Fargo recap: Rhinoceros
I hope everyone took the week to consider how they are like Sisyphus, struggling to push that boulder up the mountain, only to realize that no matter how you struggle you still have to wait a week in between episodes of Fargo.
That last part might not be right.
But that’s okay, because the latest hour of Fargo, “Rhinoceros,” ditched some of the heavier Camus for some classic Carpenter, as Lou, Ed, Bear, Hanzee, Charlie, and Karl Weathers (with a K) reenact a politer version of Assault on Precinct 13.
For there to be a siege on the police station, however, there need to be some prisoners to bust out. With Charlie Gerhardt already in custody, the authorities inevitably came for Ed to ask him some questions about just what happened in the back room of the butcher shop. Namely, how did that meat cleaver end up in Virgil’s head. As Ed is taken away in cuffs, he is already beginning his reaction to Noreen’s quandaries from the previous episode. What is he doing with his life? What does it all mean if he’s going to die? Ed saw his previous answer going up in flames with the butcher shop, so he knows that’s no longer it. And to be honest, it probably never was that. Suffice it to say that he has some things to consider as he waits for Lou to come in to question him.
In the other cell, there’s Charlie, who appears to be in better health than when we last saw him, so at least he has his health. That doesn’t much matter in his case though, because he was supposed to be the Gerhardt that escaped, the one who didn’t have to live in the world of violent men and outdated rule. Charlie’s dad, Bear, is unique because while he is an active participant in that system, he’s also self-aware enough to take a step back and see that nothing good can come of this life. His son was supposed to break away. Now he’s in a jail cell. That’s as good as dead to Bear, who still mourns the death of his eldest brother, Elron, the true heir to the Gerhardt family name.
The remembrance of Elron more or less made a confrontation between Bear and Dodd, the false heir, inevitable. The already-lain fuel is lit when Bear receives Charlie’s call from jail. Dodd was busy managing a parental problem of his own with Simone, whose failure is a product of her father’s own shortcomings, and unlike Bear, he’s only continuing to make matters worse, talking about the “life of a whore.” Before his lesson can advance too far, Bear comes storming out of the house, ready to take his brother down for the ultimate betrayal, the destruction of his life’s work. Unfortunately for Bear though, he doesn’t have a faithful right-hand man like Hanzee to pull out a shotgun on his enemies, like Dodd does. The reversal puts Dodd in a position to deliver the most patriarchal of punishments: the belt. This is the one rule of order that Dodd understands, and it’s the one that everyone around him — from Floyd and Bear to Simone and Charlie — is fighting against.
Floyd is able to break up the bro-fest before things go too far, however, and she has a simple order. Bring Charlie home, and kill the Butcher of Luverne. The directive sends most of the Gerhardt men away from the farm, leaving the women at home — where Dodd would argue they belong, no doubt. The men may be gone, but they’ve left their mark. Simone is feeling particularly put off after being called a “whore” by her father, so who does she call? Mike Milligan, of course.
“He called me a whore,” she tells her lover.
“Technically…” he replies, trailing off.
She tells him that Dodd and the boys went to Luverne to take care of the Butcher, giving Mike the opportunity to take out her dad once and for all. Her final words to her father — or at least the ones she plans for him — are perfectly pop culture-informed for 1979. “Kiss my grits,” Simone tells Mike, quoting Flo from Alice, a waitress, appropriately enough for the season.
NEXT: Who wants to talk about poetry?!… Anyone?
As Milligan and the remaining Kitchen twin gear up, the loquacious man from Kansas City delivers a few stanzas of poetry that are sure to confuse anyone who isn’t familiar with Lewis Carroll’s 1871 classic, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. “Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem that Carroll included in his Alice in Wonderland sequel that tells the story of a ferocious beast and the brave, young man who confronts it.
‘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!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe
Did you notice how a lot of those words are complete and utter nonsense? You didn’t? Did you actually read the poem? It’s short. Go back, and read it. I’ll wait here.
Now that you’ve read “Jabberwocky,” you see that despite being comprised mostly of words invented by Carroll — a few of the words, like “chortled,” are used in normal speech today — the story of the poem is more or less clear.
As Milligan began to recite a 19th-century poem without any warning, I chortled a bit myself and wondered if Fargo had taken things a step too far, breaking more of the “true story” illusion than it usually does. How quickly I forget that every other episode hinted at UFO sightings! Looking back on the poem, it’s clear that Fargo has just found its lyrical twin. “Jabberwocky” makes sense because its basic shape is a story that’s been told for centuries. A young warrior triumphs over a monster. What Carroll is doing is simultaneously parodying those tales in a form that mirrors them almost exactly, except that the entire work is absolutely ridiculous.
In the same way, Fargo, as a franchise, is a story that we’ve heard and know so well that the absurdities — like Carroll’s words in “Jabberwocky” — are the key component. All of the proceedings are so serious, deadly even, and yet there is a knowing delight within every beat of it. Fargo, the first season in particular, is as close to an updated, 10-hour television adaptation of “Jabberwocky” as we’ll ever get.
NEXT: No more poetry, I promise.
Last week, I wrote about how every new episode this season becomes my pick for the best episode yet. While that’s not quite true anymore — “The Gift of the Magi” is currently the hour to beat — a different pattern is emerging. After every hour, I’m at a loss to say which actor has impressed me the most this season. Bokeem Woodbine held the title for a while, as did Jean Smart. Brad Garrett’s work as Joe Bulo (may he rest in a hat box) was a revelation. And I think it’s time the universe recognized just how damn good Patrick Wilson is. (An Emmy would do.) But after “Rhinoceros,” you could make a solid argument for both Kirsten Dunst and Nick Offerman.
The former has done uniformly stellar work as Peggy, but as Mrs. Ed Blumquist got her big moment, Dunst has never been better. After her husband is taken away by Lou Solverson, Peggy is left to entertain Frank Larsson and answer a few questions. Specifically, why didn’t she stop the car after hitting Rye Gerhardt? Literally everything that Peggy says in her scenes with Frank is fascinating and deserves a recap unto itself. What’s clear from her responses, confused as they may be, is that in searching for a better reality, she has completely disconnected from the one in front of her. “You’re a little touched, aren’t ya?” Frank asks, but it’s not that simple.
Peggy has become the by-product of her husband’s false dream. Ed believed deeply that their future contained nothing more than the butcher shop and their kids, growing up in the same house he did. He never once paused to consider his wife’s interior life, which has now manifested as seemingly endless stacks of magazines. It’s only when Ed is facing a life-altering set of circumstances that he sees what he should have been struggling for the entire time. “It doesn’t matter what they throw at me,” he tells Lou back at the station. “I’m going to take care of what’s mine.”
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The snag in that plan is that Peggy is still at the house, having to take care of herself as Dodd and the Gerhardts roll up and Hanzee lays out Frank with a swift blow to the head. In the end, it’s Peggy’s magazines, the nuisance that Ed once complained about, that save her when the Gerhardts pursue her in the basement. It also felt fitting that Dodd is undone, at least temporarily, by his cattle prod. (A decidedly phallic choice of weapon, I might add.)
Meanwhile, Karl Weathers, “slightly inebriated,” has matters under control at the police station. As the legal counsel for both Ed Blumquist and Charlie Gerhardt, he is the unlucky hinge in this Old West standoff, but fortunately for us, that position is the perfect showcase for Nick Offerman, who is so much more than Ron Swanson. (Though I will concede that his best co-star is usually his facial hair.) There might be some overlap between Karl and the head of Pawnee parks and recreation, but the lawyer for Luverne’s criminal element is such a unique creation and Offerman has done quite the wonderful job rendering him. The moment outside the station, when Karl faces down the Bear to calmly explain that what’s best for Charlie is the more civilized route, should have been the moment everyone realized that they underestimated Offerman.
Even though the episode ends without much incident — thanks to Karl’s fortitude — there are still a number of very loose threads by the conclusion. Mike, despite being instructed by Simone to go to Luverne to take out Dodd, ended up gunning for Floyd in Fargo instead. Ed, rather pathetically, is on the lam, looking to continue his struggle. And ever vigilant, Hanzee is on his trail.