The sixth episode of “Fargo” Season 2, entitled “Rhinoceros,” 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.
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.
It’s fitting that the latest episode of Fargo, “Rhinoceros,” aired just a few days after Veterans Day in the United States, or Armistice Day as it was once known. This week on “Fargo,” veterans in small town Minnesota use guts steeled by combat to preserve peace in an increasingly tense war on the prairie. Veterans don’t just know war, they know what peace means better than most. Veterans of three different American wars — Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), state trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and tipsy public defender Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) — go to great lengths to preserve peace in this rapidly changing 1979 landscape.
The episode begins with increasingly clueless butcher Ed Blomquist (Jesse Plemons) being hauled off for questioning after the butcher shop burned down in the Gerhardt family attempt on his life (an attempt he still fails to acknowledge). His wife Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), too, continues to feign outrage even as nearly every character in the show is now wise to exactly what happened when Peggy ran over Rye Gerhardt by accident and Ed disposed of the body in a meat grinder. Ed spends most of the episode in the pokey, and he’s pretty lucky for that when the Gerhardt mob comes calling. Peggy is not as lucky, but shows her unique ability to escape situations once again.
A side note here, I must point out that I’ve been spelling Ed and Peggy’s name “Blomquist,” which is a Swedish name that would have been common in this part of Minnesota. Blomquist, from “blom qvist” means “flower branch.” The show spells the name “Blumquist,” which is a variation of that name found less commonly. I am continuing to write “Blomquist” because that is the better spelling. “Blum” isn’t a word in English or Swedish. In fact, my text editor auto-corrects to Blomquist every time I try to write the other version. See: Blomquist, Blomquist, Blomquist. Tried it three times, each one auto-corrected to Blomquist. I would have accepted “Bloomquist” because I went to school with Bloomquists and that’s just replacing the Swedish “blom” for the English “bloom.” Why are the words so similar? Viking conquest! Ask a Swede. They know. Also, the NFL Minnesota Vikings are 7-2. So it’s Blomquist. Interesting.
Going back to the Gerhardt compound outside Fargo, we see Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) — another interesting figure in this drama — talking to his invalid father Otto about his late oldest brother. Elron, who died in the Korean War, was supposed to be the next boss, not cruel, blundering Dodd. When Bear learns that Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) sent Bear’s son into the battle, only to have him nearly killed and arrested, Bear beats Dodd with ease until Dodd’s men pull him off. Just as Dodd is awkwardly trying to “punish” Bear with a belt, like the father figure he isn’t, mother Floyd (Jean Smart) breaks it up. This episode not only highlight’s Dodd’s vicious incompetence, but Bear’s relative compassion — and it’s not clear which will be the Gerhardt family’s undoing. (Probably both).
Floyd sends many men to Luverne — Bear’s crew to retrieve his son from jail and Dodd and his men to kill Ed. The result of this expedition will prove costly, fruitless, and deadly when Dodd’s daughter Simone (played by the only Minnesotan in the cast, Rachel Keller) tips off her lover Mike Milligan (the season’s break-out star Bokeem Woodbine) of the Kansas City mob. She thinks Milligan is going to take out her abusive father Dodd, only to later learn his intentions are to hit the now lightly defended Gerhardt family compound, where grandparents Floyd and Otto are sitting ducks. Simone, too, is in the crossfire now.
When Milligan asks Simone what she wants said to Dodd before he kills him, she says something strange: “Kiss my grits.” The only way Simone would have know this is as the catchphrase from the sitcom “Alice,” not as a Minnesota regionalism (most Minnesotans have never seen, much less eaten, the Southern side dish of grits). I’ll accept it as an example of Simone’s detachment from tradition and her infatuation with pop culture, but not as anything a Minnesotan would likely say under the circumstances. Could be worse.
Bonus “Jabberwocky” recitation by Mike Milligan, which is hard to imagine happening in real life, but a damn cool way to go into a battle scene. Perhaps something is meant here about the universal language of war, or maybe the way people interpret events when lacking common understanding? Something for the film students in the comments.
Without recapping every little detail, it bears mentioning that all of the police interrogation scenes between Lou and Ed in the station and Hank and Peggy back at the Blomquist house are comfortably Minnesotan in their execution. Lou and Hank are both good cops, but Minnesotan to their core — so talking tough is muted. When Lou tells Ed to “shut the hell up,” that’s the Minnesota equivalent of throwing him against a wall and pistol whipping him. The show does a good job of getting that across. Oh, ya!
Hank asks Peggy why she didn’t just call the police, or bring Rye Gerhardt to the hospital. Her reply shows her state of mind, unpredictable and self-centered — This isn’t some test, she says, “It’s like decisions you make in a dream.” That answer opens up an interesting thought: aren’t all decisions like that? Isn’t this whole life kind of like a dream? In 1979, life must have seemed like waking up from a dream for many.
In any event, Hank shows his grits in standing down Dodd Gerhardt, but takes a rifle butt to the head for his troubles. Dodd and men hunt for Peggy in the basement, but she’s no shrinking violet. She kills one guy with a sink to the head. Dodd, in a tizzy, accidentally kills his other henchmen. Then Peggy pins him down with his own cattle prod, which Dodd apparently left laying around. Never a good idea. We are left wondering what will happen to Dodd, though we see him in the previews for next week so he’s not dead. Not yet. But there is no one in this show who deserves to be flung from this mortal coil than Dodd. Nearly every character seems to agree about that.
If you recall back to the sixth episode of “Fargo” in the first season, Episode 6 was arguably the best, because we had come to know and love the characters now facing death. The arc is identical this year, as the second half of “Rhinoceros” is a wonderful combination of character study and dramatic tension. I’d argue this episode might get Nick Offerman his Supporting Actor Emmy, this time for miniseries instead of for his iconic role as Ron Swanson in “Parks and Rec.” (Though it would be favored go to the fantastic Woodbine, who has a bigger role in the plot).
Offerman’s Karl Weathers is a verbose, pompous, blustering Falstaff, seemingly there just to offer comments from the sidelines. He comfortably says this like “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” in lieu of expletives. But today he plays a crucial role in tamping down the drama at the police station. With a gun in his face Karl convinces Bear Gerhardt to take his lynch mob posse back to Fargo, all so that his son doesn’t take the heat of being a fugitive. Karl does this even though he is drunk and probably needs a new set of underwear.
Offerman’s performance here goes far beyond his normal comic range, he is at once confident and terrified, yet fundamentally accepting that he might be shot in the interest of keeping the peace. What seems like a small throw-away line in the closing credits where Karl bloviates about the band of brotherhood among servicemen is put in real context during the action; Karl takes the risk because a fellow solider — Lou Solverson — asks him to do his duty. Oh, ya!
(Incidentally, Offerman is playing the lead role of Ignatius J. Reilly in a dramatic version of “The Confederacy of the Dunces” right now, and his Karl Weathers would be a comfortable walk away from that character).
Just as important in this scene is Sampson’s Bear Gerhardt. Like his mother, Bear is fundamentally limited as a mobster by his love of family and willingness to compromise “the business” to protect the people he loves. But also like his mother, Bear can be extraordinarily dangerous if his family is in peril.
In the end, Lou manages to sneak Ed out the back while Karl is talking, just barely evading Hanzee who again demonstrates incredible tracking skill and ability to sense the behavior of desperate humans.
Ed breaks and runs, and as Lou goes to chase him, Hank says “Don’t tire yourself. We know where he’s going.” Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” seems to know Minnesota cops even better in this second season. Oh, ya!
Meantime, Peggy is looking to “actualize … fully, you know?” Her conference is the next day in Sioux Falls. Ed will likely join her. That’s where we’re going. That’s where the drama follows. And we all know about the Massacre at Sioux Falls, even if we don’t know the details yet.
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.