Fargo Season 2 Episode 9 was not the season finale, I repeat, it was not the season finale.
"The Castle" truly felt more like the first part of a two-parter finale; so much of the season was resolved in the span of this hour and change. The elder Gerhardts have been wiped out, Hanzee went rogue, Betsy died (or is near death), and Ed and Peggy escaped amidst the chaos. And also, aliens.
Of course, enough was left unresolved that I am eagerly awaiting, on pins and needles, the final installment of this completely spectacular season.
As we round the corner and hurtle towards the end of this chapter in the book of "Midwestern History," I'll admit that I was concerned the show couldn't maintain its intense momentum. I'm thrilled to have been proven completely wrong.
Stylistically, "The Castle" was incredible and inventive. The show employed a narrator, framing the events as a story in a history book, complete with analysis and context provided in the form of brief flashbacks.
I had to laugh because in the handful of moments where Narrator (voiced by Martin Freeman, a.k.a. Fargo Season 1's Lester Nygaard, speaking in his native British accent) went in depth with theorizing, it almost felt like the show was poking fun at reviewers like me, dissecting every bit of this amazingly layered show.
Narrator brought up a great point, though – when did Hanzee make the decision to betray the entire Gerhardt family?
Was it the moment that Dodd insulted him, right before Hanzee offed him? Was it when Hanzee stood looking at the tiny forgotten plaque, commemorating twenty-two hanged Native Americans? Was it an earlier, pre-season Hanzee who we didn't meet that made the decision? Was this the plan all along?
In a later moment, the Narrator also theorized about why Hanzee was so intent on killing the Blomquists, after he'd already taken out pretty much the entire Gerhardt organization. This technique really underscored what a complicated, essentially unfathomable character he is.
Much like Lorne Malvo of season 1 (who I keep referring to because he was one of the most effective and magnificent villains I've ever seen in anything), Hanzee's true motivations are unknowable... and that's what makes him so intriguing.
Regardless, I'm thrilled that Hanzee is surviving to see the finale (and that he'll ostensibly be a big part of the finale). The Gerhardts, amusing and complicated as they were, never did feel like the true villains of the season.
Right from the get-go, the flaws and cracks in the Gerhardt clan were apparent, and made quite clear that the bunch of them would not make it out of here with a win. There was Dodd's treachery, Floyd's unfortunately blindness when it came to the love she had for her children, and the various levels of duplicity between family members.
It was a classic tragedy, and very well executed. Their downfall was written on the wall, from the moment that Rye disappeared and Kansas City came to town. The only real shock of the Gerhardt saga came when Hanzee engineered their downfall, rather than Simone's stupidity and naivety.
To begin, we picked up shortly after where we left off in Fargo Season 2 Episode 8 – Peggy, after stabbing Hanzee with the scissors, wound up tied up in a chair next to her husband in the hideout cabin, surrounded by an excess of law enforcement. The local PD were positively baffled that all of the hullabaloo and murder was a result of this deeply ordinary-looking Midwestern couple.
They don't look like much. You don't look like much.Captain Jeb Cheney
It quickly became clear that we were dealing with a bunch of badge-having idiots. Sorry for not putting that more delicately, but there really are no two ways about it. Just about every officer of the law present in that room (aside from Lou and Hank) was either cowardly, grossly inept, or (the deadliest combination) both.
After the local Sioux Falls officer sheepishly admitted that their station may not be a secure place to hold the Blomquists, given the common-knowledge rampant mafia corruption and all, one of the several interchangeable higher-ups came up with the brilliant idea to put poor, slow Ed directly in the line of fire by having him wear a wire into the Milligan meeting.
I call them interchangeable because at some point during all the puffery my eyes glazed over and the bunch of them just blended into one, faceless middle-aged heavyset white man. Two of their names were Gibson and Cheney, I know that much!
Obviously, I could have easily looked up the names of the characters, but I gathered that their interchangeability and gross ineptitude was kind of the point. They were there simply to give a reason for Lou to turn back and need to be present at the massacre; their shoddy policing provided the perfect counterpoint for Lou's necessary heroism.
The local cops reached head-scratching, face-palming levels of dumb when they ignored Lou's discovery that Hanzee had doubled back to the convenience store, killed the clerk, patched up his Peggy-inflicted scissor stab wound, and stolen the man's car.
Lou's irritation during the scene when the local lowly officer showed up, ignoring the fact that there'd been a murder a few hundred feet away from them and simply insisting that he needed to drive Lou to the state border, was palpable. I was right there with ya, Lou.
Of course, being Lou, he couldn't just ignore what he knew and head home to his wife and daughter. No, Lou is a hero, through and through. There are no shades of gray in this man; he's a lily white paragon of good.
And equally of course, this being the world of Fargo, in which absurdity is king and bad things happen to good people for no reason at all, it was that day of all days that he definitely should have turned tail and gone home. In a heartbreaking, brief scene away from the action in Sioux Falls, Betsy collapsed in her kitchen and was found lying near shattered glass by little Molly.
We've been anticipating this all season. We knew already that Betsy dies. That didn't stunt any of the emotional impact of this scene, particularly as we saw Lou try to place a call home to talk to his family, only for the phone to ring and ring with no answer in the empty house. It's unclear whether Betsy is dead or near death, but I fear that Lou won't make it home in time to say good-bye to his wife.
Lou's hunch was right on the money. Hearing that Constance Heck was also a victim of the rising body count was the last straw; he turned around at the border and made his way back to Sioux Falls.
En route, he spotted the Gerhardts, who had been (incorrectly) tipped off by Hanzee that Kansas City (not the police) were holding Dodd in the Motor Inn and were on their way there to retrieve him. Panicking, Lou attempted to radio ahead to warn the group as he raced back to the hotel. Another wonderfully stupid moment on the part of the local cops meant that their radio was off, and Lou's transmission went unheard.
At which point, we arrived at the scene of the massacre. I was honestly expecting that the massacre would somehow be subverted here and saved for the finale. It was a really interesting choice, story-wise, to set the full climax in the heart of the penultimate episode. Noah Hawley is employing a really unique structure here.
But no; the massacre unfolded completely. As the lug-headed cops sat around discussing piss and playing poker, the Gerhardts shot up the hotel. Hank, being already awake, managed to shoot a few of them and take cover. Ben, in a shocking moment of aptitude, managed to overtake two of the Gerhardt men – only to be clocked by Peggy.
Man, Peggy has really grown on me (and grown as a character) in the back half of the season. She was initially deeply unlikable, but ever since she "actualized" she's grown more and more competent. Which feels odd to say, because that makes it sound like Lifespring worked as advertised or something.
Hanzee eliminated Floyd as soon as she discovered his treachery. I had considered the idea that Hanzee didn't really want to kill Floyd – after all, he warned her against coming along, trying to suggest that she send Bear and a dozen of her men only.
But then, I saw the brutality of her death. Hanzee stabbed her in the stomach, which seems too metaphorical to ignore: a big aspect of Floyd's character has been her status as a mother (both a literal mother and the materfamilia). To stab her in the stomach, in the womb, seems incredibly pointed to me. He did, after all, use her love of family against her.
Floyd: I miss them all.
Bear: We'll be together again. On high.
Bear, seeing his mother dead, was distracted long enough for Lou to squeeze off a shot at his head. This didn't stop Bear. He charged Lou and almost killed him. Meanwhile, Hanzee shot left and right, indiscriminately killing "friend and foe alike" in his quest to kill the Blomquists. Hank was one such casualty.
Everyone involved was distracted by the arrival of a flying saucer, which, you know, is totally fair. Except for Peggy, of course, who then had the line of the episode:
Ed: Are you seeing this?
Peggy: It's just a flyin' saucer, Ed, we gotta go.
Totally nonplussed. Peggy, I love you.
I don't have much to say about the arrival of the alien life forms. There have been anvil sized hints and references to this all season (as recently as the "We're not alone" bumper sticker pinned up at the store), so the actual appearance can't be called a shock.
I will say that I was a bit surprised to see the aliens literalized in such an obvious, pointed way. The show went out of its way to clarify that this was no hallucination, too; each of the characters saw the flying saucer and registered it.
Lou took the opportunity to kill Bear (RIP, Bear! You weren't so bad, relatively), Peggy took the opportunity to escape, dragging Ed along with her, with Hanzee close behind. Lou, after checking on Hank, took off in pursuit of Hanzee and the Blomquists.
And Mike Milligan arrived fashionably late, swiftly turning heel with an exclamation of mild surprise at the site of all the dead cops and Gerhardts. As you do.
- The look on Lou's face when Bear basically Hulked out and charged him after Lou had shot him in the head, was priceless. It provided a great moment of levity in the middle of what was essentially the climax of the season.
- Loved Hank's reference to showing up at Sunday dinner wearing a suit of armor, which was a direct callback to Fargo Season 2 Episode 1, in which he said the exact same thing to Lou after being invited to dinner.
- Wimpy Schmidt commented that "this" (the Motor Inn attack) was "just like Rapid City" all over again. Say what now? Are we to understand that this man has survived THREE massacres now? Lorne Malvo's reign of terror in season 1, the Sioux Falls Massacre here, and some third one in Rapid City? This man has some kinda luck, I'd say.
- Hank's story to Gibson (I think it was Gibson) about his Lieutenant in the war who told Eisenhower to shove it and defied an order, saving Hank's life and the lives of his other men, was a great moment. Ted Danson is a gem.
- As Milligan and Kitchen drove to Sioux Falls, memories of touching Joe Bulo's hair and being with Simone filled his head. I wasn't sure what to make of that. Are we to believe he formed genuine emotional connections with either of them?
Thoughts on "The Castle"? How will this season play out? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below and watch Fargo online to catch up on anything you've missed!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.