Fargo 2×04 ‘Fear and Trembling’: The hangover

Fargo 2x04 Cover

People tend to believe that our best days are behind us, that society is in decline. Some shows argue this point to exhaustion, like The Sopranos, a show entirely dedicated to our existential struggle as the world shifts and declines around us. But was the past really all that great? Were people’s lives that much better than they are now? Maybe. If we look at the way that today’s college students are beaten down with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, or the way that pollution and global warming continue to be unaddressed, then yeah, it’s easy to argue that society is in decline. But there was always struggle and corruption and suffering in the world, even if we want to believe otherwise.

Fargo 2x04-1

Source: FX

“Fear and Trembling” continues to tighten the noose around the necks of the characters, and in doing so, shows us how the world has always been corrupt, how there’s no way to escape that dark reality. It’s certainly the darkest episode of Fargo this season, and it works to remind us of how the status quo is looking to restore itself after being shattered. The Kansas City Syndicate is gaining power over the Gerhardts, Hanzee is finding damning evidence against Ed and Peggy, and the cops are increasingly unable to intervene in the impending violence. Lou ends the episode sitting outside, wondering how things got so bad, and it’s a mindset that people have as the status quo is shifting or being restored. That shift causes unrest and panic, and often feels like the end of the world. It’s why everybody thinks that society is in decline.

Fargo 2x04-2

Source: FX

That shift is also a reason for the thick tension that permeates the majority of the show. The more that I watch Fargo, the more that I realize just how impressive the show is at creating these extremely tense scenes. Consider the scene where the patriarch of the Gerhardt family is taken back to the car after his visit to the doctor. We know that, as soon as they leave the office and see that they’ve been blocked in, that something bad is going to happen. Or think about the scene where Joe and Floyd face-off, where we can specifically chart where the power in the room is. Floyd starts at a deficit, as established by the ease in which Joe speaks. And when Dodd stands up, when Joe accuses him of breaking the peace, we see that power continue to slip away from Floyd. And this happens, all until Joe says that, if the deal is rejected, he’ll wipe out every single Gerhardt. Fargo loves to start one side of a conflict off at a deficit and slowly sap the power away from the loser until there’s nothing left. This season is essentially about power being sapped from the little guy, how the big guys take more and more until there’s nothing left.

Fargo 2x04-3

Source: FX

Fargo thrives off of this tension, the idea that we know that something bad is coming, but not necessarily when. It makes the inevitable outburst of violence that much more powerful, amplifying the payoff of the tension. Fargo is a show entirely built on inevitability, as we know that the Gerhardts aren’t going to win the war that they start. We look at the trial drug that Betsy gets and know that she’s not going to make it. We see Hanzee enter Ed and Peggy’s home and know that they’ll have to brush elbows with violence once more. And we see Mike and the Kitchen brothers murder all of Otto’s soldiers and know that it’s just the beginning. This all goes back to the UFO and the idea of space exploration, progress pervading the edges of the narrative, slowly encroaching.

Fargo 2x04-4

Source: FX

Fargo’s narrative has been rather slow thus far, but, like the last season, it’s more about getting to know the characters than it is about providing non-stop action. Hawley knows that it’s not action that gets our blood moving: it’s tension, and “Fear and Trembling” is thick with it. That being said, I was shocked at the speed with which Ed and Peggy have been placed in the crosshairs. Peggy and Ed go through their personal conflict, with Peggy paying for her “seminar”, causing Ed’s check for ownership of the butcher shop to bounce. As this happens, Hanzee slowly closes in on them, first finding the piece of glass in the snow, then tracing it to the auto repair shop, then tracing that to their home. People are completely oblivious to the forces conspiring against them, just as Floyd is completely unaware that Simone was the one that led Mike’s men to Otto. Even when people know what is happening, such as Lou, who knows that Ed and Peggy have something to do with Rye’s disappearance, there’s nothing that can be done. Ed and Peggy just have to deny involvement, and everything plays out as it was going to. Everyone is so insistent that nothing is wrong that they don’t realize the world slipping away from them, the limb that’s already gone.

What makes this season of Fargo so impressive is its ability to not only get us to care about the characters, but how the themes of the show are more complex and in-depth than before. Season 2 of Fargo continues to reiterate how inevitably the world will change, how the things that will happen were always going to happen, how fate dictates our lives more than we want to admit. Because we might feel like we’re in the hangover, that the best days are behind us. But, in reality, were there ever that many good days? Or is life just a long existential malaise, where we try to change and try to be better, only to fail again and again and again?

We may not want to think about it, but the answer is probably bleaker than we want to believe.

What did you think of this episode? Do you think any of the Gerhardts are going to make it out of the war alive? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • George Liapes

    This was my favorite of the season thus far! It wasn’t the shootout that I predicted last week in the comments section, but I’m amazed at how many events have been set into place. I’m also amazed at how there are so many characters and storylines a la Game of Thrones style, but I’m invested in just about all of them. I even felt some sympathy for Dodd with the flashback at the beginning and the scene with Floyd in the car.

    I agree with you on the intensity of the scenes. I got a feeling of dread when it was mentioned that Peggy’s seminar is in Sioux Falls, which if you remember from Season 1, will be the home to a massacre which we’ll likely see at the end of the season. I’m also excited to see how Peggy and Ed deal with Hanzee.

    As for which of the Gerhardt family that will survive, I think that Simone, Dodd and Charlie won’t be a part of that group.

    Simone- she’ll probably be found out and killed, though I don’t know if it would her own family or Mike that would pull the trigger.

    Dodd- with free rein to attack the Kansas City mob as much as he likes now, he’ll probably end up getting killed doing so, or Floyd might end up doing the deed (either directly or by giving orders) if he becomes too much of a loose cannon.

    Charlie- he’ll probably end up as collateral damage as a blow to the family and to develop Bear’s character a little more.

    Also, I can see Peggy and/or Ed getting the axe eventually (though if my Sioux Falls prediction is correct, it’ll happen much later than sooner for the former) and Hanzee himself ending up dead (though I don’t know if Ed would so henpecked as to commit deliberate murder, even if it was in self defense).

    Keep up your reviews!

    • Michael St. Charles

      Oh wow, for some reason I never made that connection between Peggy’s seminar and the massacre that talk about in Season 1. I wonder if the massacre will have to do with the obliteration of the Gerhardts, since I really don’t see many of them, if any, getting out alive. You’re right, Dodd is too fiery to get out alive, and Simone (being a traitor) isn’t long for this world. I don’t know if you’ve seen the preview for the next episode, but there’s a lot of gunfire. Gonna be a good one!