“Rapid fire, some round, some oval. Circular patterns, unnatural, bright, hovering in the sky. They come only in the odd months, the visitors. Always in sets of three.”
So says the man waiting in line for gas ahead of Minnesota State Police Officer Lou Solverson, and since we’re talking conspiracy theories, I can’t help but project my own meaning onto the chaos. “Always in sets of three.” Since this week’s episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” marks the third time in as many weeks that Fargo‘s mentioned of UFOs and extraterrestrial visitors, it’s time we take a step further into the unknown and examine the delightfully bizarre recurrence a little closer.
But before we wonder about what lies beyond the stars, we have some trivial earthly business to which to attend.
“The Myth of Sisyphus” brought viewers further into the workings of the Gerhardt family, mostly through the lens of Hanzee Dent, Dodd’s stalwart ally, magic enthusiast, and raw-rabbit connoisseur. Although clearly the most capable member of the outfit, Hanzee is left on the fringes of the family, left to perform the grunt work that allows Dodd to be the feared figure he is. As the rest of the Gerhardts mourn the death — both literal and figurative — of previous generations and the old ways of doing things, a desperate search is on to find the family’s youngest and most useless male, Rye, who’s currently ground up somewhere. All the while, Hanzee and his value remain invisible to the family and — much to his misfortune — Skip Spring.
The Gerhardt’s, particularly Dodd’s, obsession with parentage and legacies began to take up more of the foreground this week, so much so that I’m afraid of having a paranoid, True Detective season 2-related flashback. (It’s over, Kevin. The bad TV can’t hurt you anymore.) My night terrors set in Vinci aside, it’s interesting — and possibly therapeutic — that Fargo season 2 is treading some of the same ground, albeit in much more subtle ways.
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Bear Gerhardt’s conversation with his son, though extrinsically tied to the family’s main story line, does play a key role in weaving its larger tapestry. The middle Gerhardt boy insists that his son, Charlie, return to school and leave behind any idea of an active role in the family. It was a promise that Bear had made to Charlie’s mother, no doubt an attempt to keep the boy out of harm’s way so that he can “make something” of himself. Charlie claims that the family name alone makes him something, but Bear knows better and claims ownership and dominion over the boy. Facing each other in the kitchen, both with the control of their hands somehow limited — Bear because of his cast and Charlie because of his cerebral palsy — father and son are already mirrors of each other. The match suggests that perhaps what Bear fears passing down has already been transferred. The sins of the father manifesting in his son.
Dodd is also struggling with his role as a father, namely that he doesn’t really see himself as one. As a dad to two daughters, he hasn’t fulfilled the one requirement that comes with the job: producing a son. To that end, Simone occupies a strange, undefined space in his life. She seems perfectly capable of playing the heir, being cunning enough to lure Skip Spring into Rye’s apartment and toward his doom under a pile of scalding hot asphalt, but her father wants her out of the way because that’s where girls are supposed to be. It’s a deference that Dodd expects from his daughter as well as his mother.
NEXT: Introducing Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers!
But that’s not happening any time soon because Floyd is busy preparing for war. Or, the possibility of war. She’s called in a meeting of her allies in the area to decide on a course of action against the invading corporate forces of Agree shampoo-user Joe Bulo and the boys from Kansas City. “We’re talking about the Kansas City mafia,” says one of the gathered men, jabbing us hard in the ribs. “They’re like all the sharks in the sea.” That being the case, it’s decided that the Fargo outfit won’t make any moves until attacked.
This much is expected by Bulo, who explains to Mike Milligan that Fargo will “stall and pass,” leaving them with the next move, which is to be determined by “whatever the pluses and minuses dictate.” All there is to do for the time being is finding Rye, who has since been identified by the police as the main suspect for the triple homicide. It is so perfectly Fargo that the police and two competing criminal organizations are all searching for the same man, all while that man is a pile of ground meat somewhere. There’s the possibility of aliens visiting from outer space, and you people are concerned about finding a guy? Reducing the focal point for all of these parties’ search to a literal heap of muscle, blood, and sinew frames a lot of the proceedings with a sense of triviality that matches the UFO subplot (which I’m almost ready to discuss).
And yet, the irony continues as Lou Solverson finds himself in a series of high-tension encounters, which start when he goes to the courthouse for information on Judge Mundt. It’s there that he meets Ben “Kind of a Prick” Schmidt, who is a lieutenant by the time Gus Grimly joins the force. It’s meetings like this that make me so curious about how much the writers had mapped out ahead of time for season 2. Anyway, Schmidt is kind enough to fill Lou in on some of the background info regarding the Gerhardts. “I’m not saying your life would be easier with your own prints on the gun, but that’s along the lines you should be thinking,” Schmidt says, trying in vain to keep Solverson from the family’s compound. Of course, that doesn’t work, but Schmidt keeps trying, even as Skip Spring is acting remarkably suspicious outside Judge Mundt’s office. The typewriter salesman invites Lou to come around to his store because, “They’re not just for women anymore.”
Quote of the week easily goes to Mike Milligan in the typewriter store after Lou busts in on him and his twin associates. “You make us sound like a prog-rock band,” he says. “Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers.” Their encounter is tense but nonviolent, and most interestingly, the conversation touches on what is the defining characteristic of the tone in both the film and the series. Discussed at length in this great essay by Paul Kix at Thrillist, the Midwestern personality isn’t nice. It’s polite unfriendliness.
(Bonus points for anyone who noticed the No Country for Old Men Easter egg!)
Amid all of these stand-offs, we were also treated to another delightful story with Ed and Peggy Blumquist, who are on the verge of clearing up the last pieces of evidence, specifically the smashed car. Betsy Solverson actually plays a role in the matter by spurring Peggy on after suggesting that Rye could be the victim of a hit and run, once again proving just how capable of an investigator she is. Frank’s disregard for his daughter’s extraordinary sleuthing abilities mirrors Dodd’s relationship to his daughter, except there are fewer slamming car doors. Having heard enough of Betsy’s theory and successfully dissuading Frank of its validity, Peggy pitches Ed on an idea to fake a new accident and collect insurance money that’s inspired by the routine her uncle would pull after he’d had too many Old Milwaukees. But of course, Ed hits black ice and crashes into the targeted tree from the wrong direction, getting “the whiplash” in the process. Of course.
Part of me wonders whether any of the UFO proceedings will actually make it into the main story or if it will remain as a beautiful harmonizing track, hidden in the background. There’s definite potential for crossover. As Ed and Peggy cover their tracks — though the laws of Fargo demand that they eventually screw up — Rye’s disappearance will become less and less clear. Will the mystery culminate in someone positing that Rye could have been abducted by aliens the night of the murders at the Waffle Hut? How else could he have been zipped away, leaving behind his car and a shoe? Peggy already established that a hit and run is a ridiculous notion. Could this be a more plausible explanation?
As it’s been written about elsewhere, there’s a reason for including UFO sightings in Fargo’s vision of Minnesota in 1979. One of the most famous reported sightings of all time occurred in that state during the same year — though it was an even month. At 2 a.m. on August 27, 1979, a Minnesota deputy sheriff named Val Johnson reported a strange occurrence of lights in the sky and lost time. While on duty, the officer claims he saw a beam of light in the sky that then sped toward him. Engulfed by the light, Johnson lost consciousness for a little over a half hour. When he came to, his squad car had been damaged, and the clocks on his wristwatch and dashboard had stopped.
It’s easy to draw the lines from the Minnesota cop in 1979 reporting a UFO sighting to this season of Fargo, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in it. The connections to the Val Johnson Incident have occurred exactly once an episode on a show that is working with so many other thematic ideas, so before we go full-Yellow King with red-yarn-and-corkboard theories about the aliens in Fargo, let’s decide to take a step back and enjoy the show as it plays out.
…And maybe keep one eye on the sky.