FARGO, Season 5, Episode 7: ‘Linda’

When I saw Dot’s elaborate puppet pick up an apple like something you see in a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, I knew something was up on “Fargo.” (PHOTO: 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.


When I was in high school, the cast and crew of one of our school theater productions attended a special performance of a play at the nearby community college. Before the play started, the director came out to talk to us. He said he wanted all of us to know that there is a bear in this play and that the bear is a metaphor.

Directors don’t normally do this. In fact, I’ve got to imagine this is highly discouraged in serious theatrical circles. But he wanted to make sure that when the old woman sees a road killed bear come into her home representing the man she lost long ago, that we didn’t laugh like a bunch of teenage idiots. And, as a strategy, it mostly worked. When the oily skinned 19-year-old stumbled on stage wearing a bear-skin rug and talking like Smokey Bear’s Oscar clip, we still laughed. But we were prepared. Minor giggles at most.

So this is where I tell you that Season 5, Episode 7, of “Fargo” contains a puppet show. Let me explain.

In Bismarck, we return to the old woman’s house. Her real son has barged in, angry and disrespectful. Make me a sandwich, he says. A cliché, perhaps, but shorthand for asshole.

Ole appears in the kitchen. Freeloading kid wants money. Ole obliges. As the scruffy man child leaves, without his sandwich even, Ole follows with an ax. The shot is a clear homage to the original movie when Steve Buscemi gets the ax. Right before the wood chipper. 

Dot’s on the road, falling asleep at the wheel. How long has she been driving? She gets out at a cafe. A postcard hints at her destination: Camp Utopia. Waitress wants to know if she’s going home or running away. She just wants pancakes. Dot is visibly elated at the smiley face pancake that she receives.

Afterward, on some distant prairie road, she walks out to a windmill in an open field. Clearly, Dot has hidden something here. Under some metal roof panels and rocks, she extracts a box with a postcard from a woman named Linda. She’s sorry. She’s going to Camp Utopia. But her car runs out of gas. 

A lively piece of Eastern European-style classical music scores this whole scene, creating an adventurous vibe. She stomps through deep snow into the woods on the edge of Camp Utopia. She knows the way. There’s a cabin in the woods, brightly lit and warm. She walks in the front door. There’s a puppet show in the main hall. It appears to be a spousal abuse puppet show, which I would imagine to be an extreme niche kind of puppet show. The scenes remind Dot of her life with Roy. She bumps a table. The crowd turns suddenly to see Dot in the back. She faints.

Dot wakes up in a bed at this camp. A woman – a counselor of some sort – greets her. She’s Linda. But not the Linda Dot is looking for. Everyone at this camp takes the name Linda. It’s a place for people to escape abusive relationships. There are Linda’s everywhere. Linda cuts limbs off of a tall tree. Another Linda bakes bread. Turns out the Linda she seeks is the person who founded this camp. They call her Saint Linda.

They take Dot to St. Linda. Dot punches her square in the face. She’s Roy’s first wife and Gator’s mom. Dot blames Original Linda for using her as bait for Roy so she could escape. Then, Linda failed to support Dot when she talked about Roy’s abuse. Linda denies this. The other Lindas call for a tribunal, so that competing truths can be reconciled. But given that it will be Linda’s word against Dot’s in a court of Lindas, this doesn’t look good for Dot.

Meanwhile, at Lyon Motors, Wayne is back at work. Scotty hangs out with him in his office. Wayne’s still not all the way back. A salesman tells him that a family seeking a new Kia Rio has bad credit. Wayne says to take their trade-in and give them the Rio. “A car for a car.” Like in the Bible, he says. Very generous. Wayne forgets that Dot isn’t coming home tonight. He gets confused, but is still parenting Scotty, who helps him. 

Back at Camp Utopia, the Lindas (and Dot) eat in the great hall. Dot tells Linda about Gator. Says he seems to be trying to be a good person, but he also wants to be like his dad. Those things are working against each other. Linda seems disinterested in all that. Dot wants her to come back to testify. Linda resists. She is drawing Dot into the “process” happening there at Camp Utopia. She’s pulling her fellow abuse victim into her coping mechanism rather than confronting the abuser. That’s a metaphor, you betcha. 

Back in western North Dakota, Gator is listening to some heavy metal and cleaning a high powered rifle. He uses the tracking device he put on Ole Munch’s car to go look for him. He slow rolls past the woman’s house in Bismarck. Gator aims the rifle at Munch in his rocking chair. He shoots. Direct hit. Brains all over. But it isn’t Munch. It’s the already dead son, tied to the chair and rocking by Munch’s power from the other room. Now Gator thinks Munch is dead.

Gator goes to retrieve his tracking device from the car and sees the bag of money still in the back seat. He smashes and grabs. But the old woman catches him. Yells “thief,” and starts whacking him with her grocery bags. A scuffle ensues and Gator pushes her down. She hits her head and dies. Gator runs. Munch comes out of the house to find the woman’s body on the sidewalk. Munch is furious. He was hunting Dot. Now he might be back to hunting the Tillmans. Once again, Gator has failed spectacularly in all his goals. 

Back at the Lyon mansion, Wayne is outside staring at the moon. Scotty comes out to remind him that it’s bedtime. Time for him to read the story. He remembers, but then forgets the book. Instead, Wayne pretends it’s an invisible book. He tells the story of a hero named Dorothy. She is surrounded by rainbows, but darkness hates the light. She had to leave her family to fight the darkness. Wayne seems to know more about Dot’s plans than we all realized. How much does Wayne know about anything?

We cut back to Dot at Camp Utopia, where she is struck by inspiration for her puppet. Did I forget to tell you? The tribunal is done with puppets. Puppets are big here. By the way, in an entirely separate point, Dot churns out a professional-quality carved wooden puppet in one night.

It’s time for Dot’s puppet show testimony. OK, this is where I tell you that Dot’s puppet show is beyond good. There are suddenly massive set pieces and lots of other puppets. It’s like Guillermo del Toro seized the director’s chair all of a sudden. We’re just going to roll with this. We are inside the spousal abuse puppet show now. This is a genre.

Linda took in Nadine. Roy accepted her as a member of the family. They all witnessed Roy’s horrific abuse of Linda. Linda pushed Nadine toward Roy, suggesting he tutor her. Soon enough, Roy was interested in the 15-year-old Nadine. Roy sent Linda away for a visit, supposedly, but then Roy was in her bedroom. He sexually abused her while physically abusing Linda. Soon enough, Nadine was getting all the abuse as the new wife. She was his puppet. 

After the puppet show, Linda (no longer a puppet) seems struck. She agrees to go with her to testify against Roy. 

Dot and Linda are driving east now. Linda is sorry. Dot wants to know why Linda didn’t take her and Gator at the time. Linda won’t answer. Dot says it’s OK. But then BAM, we cut BACK to the scene with the smiley-face pancakes. IT WAS ALL A DREAM! THE PUPPET SHOW WAS A SHOW WITHIN A SHOW WITHIN A DREAM! WITHIN A SHOW! BASED ON A MOVIE! BASED ON A TRUE STORY!

Dot leaves the cafe to see a semi truck racing through the lot at top speed. It hits her car and sends it spiraling into her. She wakes in the hospital where the nurse tells her that her husband will be glad to know she’s awake. Oh, good, thinks Dot. It’s Wayne. But it’s not Wayne. It’s Roy. He walks up to her and grips her wrist. “Gotcha,” he says.

Fade to black. Roy has the tiger by the tail. 

EPISODE GRADE: Oh ya! This episode found a way to do a whole back story for Dot/Nadine without socking us with too many extra characters or baggage. It was creative, visually stunning and left us with an ominous cliffhanger and a newfound appreciation for the rising stakes facing our more beloved hero and our more despised villain. 


Is “cheddar” as a euphemism for money a Minnesota thing? Probably a midwestern thing. Has a Wisconsin vibe, frankly. That line was delivered in North Dakota, so we’ll let it slide. Could be worse

Dot rocking the Carhartt jacket over what are essentially pajamas does effectively capture a certain kind of Minnesota woman. Oh ya!

The car salesman refers to the 2005 Sportage as a “Sport-aage” in the French way. Is he joking, or is that how a Minnesota Kia salesman would say that? Pretty good, because it raises legitimate questions I can’t answer.

Nice to see a casual ice slip worked into a tense scene. Gator slips a tad while checking out Munch’s car. Not a plot device. Just a regular slip and recovery. Oh ya!

It’s Boxing Day and we’ve had three days of rain with no snow on the ground over Christmas in Minnesota. Northern Minnesota. Sometimes reality is what gets the details wrong. Interesting.

(Original air date: Dec. 26, 2023)

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “The Tender Trap

Next Episode: “Blanket

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