Fargo Review: Rhinoceros - Beware the Jabberwock
You're a little touched, aren't you? -- Hank Larsson, to Peggy Blumquist
While there are certainly larger things at play within Fargo's second season, the underlying themes continue to remain constant, even as the action, the drama, and the suspense ramp up in intensity. Ed Blumquist referred to Sisyphus, using it to inform and explain his own situation, but the concept of inevitability remains prevalent. In addition to the endless boulder rolling, there's also a build and a depiction of the rapidly approaching end to a simpler way of life, regardless of location.
This week's MVP, without question, was Karl Weathers, played to perfection by Nick Offerman. The dialogue here was stellar stuff, as showrunner Noah Hawley, who wrote this week's episode, gave him long sentences, chocked full of imagery and wild diction, leading Sonny to exclaim, "You sure know a lot of words, Karl." Offerman, just as he did in Parks and Recreation, crushes the role of the eccentric nationalist with a distrust of government or authority.
Well son, rest assured, whatever your status, I shall defend you until your last breath...I mean my last breath. Excuse the obvious death penalty snafu. I'm slightly inebriated.
His performance must be seen to be fully appreciated, but the role and the execution are as Coen Brothers as it gets in terms of the character. Listening to him is a joy. The lines are funny, but deep and also well off that same end of the pool. He hits that mix between a deadly serious attitude and complete lunacy. In some ways, I'm reminded of John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, though on the other side of the law. Remember, he's a lawyer (perhaps the town's only lawyer), even though he's often ripe for a DUI and does enjoy the sauce:
I'm an esquire, kid. A barrister. Defender of the common man...the misaccused.
Simple things, like warm beverages, smiles, and even family and gender roles are breaking down in Luverne, in Fargo, and in many cities and towns we don't see. Several times in this week's episode, "Rhinoceros," female characters made statements declaring their desire to be more than what might be common or expected, with Floyd calling it "our time," where "women's work" and "men's work" don't exist. Floyd, though Dodd might not like it, quietly believes she's the one in control, and when she speaks, everyone listens. At the current time, we're not entirely sure she's still alive, though because we never saw Milligan and his army shoot her, she's likely in hiding or holed up somewhere, attempting to find a way through the darkness.
That same empowered woman in hiding motif struck twice, as Peggy had to hide in the basement once Dodd and the Gerhardt clan arrived, willing to take Lou Solverson out if he wouldn't permit them free reign to search for Ed and his wife. The cattle prod returned, but Dodd felt the wrath on this occasion, after getting too froggy and not protecting his back. Before talking about Peggy's quick thinking (for a change), let's examine her character. If there's anyone consistently annoying to watch, it's Kirsten Dunst in this role, but not because of the actress. Peggy has bought into all the Constance Kool-Aid and now wants to be the "best me I can be" and even seems far more focused on herself than her husband, who is now behind bars for a cleanup job to her hit-and-run.
She's selfish, but it's a necessity to show her in this manner, because it seems increasingly intentional that the audience is supposed to feel sympathy for Ed, but nowhere near the same degree of concern for Peggy. When one becomes independent, that one bears far more responsibility for every decision he or she makes, and is at a higher level of fault in almost every case. Peggy has made a ton of mistakes, and she's been callous, but most of all, she's been rather imbecilic and naive.
That's not to say her husband hasn't also been stupid, but the difference in motivation and rationality make his issues more tolerable and also nobler. It sounds callous to assert that the woman is a conceited, self-absorbed lout, but that's basically what Peggy Blumquist has been, and the implication points to that reality existing long before Rye Gerhardt introduced himself to her front bumper. That marriage was doomed either way, because Peggy wants her own life and doesn't desire the housewife job and isn't interested in being the life companion of a small business owner. She wants to...well she wants to be on her own. She probably also wants to experience more in her life, and, in the process, get away from small-town Minnesota.
Hank Larsson attempts to get through to her, but even he seems stunned at just how brazen she is about leaving and going to her Lifespring conference the next day, while Ed rots behind bars. She's in some kind of alternate universe where either nothing has actually happened, or she's just completely lost her own sanity. When she talks of her magazines being a window into her future, as she lives in a "museum of the past" in Ed's childhood home, it's clear where her thought processes have taken her.
Ed talks of Sisyphus and says, "But he doesn't stop. He just keeps going. It doesn't matter what they throw at me, I'm gonna take care of what's mine." He doesn't fully realize that he has idealized his marriage and hasn't quite figured out that the foundation has crumbled around him. However, just as Peggy does, he defends the choices he has made, even when the truth is far more complex than a few cliches. It's what comes from a lack of "worldly" in life.
There are moments where Peggy's attitude reflects the film, Pleasantville, or the break from Stepford wife and subservient person to "free as a bird." It's the way she's going about it, and the clueless and singular pursuit of her own independence at the WRONG time, which may get Ed Blumquist killed. It's already gotten him arrested. It's already forced him to run from Hank and Lou, potentially into the waiting grasp of Hanzee Dent.
In addition to Floyd and Peggy is young Simone Gerhardt, who continues to quietly provide useful intelligence to Mike Milligan, informing him when Dodd, Bear, and the crew are on their way to Luverne to recover Charlie and murder Ed. However, once again, with that decision, the consequences belong to her, including Milligan and his guys showing up and unleashing a barrage of bullets at the Gerhardt homestead, where Floyd and Simone are conversing about "picking sides" and the shift in power respective to gender. Jean Smart, even when she isn't on screen for very long, which has been the case the last two weeks, is just fantastic.
Milligan recites Lewis Carroll's poem, "Jabberwocky," which is full of gibberish, but also of foreboding and fear. The basic concept of the Jabberwock is of a monster, a dangerous, menacing presence that all should avoid. Mike Milligan is our Jabberwock, and with the poem coming directly after the tip from Simone, the warning extends to his blonde lover. Trusting Mike Milligan simply isn't smart, and it comes to fruition when he arrives at the Gerhardt farm instead of in Luverne. Simone, in her quest to stick it to Dodd, and in fact to get her uncle killed, almost gets herself clipped. Again, to borrow a phrase from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
Peggy prods Dodd, Ed and Lou climb through a window at the station to get away from the lynch mob, and Karl sells Bear on walking away and allowing Charlie's status as a minor to greatly diminish his culpability in everything that happened at the butcher shop. Mike Milligan is on the warpath and the Gerhardts continue to be two steps behind him, even Simone, who thinks she's liberating herself as she plans the destruction of her family.
There's a lot happening, even though this episode felt a little less eventful than the past few. Humor and absurdity were available in spades, and while it wasn't my favorite episode of the season, even a somewhat pedestrian week on Fargo is worlds above 99% of other television programming.
Four episodes left, and the pacing makes it clear, as with the first season, we'll be getting a solid, believable conclusion. That's a comforting thought.
I'm on Twitter @GuyNamedJason. I am, without question, NOT the Jabberwock. However, that's likely what the Jabberwock might say...were he or she human. So, your call.