FARGO REVIEW: Episode 4, ‘Fear and Trembling’

Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) readies her family for war with the Kansas City mob.

Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) readies her family for war with the Kansas City mob.

 

The fourth episode of “Fargo” Season 2, entitled “Fear and Trembling,” 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 to test the mettle of every character, each quite literally under fire.

What I do with these episodes here at MinnesotaBrown.com is 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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Bad heroes. Good villains. In Noah Hawley’s “Fargo,” set in a world created by Joel and Ethan Coen, the colors are vivid, but the shades are grey.

In episode four we see Fargo’s Gerhardt family hurtle toward war with the encroaching Kansas City mob. The specter of Betsy’s serious cancer enters Lou Solverson’s warm family fortress. Meantime, any hope that the unpredictable Ed and Peggy Blomquist could get away with what happened is now gone. Cops and criminals alike have figured them out, even if they aren’t admitting anything to others, or themselves. Their deeds are grim, if understandable, but their relationship is the real tragedy.

My list of Minnesota-centric notes for this episode was relatively short.

I noticed one very subtle detail during the 1951 flashback, where we see young Dodd learning the craft of organized crime from his cold, shrewd father Otto, the man now addled by stroke. As we see the truck driving down the road I heard the call of crows. One of the pivotal memory-spurring sounds of rural Minnesota is that of the crows. Also, a group of crows is called a “murder.” Pretty good.

In this episode we see the eldest Gerhardt son Dodd in his element. He got his start knifing his dad’s rival in the back of the head during the flashback, and today he’s electrifying the goons from Kansas City with a cattle prod. This is his world, but it only shows that he has no place in the changing world around him. Dodd Gerhardt is marked, everyone knows it.

The episode uses sex as a character contrast. We see a muffled, awkward coupling between the Blomquists, in which Ed never removes his socks or the top of his long johns. Peggy dashes into the bathroom to take a secret birth control pill while her husband prattles on about future children. Later we see the ha-cha-cha confidence of KC’s Mike Milligan with the granddaughter of the Gerhardt clan. But even Milligan’s smooth control can be disrupted by a rare surprise. Thumbs up. No, wait … Oh, ya!

Ohanzee, the native henchman loyal to the Gerhardts, is tracking Rye Gerhardt’s disappearance. In just a few hours he has figured out what happened to Rye, who did it and where they are located. He even sees the same mysterious lights in the sky that distracted Rye on his fateful night, but seems unfazed. He acts as though he’s seen them before. Hanzee knows much, much more than he says. Oh, ya!

Nick Offerman’s attorney character plays a key role in fending off Hanzee’s threats to the body shop mechanic. He makes a joking reference to the “constable.” Interestingly, many rural townships in Minnesota actually had an on-call law enforcement officer called the “constable” through the early ’80s. This would have been the end of the time where that term would have been used without irony. (Though I think Hawley used it ironically here, hence the downgrade). Could be worse.

I loved the tension of the scene outside the clinic where the invalid Otto is trying to warn his entourage that he detects an attack coming. The grinding of the car’s engine in the cold is a distinct Minnesota twist on the “will this car blow up?” trope.  It doesn’t, but the scene still gets grisly quick. Oh, ya!

The conversations between Ed and his boss, the butcher, and his wife Peggy are a marvelous clinic in Minnesota conflict strategies. Rather than address the very obvious, very pressing problem causing the conversation to occur, extraneous details (“He’s up in Sleepy Eye”) are repeated in place of the important feelings or information. They already know the problem. But maybe, just maybe, if they don’t say it aloud it might not be real. Oh, ya!

At this point, Lou knows what happened. Hanzee knows. Soon, all the Gerhardts will know. And when they do they will all converge. It’s coming, just like the ’70s was always going to come after the ’60s.

I’ll conclude with one observation. Ed and Peggy’s mistake was the whole story with the tree. There was a simple, quick fix and that was to say that Peggy hit a deer. It would explain the windshield. It would explain blood. It could be set up without replicating a new crash. I think most people in Ed and Peggy’s situation (you know, all none of them) would say they hit a deer, which would have raised far less suspicion.

See you next week.

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, an ultra-local 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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