dozen or so guns. It’s heroic, honestly. And funny. Very funny.
*That sounds like the name of a barbershop quartet, actually. Maybe now that his prog-rock band is down a member, he can switch to a new musical style.
**FUN FACT: He’s in Boston now. Last night, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner, and we had bourbon (him) and scotch (me) afterwards. The bartender told us not only that Offerman had been in that very establishment a few days ago – but that he’d had exactly the same scotch as me! (Caol Ila, if you wondered. Terrific stuff.) So in case you ever doubt what a tough motherfucker I am: my taste in scotch is the same as Ron Swanson’s. Get on my level.