FARGO REVIEW: Ep. 7, ‘Did You Do This? No, You Did It!’

Mike Milligan (Jokeem Woodbine) makes a decision independent move in the latest episode of "Fargo" on FX.

Mike Milligan (Jokeem Woodbine) makes a decision independent move in the latest episode of “Fargo” on FX.

The seventh episode of “Fargo” Season 2, entitled “Did You Do This? No, You Did!” aired last night on FX. What follows is a Minnesota-centric review that contains spoilers.

This year, “Fargo” takes us to Southwestern Minnesota in 1979, the same year I was born on the other side of the state. A small town family crime syndicate based in Fargo is under siege from a larger, corporate mob looking to expand. Events draw in innocent bystanders and noble cops across the border in Minnesota to test the mettle of every character, each quite literally under fire.

Here at MinnesotaBrown.com, I provide specific Minnesota color commentary on each episode of “Fargo.” I use a ratings scale of “Oh, ya!” for the best moments, ranging down though “Pretty Good,” “Could Be Worse,” and the ultimate Minnesota dismissal, “Interesting,” for the most baffling elements.

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“Did you do this?

“No, you did it!”

That’s not dialogue, but rather the title for Episode 7 of “Fargo,” Season 2. It’s also the unspoken theme of the entire series. The world is descending into madness. Who’s to blame? We are. We are doing this, as though acting under direction of the unseen forces of fate and … aliens?

To quote Bear Gerhardt in a heartbreaking scene, “It’s already done.”

Then again, free-willers take note, this episode might show the titanic struggle between change and tradition. But the whims of independent actors still matter. Don’t count out Mike Milligan. And what the heck do we do about Ed and Peggy? Ed’s only got one line in this episode but he makes it count.

The episode opens with an office in the corporate headquarters of the Kansas City crime syndicate, the efficient killers and dope runners seeking to usurp the Fargo Gerhardt clan. Some gobbledegook sales pitch is going on when a pair of window washers wheel themselves up the building and slay everyone inside with machine guns. This season plays with the notion of “corporate” America squeezing out the everyday dreams of actual Americans, even in organized crime. Opening the episode this way is a way of saying that even the bullshitters in the ivory towers can be rattled. They’re humans, too. They bleed the same.

The problem is there’s more of them. And they have more money. We see a cavalcade of mobsters biting the dust, never quite sure whether its KC or Fargo taking the hits. Indeed, both are.

Off the bat, I must contend with the only egregious Minnesota-specific criticism I have to offer this week. I would like Noah Hawley to catch the next flight from LAX into Minneapolis-St. Paul. I’d then like him to catch the little regional jet up to Bemidji. I’ll meet him there with a shovel. We’ll drive maybe 75 miles west, near where the action takes place in his show, and then I’d like to watch him and his bony Hollywood arms attempt to dig a grave in the winter.

SEE HOW THAT FEELS! SEE! NOT SO EASY IS IT! Then I would then take Noah back to Bemidji, buy him some hot coffee and pitch him my idea for Season 3. Actually, I bet we would get along pretty good, all things considered.

Seasons 1 and 2 are replete with far too many examples of failure to respect what frozen earth is really like. If you want to dig a grave in the winter you need a back hoe and six hours. Or you need to burn a sentinel fire over the gravesite through the night, so you can dig the next day. I know you need a lot of graves, Noah. This show can’t just leave the bodies out forever. But respect the pain in the ass it is to dig them. It’s part of who we are as Minnesotans. It’s why we generally leave our dead in things that are pretty much sheds until springtime, or just burn them up in things that are pretty much fires. Interesting.

Dodd is still missing, last seen under the cattle prod of delusional cosmetologist Peggy Blomquist (Kristen Dunst). And we know that his daughter, bitter from years of his abuse, is actively helping the Kansas City mob, something that she’s not hiding very well these days. After they bury the family patriarch Otto, slain during Mike Milligan’s raid, matriarch Floyd (Jean Smart) mixes it up with the insincere Simone, who disses her missing father.

(PHOTO: Laura Kali, Flickr CC)

She be crazy. (PHOTO: Laura Kali, Flickr CC)

Floyd compares her to Dodd, shouts, “You’re like porcupines. You’re half crazy. You live to fight.”

That’s a good line. I like the reference, but only because Floyd has it backwards.

Ever see a porcupine? I live in the woods of Northern Minnesota, so I see them often. Porcupines give zero shits about the act of fighting. Their strategy is to move slow and allow their enemies to impale themselves. Google “porcupine fight.” Nothing but pictures of dogs at the vet messed up by hundreds of porcupine quills. Where’s the porcupine? Fucking gone, man.

Porcupines don’t live to fight. They are a fight. They wear it on their back, without even trying.

Which “Fargo” character does this describe? Who IS the porcupine? Ah, now there’s a thematic question I can use. Oh, ya!

Is the porcupine Floyd herself? Lou and Schmidt, the sniveling detective from Fargo, bring in the old broad for questioning on account of all the murders. These scenes are great for several reasons. One, away from the compound where she plays the concerned mother, Floyd is an absolute badass lady. Not “badass for the ’70s,” but badass in any century. She smokes a pipe with a curved neck, the kind old lumber camp bosses would puff. She negotiates for immunity for her sons and grandchildren. “What’s the point of the deal if it doesn’t cover murder?” she hisses. She pretends to be upset about snitching, but then snitches in such a way that only Kansas City would pay the price.

Sheriff Hank offers condolences on her husband, who was murdered in a hail of gunfire, recalling that when his own wife died a year earlier, her last words were “Do you smell toast?”

With only a hint of a steely pause, she replies, “Different roads, same destination.” Oh, ya!

Or is the porcupine Mike Milligan? After Bulo was killed, Milligan was ordered to clean up the mess. While he managed to kill Otto, the Gerhardts continue to keep pace with Kansas City in the deadly games of mob war. We know the Gerhardts are badly compromised, but they continue to score hits. Milligan doesn’t have enough time.

One of the Gerhardts biggest problems is granddaughter Simone (Rachel Keller, the only Minnesota actress in the cast), Dodd’s daughter. She’s sleeping with Milligan and has visited him again to complain that he hit the house, and not her dad. Milligan speaks almost entirely in metaphors, to the point that you can’t tell where he ends and a thousand dusty libraries begin. He says that this is a revolution, but defines the word in astronomical terms: “a celestial object that comes full circle.”

Lou and Schmidt come to question Milligan, discovering Simone there. While Schmidt, who knows the Gerhardts and is complicit of their criminal enterprise, escorts Simone out of the building, Lou and Milligan talk. Why don’t you just leave, Lou suggests.

“Manifest Destiny,” says Milligan.

“We can’t leave. We’re the future. The past can no more become the future than the future can become the past.”

But wait, a philosophical viewer of “Fargo” might say. Doesn’t the future become the past eventually?

No, not really. Only once it comes full circle. In a revolution.

The revolution comes quickly for Simone, who we are led to believe meets her fate deep in the woods at the hand of her uncle Bear. You wouldn’t think Bear, the more reasonable brother, would do this, but he seems most fixated on ending the war and doing what he can for his own son. Meanwhile, I’m not sure which woods like this exist near Fargo, but they’re very stark and foreboding. Could Be Worse. 

We go on to learn that Hanzee has killed cops as he chased down Ed and Peggy toward Sioux Falls. Lou’s wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti)– a real spitfire who’s good with a shotgun — probably drew the placebos in her big cancer drug trial. There’s just a beautiful scene between her and Karl (Nick Offerman). Nick, “The King of Breakfast,” has been sent to keep an eye on Betsy, who pretty clearly doesn’t need the help. Nevertheless, she goes on to tell Karl to keep an eye on Lou after she’s gone. And not to let him marry that Knutson woman with the eyes that are too close together. Must have been some dust in the air when that scene happened — a little misty in the ol’ eyes. Also, bonus for the awkward hug exchanged between Karl and Betsy afterward. It’s a true Minnesota conundrum. You want to show you care, but if your bellies touch you might die. The struggle is real. Oh ya!

The boss in Kansas City (Alan Arkin) loses faith in Milligan and sends “The Undertaker,” a grim man in an old fashioned jacket with tails and two Asian goons. Here we see the true capabilities of Milligan, who with the surviving Kitchen brother kills all three of them while extending his hand in greeting. We spend more time being afraid of the Undertaker in the elevator that we do seeing him alive in Milligan’s hotel room. Milligan has entered a form of free agency, and now we have no idea what his end game will be. Yes indeed, it may be Milligan who is the porcupine.

We later find out that Sheriff Hank, Betsy’s dad, has been pretty busy in his free time. When Betsy goes over to feed his cat, she sees his room covered with hundreds of pieces of paper — strange hieroglyphic drawings and seemingly alien language translations. Hank, who seems like a pretty steady fella, might not be so steady. Or else, he just knows much more about what’s really going on than anyone else.

One things for certain, this alien/UFO subplot will play big in the series. Hawley isn’t backing away from that. High risk, high reward.

Oh, by the way. A certain “Butcher of Luverne” has a certain Gerhardt in his trunk, heading to Sioux Falls. Next week promises action aplenty as we count down the last three episodes.

We know one thing for certain: it will end in revolution.

Read other episode reviews at my Fargo page.

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Aaron J. Brown is a northern Minnesota author and radio producer. He wrote “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,” an earnest, humorous look at the people, history and culture of the unique rural-industrial landscape of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He is the producer, writer and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio, a Northern Minnesota traveling comedy and music variety show. A columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, his work also appears in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and The Daily Yonder.

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