Fargo, Season 2, Episode 6, “Rhinoceros”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on FX
In my review of “Before the Law”, I talked about how it felt like Fargo was building towards any number of Western-esque showdowns and while I meant that in mostly physical terms, the psychological warfare being played throughout this second season comes to a head in “Rhinoceros”. An evocative, hauntingly tense hour of standoffs and ultimatums, “Rhinoceros” details the Gerhardt family’s attempts to recover and exact revenge on The Butcher in one single, smooth motion—a motion that goes anything but smoothly, accelerating the show’s eventual descent into chaos.
Of the many impressive creative and technical aspects of Fargo‘s second season, the show’s ability to construct parallels between stories stands out; on most shows, the best episodes are usually the ones where the A, B, and C plots share some sort of thematic unity. Layering a story allows for an enhanced sense of poignancy, that moment when the universe lines up just the right way and we find ourselves with a rare moment of existential clarity. So far, Fargo‘s entire season has been a series of circles carefully constructed to be both independent and parallel to every other story at the same time.
Take Peggy’s journey this season, for instance. While her plight to discover her best self is unique to her, we’ve certainly seen the same struggle from people like Charlie and in this episode, Karl, who pushes beyond mere government conspirator to truly embrace his role as an esquire and legal negotiator. In these quests to find themselves, nearly every character on Fargo has been faced with the limitations they fear will crush them and along with that, an opportunity to change things, albeit not always in the context they’d hope or expect. Floyd and Peggy take center stage in “Rhinoceros”, dealing with the fallout of the actions they’ve made to separate themselves from the patriarchy in their world.
Out of context, those decisions are not smart ones: Floyd decides to give the middle finger to the police and a massive crime syndicate while Peggy allows her husband to (finish) killing and grind up Rye Gerhardt, two decisions that couldn’t be any stupider with a little bit of consideration. But as Peggy pleads to Hank, we can’t just view actions in life out of context, moral decisions especially. Floyd and Peggy both did what they did to appear strong (and because Floyd’s son’s an asshole), seeing the road their lives were heading down and taking action to change it. It seems simple: Drive the guy you hit to the hospital, or take the big buyout the K.C. syndicate is offering for a business missing its prodigal successor, but both Peggy and Floyd know it’s not that simple, especially in a world where both are stuck next to helpless men.
This idea of choosing “A or B”, and the complexities that life offers them, is expertly shown through the characterizations of those two women; it also comes to light with Karl and Bear, who share a tense discussion about the current and future prospects of Charlie as Karl stands with a dozen guns pointed at him. The choices seem simple: Let Charlie sit in jail and be reformed by the next 5 years he’ll spend in prison, or throw his entire life into jeopardy by breaking him out now. Again, a simple decision, but one that takes a lot of drunken conviction on Karl’s part to work on Bear. Driven by emotion and blinded by the plight of his family, Bear’s rationality is thrown in complete disarray, causing the most basic decisions to become paralyzing. He knows killing Karl and breaking into the precinct is the wrong choice for his son; given how he looks as Karl talks to him, he knew long before Dodd sent him into the butcher shop that his son wasn’t made for this world, and can only face the facts when he swallows his pride and admits defeat (again, the masculinity explorations this season have been fantastic).
Bear and Karl’s showdown is the emotional center of this hour, Bear’s silence and Karl’s rambling platitudes about justice crashing into each other outside the police station and setting the stage for what looks like a bloody exchange. But again, Fargo‘s dedication to subversion reigns strong; unexpectedly, no bullets are fired at the police station, putting that location in direct contrast with the Gerhardt home, which gets shot up by Mike, the remaining Kitchen brother, and their crew while the other standoffs of the evening—both physical and metaphorical—rage on silently around North Dakota and Minnesota.
That contrast between stories is key in building the narrative tension in this episode and the season as a whole. It finds shared moments of poignancy, detailing the plight of human kind in the post-Vietnam world, displaying America as a whole as a country coming to a dangerous ideological crossroads at the end of the 1970s. Combine that with the wonderful use of split-screen in this episode (often detailing events the character on the other half of the screen isn’t privy to the details of), and it’s no surprise “Rhinoceros” is one of the most fascinating episodes of the series to date, an hour as dramatic and operatic as the most climatic of episodes, but lacking in that sweet release of tension resolving any of the many face-offs, standoffs, and showdowns forming in the crevices of Fargo‘s second season, which in a way, makes it a singularly unique episode of the series (and a fantastic one, at that).
- Hank’s survived two showdowns so far this season. Will he be able to make it through a third?
- Peggy: “I’m living in a museum of the past.”
- Speaking of Hank and Peggy, I love how Hank is neither concerned with Peggy nor Ed by the end of this episode.
- Dodd and Bear’s odd acceptance of the ritual beatings they give each other is so weird to watch. “I’ll take the buckle, you son of a bitch.”
- Noreen is emancipated from her parents, a character detail only Fargo would concern itself with.
- Dodd shoots his own guy in the head, then proceeds to get tased, twice, by Peggy. I don’t think it killed him, but boy, is he going to be angry when he wakes up.
- Where you running to, Ed? Hank isn’t too concerned – though considering Hanzee’s interest, it might be something worth looking into.
- Is there anything on television as nearly as awesome as this show?