Prior recaps are in here
“This thing’s officially out of control.”
That was quite a thing, wasn’t it? The long-promised Massacre At Sioux Falls certainly lives up to the name, and the quasi-mythical quality it’s taken on via things like this week’s introduction of the True Crimes Of The Midwest literary framing device (narrated by Lester Nygard, doing his best Paul Bettany). There are upwards of a dozen violent deaths, hundreds of shots fired, double-crosses, and oh yes, a goddamn flying saucer. And then the perfect button, with Mike Milligan and his Kitchenette showing up too late for the party and having perhaps the most sensible reaction possible.
There’s so much craziness to unpack here. The narration alone is a ludicrous thing to just have pop up one episode before the finale, and yet it fits the slightly lurid shaggy-dog style of the show’s storytelling so perfectly that it doesn’t feel jarring. And the fact that it is inherently nonsensical – how does the author know enough specifics to wax philosophic about the exact next 2 words Hanzee will say to a woman who will not live to give any interviews on the subject, moments after expounding on how little is known about Hanzee’s motivations? – only furthers the cheeky “this is a true story” conceit of the series and film. Part of the peculiar genius of Fargo is that this framing device could continue through the finale, and into next season, and even be obliquely shown to encompass not just the misadventures of the Blumquists and Lunde/Nygards, but also the machinations of Tom Reagan and Johnny Caspar, and Mattie Ross’s dogged pursuit of Tom Chaney in the Arkansas Territory. Or it could not even factor into the finale at all, and that would somehow feel just as appropriate.
The appearance of the UFO, in such striking and definitive fashion, should be a total dealbreaker as well. It’s technically the deus to end all machina-s, appearing from the ether to save our hero from imminent death. And as a rationalist spoilsport, the intrusion of the supernatural into a narrative that was doing just fine without it should be especially galling to me. I won’t name names, because you can probably guess and I don’t want to drop vague but large spoilers in a post about a different topic entirely, but there are a few genre pieces that have raised my ire by taking a hard left into the magical at the end. And this is only exacerbated the more that I felt they had already accomplished the hard work of building up a cast and universe that I cared about on its own terms.
This should be bullshit of the highest order, but for reasons I’m still puzzling out, it delighted rather than infuriated me. Maybe it’s because this season of Fargo has been, in particular, about bullshit. Whether it’s the magical thinking bullshit of Reagan or Peggy’s self-help guru, or how Betsy has to pretend she’s taking real medicine until she just ups and dies, or the entire Kansas City war and Ed’s reputation as The Butcher of Luverne being based on lies, or just the way that Hanzee is the only one (including us, as the narration points out) at the motel that really understands why they’re all there and killing each other, it’s evident that no one actually has all the answers. Not even Eisenhower. And if our elevated position as audience allows us to see a few of the puzzle pieces that Mike or Lou can’t, it just means we can see how little sense even the big picture makes.
Or maybe it’s just that Peggy’s “it’s just flying saucer” dismissal is so pitch-perfect that it punctures any head of steam I might have been building about the laziness of using magic or aliens to wrap up plot threads or bail characters out of corners you regret painting them into in the first place. Because if there are two things I can’t accuse Fargo of, it’s laziness or sloppy plotting. This season, much like the first, has had gears turning within gears within gears on a plot level, with storylines interweaving in a manner that manages to be at once organic and consistently surprising. And I can’t even hold the brazen inorganic-ness of the UFO against the show. Sure, Bear had never seemed more formidably like his namesake than when he was charging straight through gunshots to maul our guy, but he could have just keeled over at any point, or caught a final stray bullet, or a deliberate one from Hank, or Hanzee, or even Mike, and any of it would’ve been perfectly natural and believable. They didn’t need to do this at all, so the fact that they did just tickles me instead of making me call bullshit. The show is so confident in its voice and style at this point, so unafraid of jumping the shark, that it’s attaching freaking laser beams to their foreheads.
Finally, I haven’t said much about Ted Danson this season, but his performance reaches a remarkable peak here. From the moment Hank was introduced, he seemed like he was there specifically to be a sacrificial figure to give all this violence some weight (as Lou can’t die heroically and still serve pie to Lorne Malvo three decades down the line). This week, he seems to fulfill that exact role, and wouldn’t you know it, despite my instinctive attempts not to get too attached, Danson’s been so warm and resolute and darn loveable that it still got to me. His final words with Lou were, like so many other little bits this year, just perfect, and hit particularly hard on the heels of the minute we spent on the Solverson homefront. As wacky as the UFO intervention may be, even it can undercut the knowledge that Lou only has more hardship and death awaiting him when he gets home so much. And if that death is not as exciting as the 60some and counting murders we’ve witnessed throughout the course of the season, it’s no less senseless.
Okay then, time for Coen Bros Bingo And Other Random Shit.
COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT
– Hanzee’s self-surgery in the bathroom calls to mind Chigurgh’s in No Country.
– The fanciful narration has a little bit of The Big Lebowski’s cowboy wraparound, with its inability to quite nail down its own theme.
– Man, that driving drum theme that closed out last week and played when Lou turned back to South Dakota this week gets my blood pumping.
– A great touch: The Gerhardt kids’ height markings on the door jam, now riddled with bullet holes, next to Floyd during that last phone call are a wonderful touch, driving home that even if they “win” that night, the war has already cost her what they’re fighting for.
– The episode ends with a country-fied rendition of “Run Through The Jungle”, one of the Creedence songs to appear in The Big Lebowski, and maybe my favorite.
– If there were any bum notes about “The Castle”, it was the narrator spelling out Hanzee’s motivation for continuing to pursue the Blumquists, or the Dakota police chief being so over-the-top antagonistic to our guys that looking back, I see and hear Paul Gleason playing the role, all DVR and IMDB evidence to the contrary.
– And maybe, if I’m being extra churlish, I could’ve wished for a more elaborate death scene for Jean Smart (because Lord knows there wasn’t enough going on in the Massacre sequence). Actually, I wish we’d gotten a little more Floyd overall, though I’m not sure how or at the expense of what I would want it to come.