Fargo, Season 2, Episode 4, “Fear and Trembling”
Written by Steve Blackman
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on FX
The inevitability apparent in Fargo‘s second season has driven a lot of its tension so far. The last two episodes have certainly proved there are interesting stories being told in the here and now of 1979, but a lot of what’s propelled Fargo in early episodes—besides the fantastic character work by the entire cast—is the ominous feeling of bad endings awaiting characters, be it the Blomquists’ growing set of problems or Betsy’s experimental cancer drug trial. Like Lou Solverson notes about the look on a man’s face when he’s in the middle of dying (or to return to last week’s metaphor, how Sisyphus feels on his way up the hill), there’s nothing but darkness awaiting our characters in Sioux Falls, and they, along with us, all know it’s coming.
Perhaps the most in-tune to this feeling are Lou and Floyd Gerhardt: As two people who’ve lived through war, they can smell the air changing around their respective situations. For Lou, this dread comes two-fold, hitting both his professional and personal lives with equal vigor, as cancer rages through his life, both in his town and inside his poor wife’s body, with no solution for either in sight. As the K.C. operation bears down on the Gerhardt’s—and by the same process, Hanzee on the Blomquist’s—Lou’s slow realization of what’s happened (and happening) is too little, too late, and he knows it. He can tell by the resigned commitment on the faces of Peggy and Ed that it’s already too late for them, and when he looks at his weakened wife and the might-be-placebos she got for her clinical trial, he can’t convince himself she doesn’t have the same look on her face as those poor boys in the war. He tells her he thinks she got the real pills, but as Betsy points out (proving once again that she’s the greatest), his thoughts may only be hopes and the countdown to tragedy has already begun.
Floyd’s story masterfully mirrors that of Lou’s in this episode: The K.C. operation rejects her generous counter-offer (lowering their initial offer in the process, and killing two of Gerhardt’s men for Dodd’s immature response) like it was Betsy’s body responding to the chemo; a good effort, but one shrinking in the presence of the efficient corporate cancer spreading its way through the northern American territories. But like Lou and his wife, and the short-sighted Blomquist pairing, the shit is moving closer and closer to the fan for Floyd, and she knows it, and as her husband clings to his life, she prepares herself for a war she knows she’s going to lose. It’s that American pride that drives her, that dying sense of optimism that came with the societal shift in the 1970s, in the post-Vietnam and Watergate world: This is their family business, and there’s no way she’s going to give up a business built on her family’s sweat and blood without a fight.
Except we can already see it’s not going to be much of a fight at all: It may be slow at first, but the K.C. operation is already beginning to consume the Gerhardt family, even if Floyd hasn’t had any more sons murdered this week. All she can really do is figure out how tightly she wants to tie the noose Joe Bulo metaphorically placed around her neck (and Lou physically ties and unties in the episode’s closing moments, sitting on the front porch), and whether she’ll get guided off the ledge, or forcefully pushed off of it.
But perhaps the most entertaining story of “Fear and Trembling” comes from the Blomquist family, where Peggy’s manipulations of Ed have reached a fever pitch. Their marriage is the delusion Lou talks about the soldier’s feeling: Peggy clearly knows their relationship doesn’t work, what with her clearing out the shared account for her “trip” and continuing to take her birth control while Ed thinks they’re trying to have a baby. What Peggy didn’t realize was that she was not in control of the chaos she was engineering (a lie her hair dresser is still pushing through Peggy’s head), and now that Hanzee and Lou are both creeping around their house at the same time (this week’s obligatory showdown tease), their weakly-constructed lies about Rye’s death and their marriage are floating to the surface (or not, in the case of her lying about birth control and them both about the state of their union) in the ugliest ways imaginable.
Even with the severely diminished presence of Ted Danson in “Fear and Trembling”, it’s another terrific hour for Fargo, an episode clearly designed as the bridge between acts: There is a lot of movement and suggestion in this hour, but outside of the attack and counterattacks in the “negotiations” between Floyd and Joe, there isn’t much going on besides some traveling, sex (Mike’s sleeping with Dodd’s daughter, which is sure to make for some fun later this season), and experimental medication, but we can all feel the other shoe wavering in mid-air nonetheless, an unspoken tension that elevates every single second of Fargo‘s generous running time.
- “Like the heads of Easter Island… not a sound.”
- Dodd is very generous with that cattle prod—maybe a little too generous.
- The mere sight of Peggy’s impatient feet as she waits for Ed to climb off her sent me into a laughing fit. Fargo really finds the darkest moments to express its sense of humor, and it’s awesome.
- Just like there’s no cure for Betsy and no deal for Floyd, there’s no store for Ed, thanks to his down payment bouncing. Poor guy does not know what he’s gotten himself into by loving his wife.
- Peggy’s feminism course is in Sioux Falls… that cannot be a good sign.
- Hanzee sees a strange, bright light in the middle of the day… and then finds a piece of the Blomquists’ headlight mirror.
- No Vietnam for Ed, on account of him having one kidney and all. Love how Fargo touches on the fundamental differences between those two types of young men, and how that bred resentment between the two in the late 1970s.