Fargo is becoming one of those shows where every week I have to announce that I’ve seen the “best episode yet”, where I gush about how great it is and claim that I don’t know how it could possibly get any better. Last week’s episode, “The Gift of the Magi”, was easily the best of the season, finally paying off in a couple ultraviolent scenes that claimed a couple lives while throwing many others up in jeopardy. But, like I said, this week’s episode is the best yet, intense from beginning to finish, ready to explode at any given moment. It’s a fantastic installment in a season that only continues to get better and better.
What blows my mind about this season of Fargo is how this explosion of stakes and the status quo doesn’t diminish the intensity of what comes after. Consider Breaking Bad, where the slow buildup of the final season exploded two episode before the end, making the penultimate episode of the series more about building than exploding. The payoff that comes with exploding tension makes it so that a show has to raise the stakes again before another climactic moment. However, this season of Fargo expertly creates stakes as other elements are exploding, meshing together plotlines in order to keep the narrative moving while still shifting the status quo and paying off high stakes.
The love is spread across all of the characters here. Lou brings Ed in for questioning, but after Bear hears that Charlie was arrested, the precinct in Luverne is assaulted by Bear and his small army of men. Meanwhile, Dodd and Hanzee hunt down Ed at his house, only to come in contact with Peggy, who incapacitates Dodd. Hanzee, however, continues to hunt for Ed, following his scent to the police station and through the woods where Ed eventually escapes. All the while, the Gerhardt home is left vulnerable, something that Mike hears from Simone, and instead of going after Dodd like Mike promised, a horde of men from Kansas City descend on the home and pump it full of bullets. It’s the kind of interconnected plotting that makes for captivating television, never letting up until Lou and Hank drive off at the very end, trailed by Hanzee, walking down the street with a sense of inevitability.
It’s also intensely focused, revolving around the idea that physical force is what we resort to when we want to change something, even though physical force is impotent against the weight of social forces moving to shift the world out from under our feet. Dodd and Bear both take small armies with them to take out a doofy Midwestern couple and to jailbreak Charlie from Luverne’s police station, and both inevitably fail. Dodd and his men are beaten down by Peggy, while Bear’s army is turned away by a sweet-talking Karl (played beautifully by Nick Offerman). Bear knows what Karl is telling him, that breaking Charlie out of prison will only make things worse for him, that Charlie is stuck on the path he’s on now. Neither Dodd not Bear stop to think at all about the actions they’re taking, and that lack of thought makes it impossible for them to accomplish anything. And, in the end, neither of them understands that charging ahead makes them vulnerable, as their absence is what gives Mike the opening to shoot up the family home.
It’s tough to even pinpoint a high moment in an episode full of high moments, but the conversation between Karl and Bear was easily the best and most intense part of the episode. It embodies this key idea that has been running throughout the episode, the notion that force is impotent against reality. Karl may not be Charlie’s lawyer, but he speaks the truth when he tells Bear that his rage is only making matters worse for Charlie. At a certain point, inevitability carries a person away, and Charlie is already gone, even if Bear doesn’t want to admit it. The same goes for Ed, who runs away from Lou at the end of the episode. Inevitability has already doomed both him and Peggy, even if either of them doesn’t realize it yet.
The quiet moments also spoke volumes about the inevitability that these characters face. Peggy speaks out about what she desires from her life, and the more she speaks out, the clearer it is that she’s pulling against forces that would keep her in Minnesota in Ed. It’s important to note that this season takes place in 1979, soon after the second-wave feminist movement, where women have more agency and voice but are still immensely hindered by social forces. Peggy, Floyd, and Simone all want more for their lives, but none are able to do so around all of these violent men who don’t take time to think about their actions. Simone wants to have agency over her body, but the men around her ridicule her for it. It gets to the point that she tries to lash back by ordering a hit out on Dodd, but even that recoils back onto her. Peggy is even saved by the clutter in her basement, the maze that her past has constructed. It’s easy to fall back on old beliefs in order to feel safe, which is what Peggy constantly does, but that makes her small attempts at freedom even more heartbreaking when they fail.
“Rhinoceros” is a potent, terrific episode of television, continuing to set up the inevitable Sioux Falls massacre at the end of the season, increasing the tension in the Gerhardt/Kansas City feud. Each episode seems to be increasing the tension, tightening the noose around the necks of the characters caught up in the impending violence. We might want a couple characters to escape from inevitability, but this is a story about progress, about corporations pushing out the small business. The closer we get to the end, the closer we get to an age where people like the Gerhardts aren’t important anymore, where the world could care less if they’re standing or gone.
So what did you think of today’s episode of Fargo? Who do you think is going to be the next to die? Let me know in the comments!