The antepenultimate episode of Fargo’s second season shifted gears slightly, offering an in-between-quel of sorts that showed us what Ed, Peggy, Dodd, and Hanzee have been up to out on the road. A road trip! No… Well, sorta.
Aside from being one of this season’s most structurally experimental hours, the near-bottle episode “Loplop” gave Kirsten Dunst the opportunity to earn her Emmy Award. For those keeping track of at home, the number of people — above and below the line — who have earned Emmys on this season of Fargo is…everyone. Literally everyone has earned an Emmy this season, but Dunst makes as particularly compelling argument by delivering a fully actualized Peggy, which is so much more fun and twisted than I could have expected.
We begin to see the turn as she sits at home after the assault from the Gerhardts. Two men are dead, and Dodd has been prodded to sleep. After tying him up, Peggy has some time to reflect on the person that she wants to be, but that’s the problem. Or at least, that’s what the visage of John Hanley Sr. suggests is the problem. As one of the founders of Lifespring, Hanley emphasized feeling over rationality, which is just about as succinct of a description of Peggy as I can imagine.
The projected vision of Hanley that Peggy subs out for Dodd also manages to throw a little Camus into his talk to her, telling her that “he who seeks meaning finds nothing but contradiction and nonsense.” That is essentially the definition of absurdist philosophy, so perhaps some of Ed’s anxiety stemming from Noreen’s reading has transferred to Peggy and her hallucinations. But the words in that moment unlock something in her. She’s going to just be, instead of thinking.
This is who Ed finds when he finally makes it home after escaping from Lou and Hank. “This lady has lost her mind, brother,” Dodd tells him, shortly before getting knocked out.
Once on the road, Ed and Peggy realize what they have to do, but that’s not necessarily the same thing. And we see this dissonance play out in a split-screen sequence which was so perfectly written, directed, acted, and edited that you wonder how other shows look at themselves in the mirror. “I just have to keep us alive,” Ed says.
“You’re doing it, hon. We both are,” Peggy says. “We’re actualized.”
It’s a breakthrough moment for both, and they should take the win because there aren’t going to be many more of them during the rest of the trip.
NEXT: Hanzee’s coming…
As was previewed in the previous episode, Hanzee has been busy in his pursuit of Dodd and his captors. Tipped off by the hotel confirmation on Peggy’s fridge, his destination is Sioux Falls, but he isn’t opposed to making some stops along the way. One such detour takes Hanzee to a bar built on the ground — as a plaque informs him —where 22 Sioux were hanged. Considering the significance of the site, the treatment the “half-breed” veteran receives inside the establishment is especially resonant. It’s your run-of-the-mill racism — name calling, spitting in the water, refusing him service — but there’s a larger picture here.
The world that Fargo portrays, for the most part, is white. This is by no means a knock at the show or a statement of who the series is “meant” for, but everything from the characters to their concerns and the drama that arises from them is firmly founded in the Caucasian persuasion. Yet Noah Hawley and his writing staff are very much aware of the time and place they’re portraying and the hypocrisies within them. This is why Mike Milligan, who has found the structure of corporate America less open to a black man than advertised, and Hanzee, who has been greeted with hostility and humiliation even from those to whom he’s loyal, have had the two most meaningful transformations this season.
It’s no wonder that in the last two episodes have seen significant violent outbursts from these men who have been oppressed despite success in their chosen professional fields or in serving their country. Hanzee turning full-outlaw is his own version of Mike’s rebellion, adding fuel to the revolution that began in the room at the Pearl Hotel.
And their personal growth is timed around Peggy’s, which acts almost as a parody when compared to their revelations. But we benefit from that because the new, fully actualized Peggy is a delight to watch, and a lot of the credit is due to Kirsten Dunst, whose work here is the best it’s been all year. She commits so fully to the world that Peggy has constructed and the truths she sees so clearly now that when, for instance, she stabs Dodd twice for talking back to her, we believe that she’s just being the person she’s supposed to be.
“Foots on the other shoe now, huh?” she says.
The turn in Peggy also provides an opportunity for Jesse Plemons to shine. “I’m going crazy down there at the lake,” Ed tells the gas station attendant, echoing one of the best scenes from the original film. His repeated attempts to hold Dodd at ransom are such wonderfully impotent moments for Ed that capture exactly what the idea of Fargo is. A wife encourages her husband to not take “no” for an answer. It’s a scenario that has been played out innumerable ways, but not these with absurd specifics.
And did you notice the hangman overlaying Ed’s face in the phonebooth? The answer to the puzzle: Sioux Falls.
Ominous, right? There was an air of dread hanging over every moment of “Loplop.” Would Hanzee catch up with Ed and Peggy? Would Dodd escape? How would he go to the bathroom? (The answer to that last question ended up being one of the best scenes of the season.) The tense scenario made for great Fargo, both high in suspense and hilarity, because the operative word in those questions could almost always be switched to “when.” A fantastic example of this came when Hanzee forced Constance to talk to Peggy on the phone and try to pry their location out of her. “Sounds romantic,” says Constance, who was preparing for her own candle-lit night with Peggy. (I love this very telling character detail.) “No,” Peggy says, before reconsidering. “Well, sort of.” We can see the loose gears turning in her head, while we’re completely aware of the heightened scenario that she doesn’t know she’s a part of.
NEXT: Dodd gains the upper hand
Fargo once again proved its willingness to play with format as we jump into the TV to watch the end of a Ronald Reagan picture, possibly Operation: Eagle’s Nest, which Molly Solverson was watching earlier this season. The film, which only exists in the world of Fargo, and how it ends is a reinforcement of the old stories that several of the characters on Fargo have bought into and have subsequently been failed by. In the movie, the romantic leads reach a dead end while being pursued by a Nazi. The man decides that he’s going to sacrifice himself in order save her, but luckily for everyone involved (save the Nazi), Ronald Reagan arrives to save them all.
This story has everything that is missing from the stories we hear in real life and the absurdly complicated ones that the characters in Fargo have to contend with. There’s an unambiguous villain, a man being a man and deciding to save his helpless woman, and an ending that allows everyone to live happily ever after.
The inverse of this scenario plays out not long afterward. Ed returns from the gas station, where he has finally made contact with someone interested in Dodd. He and Mike Milligan agree to meet in Sioux Falls. Walking into his Uncle Grady’s cabin, Ed finds Peggy on the floor. Dodd is waiting with a noose, ready to string Ed up by the neck. With both of his former captors incapacitated, the captured Gerhardt is finally able to deliver his thesis about the world and what’s wrong with it.
“I think Satan is a woman,” he says. The great men of the world, “giants made of muscle and steel,” have been plagued by irrational women. As the oldest living son of the Gerhardt family, a once powerful family, Dodd cannot figure out why he hasn’t gotten all that was coming to him. Instead of being the powerful patriarch of the family with plenty of sons to carry on his legacy, he is trapped in a cabin by two dolts, without any proper heir and the Gerhardts’ hold on the region in question.
Then there’s that knife in his foot.
It’s Peggy who is able to take action and save her love, wielding her trusty stabby stick and breaking off the handle. Even though it horrified me, I loved the escalation of that scene — which reminded me of the above gem from the Coens’ first movie, Blood Simple. The knife in the foot is bad. Dodd cutting his hand on the blade is worse. Pulling his whole foot through the blade tops them all.
And just as it’s looking like Dodd has been defeated — and likely paralyzed by Peggy — Hanzee arrives, thanks to a tip by the gas station attendant. But the manner in which he enters is entirely unexpected. Ronald Reagan, he is not. Ignoring Dodd’s “half-breed” insults, Hanzee asks for a haircut, which is a curious request for a few reasons. Is he reclaiming his autonomy and personhood, or is he turning his back on a painful heritage that has caused him even more agony? Either way, Dodd won’t be around to find out, as Hanzee shoots him in the head.
Peggy agrees to give Hanzee the trim — he’s got the bone structure for it — but Lou and Hank interrupt it. After a quick stab from his hairdresser, Hanzee escapes, leaving the Blumquists to deal with the cops.
We’ve got two episodes left, and Mike Milligan is heading to Sioux Falls. Are we on the cusp of the massacre that we’ve heard so much about?
But when has Fargo ever done was it expected?