FARGO, Season 5, Episode 2: ‘Trials and Tribulations’

Fargo’s fifth season pits an authoritarian sheriff played by Jon Hamm against a rogue housewife portrayed by Juno Temple. (FX)

Northern Minnesota author Aaron J. Brown reviews each episode of “Fargo” with an eye for unique details from the place where the show is set. The ratings range from INTERESTING  (bad), to COULD BE WORSE (not so good) to PRETTY GOOD (not so bad), and OH, YA! (real good then).

Beware the spoilers.

‘Trials and Tribulations’

(Original air date: Nov. 21, 2023)

The “Fargo” universe perpetually straddles Minnesota and North Dakota. Episode two makes it clear that this is some North Dakota stuff right here.

We meet the sheriff from Dot’s dream. In 2019, Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm) is riding on a horse to look at his campaign billboard along a Stark County highway. Tillman is perpetually narrating some kind of alt-right documentary, it would seem, even when he’s actually talking to other people.

We see more of his philosophy at work as he counsels a couple after the husband had beat up his wife. He chastises the man for going too far, even having his deputy strangle him briefly, but then tells the wife to follow her husband’s orders and submit to his sexual desires. Tillman tries to turn violence into virtue. He Intertwines sex and power. Weird, of course, but also a distillation of a lot of forces at play in masculine culture.

Later we learn that the Kilt Killer sent to kidnap Dot is a hired gun named Ole Munch (Sam Spruell). He reminds one of a vaguely Swedish Anton Chigurh, though a fair bit whinier. 

We learn Dot is Roy’s ex wife who ran off years ago, but she’s not an ex to him. She owes him that marriage, and the late fees add up to some kind of retribution. Indeed, those fingerprints from Episode 1 put her in the system. Roy says he’ll pay Ole, but instead gives a coded message to kill this guy. Pretty bad code when a community college instructor watching this in his jammies knows what he means.

Ole escapes the hit using Roy’s dim-witted deputy son Gator (Joe Keely) as human shield. 

Back in Scandia — yes, I finally figured out that this was supposed to be Scandia — Dot (Juno Temple) and her husband Wayne (David Rysdahl) are explaining Dot’s crazy theory that her obvious kidnapping — complete with DNA evidence of the kidnappers — didn’t happen. Deputy Olmstead (Richa Moorjani) isn’t buying Dot’s story about the “bad day.”

Wayne’s power broker mother Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh) doesn’t buy it either. Lorraine think Dot is making a move on her family’s money. Side note, lawyer Danish Graves (Dave Foley) and Lorraine seem like they’re in a movie from 1938. 

Here we must discuss the art behind Lorraine’s office desk, a big sign that reads “No.” Unspoken are the words “You can’t have it. It’s mine.” 

Boy, everyone thinks they own Dot. Lorraine understand’s her son’s marriage vows as an extension of her family’s business holdings. 

Back in North Dakota, we find that Roy uses a wood fired hot tub. Now, I’ve never wanted such a thing, but I have always been curious about contraptions and have some working knowledge of the lumber and stoves necessary to construct things like this. They are so utterly impractical that the only reason to have one would be to convey status. It’s an analog of the solid gold toilet. 

Gator tells his dad that Dot’s new husband owns a Korean car dealership. Yes, Kias are from South Korea. But they know where she is, and that will be relevant soon.

Just then, FBI agents – Joaquin and Myers — arrive to get Roy to enforce federal laws. Here we go. Roy Tillman is one of those constitutional sheriffs you hear about, a follower of the doctrine that the county sheriff is the true arbiter of constitutional law — not judges, legislatures, or Congress. But it is fundamentally about the power a man has to declare dominion over a small area he controls through cultural hegemony and force. It is the doctrine of the warlord.

“The law has very little to do with it,” he confirms.

Despite the heel turn, Roy does give us the memorable phrase “moist repose” before standing up to give the agents a full frontal view of his preamble. He wraps himself in a towel that has his name and face on it, the face over his derriere. Oh and he has nipple rings for some reason. I think that’s Chekov’s gun on the wall for this series.

Back in Scandia, Lorraine is waiting for Dot inside the house.  She works over Dot, pushing for her to tell the truth. Dot sticks to her story at first, no matter how obvious it is she’s lying. Dot has a certain kind of unhinged quality. I’ve seen this in people who escape reality. But then, suddenly, she drops the act. And when she does she goes hard the other way. She lets Lorraine know that she will do whatever she must to keep what’s hers, to protect herself. So now we know she knows what she’s up against and what she’s willing to do.

Later, Dot and Scotty start building some kind of homemade defense system. More Home Alone shenanigans. 

We the head to Wayne’s Kia dealership where Noah Hawley makes another winking nod to the movie Fargo. Wayne is calling in VIN numbers, about to reveal them when he cut off the caller. Jerry Lundegaard in the movie was cooking the books to try to feather his own nest. Wayne doesn’t seem to have that kind of gumption. 

Danish arrives to put Lorraine on the phone. It occurs to me that Danish is kind of like Brad Pitt’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” Something in the cadence, a character playing a character to get through his day.

Lorraine orders Danish to slap Wayne for believing Dot. Reminds me of Tom Cruise’s Les Grossman character in “Tropic Thunder.” I had the thought last episode, but the slap scene this week cemented it. She’s giving him orders now. Back at the kiddy table for Wayne.

Meantime, in a North Dakota hospital, Deputy Olmstead visits Deputy Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris) as he recuperates from the mayhem at the gas station. She’s about to show him a picture of Dot to confirm her identity and the fact that she was kidnapped but HOLD IT here comes Gator Tillman from Stark County. The tight pacing of a television show sure does put a damper on characters transferring information. Gator sees the picture first and then deletes it, claiming it to be in error. Of course, these are cops. They could get the picture out of the deleted folder, but that, too, would be unhelpful to the plotting here.

And then Gator Tillman’s vapes in a hospital. That’s it. We know everything we need to know.

Wayne comes home to find Dot’s death hammer hanging above the front door and her live wires strung around the windows to electrocute intruders. Scotty is making a mace in from nails and a baseball bat. Wayne is justifiably suspicious. But Dot is still putting on the act for him. He’s willing to believe. And we’re willing to believe he’d believe because she’s out of his league. It all fits.

We’ve got some themes forming here. You’ve got violence, always a hallmark of the Fargo universe. But violence is really an extension of power. Who has it. Who gets to use it. Who’s pretending and who’s for real. 

We also see the characters crafting alternative realities to avoid the real one. Roy Tillman makes himself emperor in his reality. Dot papers over the trauma and horrors of her past, while revealing the gruesome survival instincts she’s built in the meantime.

Dot’s alternate reality is for protection. Tillman’s is for power.

Then we go back to North Dakota. In fact, we’re at the same gas station that got shot up last time. A Stark County deputy fills up the truck while Gator gets snacks. We see Ole kill him with a knife as he pumps gas. Gator Tillman is unaware as he gets back in the truck. After a moment, he realizes what’s happened and runs out of the vehicle.

Ole left a note on the dead deputy.

“You owe me”

Ole is a free agent now. He simultaneously plots against the protagonist and the antagonist. Another theme: violence creates unpredictable counter violence.

Episode Rating: Pretty good. Lotsa exposition in this one and the characters cross into caricature a little too often, even for Fargo. But the thematic foundation is well poured. Good stuff ahead.

Minnesota details:

What part of North Dakota looks this pretty in October? Where are these hills? Oh, right, Western North Dakota. The nice part, gateway to the West. Again we are asked to believe that 12 hour drives are just chill things that happen all the time. Interesting

Lots of gratuitous Dairy Queen. Dot and Scotty ate DQ but it “didn’t take” and Scotty is still hungry. That rings true. Oh ya!

OK, so this is set in Scandia. I didn’t pick up on that in the first episode. Well, I’ve been to Scandia. Two things, it’s on the wrong side of the cities to get to North Dakota so easily. There’s a shit-ton of I-94 to cover, such that it would have been well out of the way for the kidnappers to take a simple two-lane road. On the other hand, something about the Lyons ring very true of the Twin Cities exurbs. Big money. Guns for show. An unceasing fear that the hungry masses might topple their faux ionic columns and take their Live, Laugh, Love signs. Could be worse 

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “The Tragedy of the Commons

Next Episode: “The Paradox of Intermediate Transactions


  1. “Weird, of course, but also a distillation of a lot of forces at play in masculine culture.” A bit of understatement hey. Ole Munch as a name was at east a two minute laugh out loud. I have to wonder if one of those real constitutional sheriffs from Mi will make an appearance.

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