Talk about tension! This masterful installment of Fargo turned the dial up to 11 on all fronts, while continuing to complicate the existing relationships between the characters.
Fargo Season 2 Episode 5 also trimmed the cast a bit more, as several casualties arose from the Gerhardt-Kansas City confrontation that was dishonestly orchestrated by the scheming Dodd. RIP one half of the Kitchen brothers and Joe Bulo.
Also, Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan! Finally!
A lot went down, so a lot of words follow. Bear with me, if you will!
Campbell did a tremendous job as Reagan, all charisma and empty platitudes (seriously, that Reagan-Lou scene in the bathroom was a thing of terribly awkward beauty) – but it was difficult to focus on him at all when there was so much else going on.
Aside from that great moment with Lou, where an unusually talkative Lou unloaded about Betsy's condition (relating it to the diseased condition of America) and asked Reagan how America would prevail, Reagan was essentially featured giving powerful, if rather platitudinous, speeches. He was a disembodied voice featured over the Kansas City-Gerhardt collision.
This served really nicely to underscore the absurdity of all of his pretty words, having his recited speeches set as a backdrop to nonsensical, totally unnecessary violence. This Gerhardt-Kansas City conflict is a war fought, lives ended, over control of territory. It is an inherently futile fight and it will clearly go on until both sides are exhausted or annihilated. It's a small-scale war to mirror the larger, global wars that have variously haunted Hank and Lou. It's a really smart parallel.
Every generation has their time.Ronald Reagan
The futility of life, the futility of even attempting to accomplish anything when we're all going to the same place in the end anyway, has been a big theme all season and came to a sort of crescendo in "The Gift of the Magi."
Noreen (the butcher's shockingly well-read girl) is clearly a big proponent of Camus' ideas about life's pointlessness in the face of indisputable mortality.
Although notice how anxious she was to have Ed rescue Charlie from the fire. She definitely saw something in Charlie, immediately prior to his pulling a gun on Ed, that made her see something besides futility in his life. Perhaps it was his love of Easter.
Though maybe she just has the hots for him. Who knows? We'll find out next time, I'm certain. I can't imagine that we were given that cute little flirtatious conversation between Charlie and Noreen in the butcher shop for no reason. The show is too carefully and thoughtfully constructed for that.
Beyond Reagan's well-utilized, rather minimal presence, the focus was all on the Gerhardts and their actions against both Kansas City and Ed Blomquist.
Kid gets slapped when he's bad. When you're grown, you get the fist. Or the knife.Dodd [to Simone]
As despicable as Dodd is, it's hard not to become completely transfixed by him and attempt to disentangle his long-term plan.
He is easily the worst person on the show. There, I've said it. He lied to his distraught mother Floyd about Rye's death, intercepting Hanzee's story about Rye's death to claim that Kansas City targeted and killed Rye as part of their takeover plot.
Dodd took advantage of how blindsided and grief-stricken Floyd was at her youngest's passing (a tragedy underscored by her speech to Joe Bulo in "Fear and Trembling" about losing nearly all of her children) to seize brief control and put in motion the attack on Bulo and the other Kansas City men.
That was surprisingly quick-witted of Dodd, who has so far seemed a handful of marbles short of a full set, if you ask me. I definitely wasn't expecting him to think so well on his feet like that. More than anything, it is incredibly intriguing that Hanzee immediately caught on and went along with Dodd's scheme.
A small but interesting moment occurred later on, after Hanzee and the other Gerhardt affiliates had brought the war to the Kansas City men, taking out one half of the Kitchens, various nameless lackeys, and most importantly, Joe Bulo. Hanzee returned to the Gerhardt estate, mostly silent and unperturbed as always, and was confronted by Bear.
Bear thanked Hanzee for his service to the family, and mentioned that Otto had taken Hanzee in at the age of 8 or 9. So essentially, Hanzee has been the family's hitman since he was a child? That's completely bizarre, but from what we've seen of Otto, I wouldn't put it past him.
Bear (like Dodd apparently much more clever than I might've given him credit for initially) instinctively knew that Dodd had concocted this story about the "Butcher of Luverne" being a hitman retained by the Kansas City syndicate to take out Rye. He urged Hanzee to come clean, acknowledging that Hanzee was "Dodd's man" but reminding him that they all answer to Floyd, the Gerhardt family leader, in the end.
This just begs so many questions. Why is Hanzee loyal to gross, awful Dodd above all others? Something must have happened during their shared childhood or young adulthood, an event that caused even-headed, not-despicable Hanzee to align himself with Dodd. I can't imagine what that event might have been, but I feel like this will definitely be addressed over the course of the season. It doesn't seem like the type of thing that would just be left hanging.
Of course, Hanzee and Dodd both made the grave mistake of leaving Milligan alive, which I'm sure will come back to bite them soon enough.
Simone, meanwhile, seemed to have realized that she epically screwed up in aligning herself with Mike Milligan. I addressed this in my review of Fargo Season 2 Episode 4, wondering (in essence) if Simone was plotting something or was just plain stupid.
Seems like it was definitely the latter, and she's now realizing that Milligan won't hesitate to kill her if she ceases being useful to him. Especially now that he is the de facto face of the Kansas City takeover scheme, in light of Joe Bulo's death/head in a box.
Me, on the other hand... I'm an optimist. So when I see this, I don't think the sky is falling. I think that, sir, is the sound of opportunity knocking.Mike Milligan
The Milligan/Simone scene was yet another fantastic entry in Bokeem Woodbine's eventual Emmy reel for this performance. Seriously, the way he plays this character and the way Noah Hawley is doling out bits of his backstory and personality – it's all incredible, and I'm always left wanting more. "The Gift of the Magi" was light on Milligan, but that scarcity made the brief scene with Dodd's daughter all the more impactful.
Speaking of the younger Gerhardts: Charlie insisting on accompanying family fixer Virgil on the Ed Blomquist "job" seemed like the natural next step in his character arc, and the whole encounter went largely as expected – by which I mean, Charlie couldn't bring himself to kill Ed in the end.
Charlie is clearly a good kid and is just trying to prove himself (particularly prove his masculinity and general usefulness, in the face of his disability), so his resistance to murder wasn't exactly a shock.
Charlie's frantic phone call to his father, when he clearly realized the error of his ways and voiced that he was ready to go back to college like his dad said, was heartbreaking, tragic and moving. It really seemed like a portent of doom, and I was sure after that brief moment that Charlie wasn't going to make it out alive.
Though the outcome was expected, the actual way the hit on Ed went down was not at all predictable. For one, I really thought Charlie was going to die (and am really glad he didn't).
Then there was the scene itself.
Fargo has had quite a few masterful, tension-filled face-offs and fight scenes (in this and the first season), and Ed's fight for his life against Virgil (and, secondarily, Charlie) was incredibly choreographed and seriously anxiety-inducing.
It's always tough when you really have no idea who you're rooting for – arguably there's no viewer out there who wants either poor sap Ed or poor innocent Charlie to die, so this was really the best possible outcome, in the end. Ed and Charlie are two of the most sympathetic (if not the only sympathetic) non-Solverson characters on the show.
Is anyone else seriously looking forward to Bear laying the hurt on Dodd when he finds out that his kid is in the hospital because Dodd allowed him to go out and actively participate in a hit? It's going to be so cathartic.
The Blomquist side-plot involved Peggy and Ed experiencing a quick switcheroo in how they each wanted to deal with aftermath of the Rye murder and cover up.
Ed started off the episode insistent that he and Peggy needed to stay and fight for what they wanted (or, more accurately, for what Ed thought they both wanted). Peggy, on the other hand, was being more realistic, insisting that after Lou's terrifying warning about the Gerhardts they needed to run, fast and far away.
That's what people do! They figure things out, stay together, make it work.Ed [to Peggy]
Peggy, being terrible, seemed fully prepared to turn tail and run, with or without Ed. In the end, though, she had a flash of conscience and decided to stay, selling her car to dopey Sonny and victoriously presenting Ed with the $700 check she'd received for the car that they would use towards buying the shop.
Only for Ed to tell her that the shop itself is no longer and that they really needed to skedaddle now, as she'd originally wanted, since Lou was right on the money and the Gerhardts had already come from him. Unfortunately, Ed's change of heart came just as the police were pulling up at their front door. Oops.
- Every time Betsy goes to take a nap I'm convinced that she's not going to wake up. I've steeled myself for her inevitable death to the point where I'm ready for her to die at literally any point. It's making all Solverson scenes really tense, for me.
- Thankful that Noreen has finally gotten something to do. She really held her own there during the attack on Ed.
- The episode title "The Gift of the Magi" refers to the O. Henry short story and relates directly to Peggy's sacrifice of her car for the money towards Ed's butcher shop.
- More alien imagery: Betsy becoming transfixed by Molly's drawing, where the sun looked a bit like a UFO. Still can't connect the dots on this one.
What were your thoughts on "The Gift of the Magi"? How do you expect Milligan's vengeance against the Gerhardts to play out? What will become of Peggy and Ed? Sound off by commenting below and remember to watch Fargo online here at TV Fanatic if you've missed anything!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.