FARGO, Season 5, Episode 9: ‘The Useless Hand’

Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm) circles the wagons in “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.

“The Useless Hand”

(Original air date: January 9, 2024)

How do we repay an impossible debt? Can we really escape our past? Why does liberty slip so easily into tyranny?

Don’t worry, this isn’t a religious brochure, though these queries surely suggest one. Actually, these are the questions I have going into the final two episodes of the fifth season of Noah Hawley’s FX drama “Fargo.” The fact that they remind you of a moist pamphlet, pressed into your palm by a self-proclaimed minister, only tells you that the “Fargo” universe isn’t just about Minnesota and its surrounding environs. It’s about morality. It’s about the creeping hand of sin reaching into the Garden. And when you’re staring into the abyss of human behavior, you don’t have to be religious to know that morality matters.

The act of repossession is so often triggered by the whims of foolish men. Case in point, one Gator Tillman.

We open on an ice house on a frozen lake. An old corrugated metal job, surely a real bitch to haul out there. Ole has Gator tied up inside. We don’t need to see how Ole jumped out of the back of that sheriff’s prowler to subdue Roy’s son. The viewer fully understands that Ole is fully capable of doing so. Gator bargains for his freedom. He offers Ole drugs, guns, anything he wants. Ole reminds him that a screaming rabbit in a trap only knows it wants to live. He heats a knife in the wood stove. Ole tests it on himself before approaching Gator, who panics. Ole reminds him of the old woman Gator killed in the scuffle. An eye for an eye. Ole sets about removing Gator’s eyes with the knife. 

Back at the Tillman ranch, Dot is still devising ways to escape the shed where Roy locked her up. She reaches for a nail in one of the ceiling joists, but then falls. But her fall breaks a floorboard, revealing another potential escape route.

Tillman’s man tells him there’s no sign of Gator. The governor isn’t returning their calls. Roy says it’s time to rally the patriots. He’ll need them all. The tide’s turned, Roy says. He can feel it. Roy says it’s time to bury Nadine, aka Dot. He won’t even do the final deed himself. The henchman goes into the shed to discover no Dot in sight. We see that Dot hasn’t fully escaped. She’s just hiding down the hole in the floor. The man runs out, leaving Dot just enough time to finish picking the lock on her handcuffs. The Tiger is loose.

In Minnesota, former cop Indira Olmstead is in civilian clothes now, serving as Lorraine Lyon’s head of security. Lorraine can’t reach her lawyer, Danish Graves, and is unsettled. Lorraine’s done fucking around. Her words, not mine. She’s moving on Roy. Indira calls Witt Farr to tip him off that something’s afoot. Tells him to save Dot. He gets the message and sets into action.

Back in Stark County, Roy live streams a message calling on patriots to support him. His violent rhetoric is actually rather tame compared to some of the stuff we’ve heard in the last few years. In fact, the clunky way the video looks reminds that even sinister cowboys aren’t as menacing as they think they are. Amusingly, we hear the Village People singing “YMCA” as armored cars and tricked-out trucks roll up to Tillman’s ranch to reinforce “America’s Sheriff.” Too cute? Probably too cute.

Dot sneaks into the Tillman house to use the phone. The old bedroom clearly traumatizes her. Roy’s wife Karen finds her. Karen and her rifle. She aims the rifle at Dot and threatens her. Dot tells her that they can end Roy’s violence. She sees the bruise on Karen’s face. Karen seems to consider this for half a second, before concluding that she should just kill Dot herself. By then, Dot has already snatched the rifle, spun it around and whacked Karen out cold. Dot grabs her keys and gets out of the bedroom. She turns the gas on in the kitchen before she goes.

Roy comes back. He discovers the gas and scans the house for Dot. Pays little attention to his wife’s unconscious body on the floor. He goes into Gator’s room and discovers the money Gator stole from Ole’s car. Roy then realizes why Gator is missing.

Ole leads Gator, sans eyes, on a leash, like an animal. They’re headed toward the ranch. So are the Feds. Black SUVs roll up on Chez Tillman. Outside, Dot — now armed with Karen’s rifle — skulks around looking for a way out.

Back in Minnesota, we join Lorraine and Indira again.

“Honestly, what’s the point of being a billionaire if I can’t have someone killed,” says Lorraine to someone on the phone.

Just then, Dot calls. Dot tells her about Danish’s death. Lorraine is shaken, but undeterred. Lorraine tells Dot to get in the fight. Help is on the way. She and Dot share a moment. Lorraine accepts her as a daughter. Not all mushy-like, but it’s something. Indira gets on the phone to remind her not to literally get in the fight. But we know that Dot almost certainly will.

Police and federal agents, including armored tanks and soldiers, form a permitter around the Tillman ranch. It’s hard not to see this as a gruesome war about to start. Witt Farr offers to lead a strike team to save Dot.

Roy’s father-in-law, the militia leader, dresses him down. Are these first days or end days? “You look like a hobo digging a ditch.”

Irritated, Roy rides out to the Feds, tells them to get off his land. Warrant? Not interested. 

“Where’s Danish Graves?” asks the FBI commander.

‘Is that a man or a serious breakfast?” asks Roy.

How about Nadine Bump? Roy laughs at this one.

Roy monologues the path he’s on. God carves names into bone, and some such prose. Roy warns them to go and live, or stay and die. 

Back on his porch, Roy correctly deduces his situation. The Queen of Debt is going to call in unholy forces, while Dorothy is likely still on the property. 

Dot runs over to the windmill. Moves the water basin over the hole. The dead bodies inside, some fresh, reek horribly. But that’s where she’ll hide. Why she didn’t take the gun down with her is beyond me. Again, Dot is fierce but chaotic. Forgetting the gun reminds us that she’s not like the others. Down below, she sees Danish Graves’ blood-stained eye patch.

A few clicks away, Roy checks out a bunker where he might have to hide. In the fog, Roy sees two figures. Ole and Gator. 

Ole talks about the double cross. Goes by many names, so often tied to a man’s lineage, he says. If a man’s hand takes while the other gives, it must be cut off. The hand must be returned to him. “Still a hand but now without function,” says Ole. This is how Ole returns Gator to Roy, blinded and no longer useful to him. This is particularly tragic for Gator, who has only wanted his father’s support. Instead, Roy leaves him in the field to fend for himself.

Now it’s time for the state and federal officers massed on the edge of the Tillman ranch to engage. Farr tells them not to shoot Dot, even if she’s armed. This story will not end with her dead from a helping hand. Another hand reference for the aptly named episode.

Roy’s goons find the rifle above the burial hole. They figure out that Dot’s in there. She’s prepared to fight them off with a human femur. Whose, we don’t know. Just as Dot’s about to meet her maker in the dead people hole, someone sweeps away all the foes in one fell swoop. It’s Ole Munch. He frees her. Gives her the gun back. Respect. “Now the tiger is free.” He turns and disappears into the mists. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been tied to the whipping post” go the classic rock lyrics. Dot turns to face the battle ahead.

The battle will end this story, next week. The tide has turned indeed. 

EPISODE GRADE: Oh ya!

I’ve been handing these out like candy these last few weeks. I don’t know that this season quite matches Seasons 1 and 2, which were a little more timeless. But it’s one of the best paced seasons of “Fargo,” building tension right up to the end.

MINNESOTA DETAILS:

So Ole chops out Gator’s eyes in a fish house, which is OK with me, but where is this lake? See, I think they’re still in North Dakota. Not as many lakes, and if the ones they have are iced over you can bet those guys wouldn’t be alone out there. INTERESTING

Lorraine wants to know, is Dot safe? “For now,” Dot says, “but like a fish on the floor.” Nice fish-based metaphor. OH YA!

I get that the fog is a really great effect during the later scenes, but a sunny winter day never produces that kind of fog, certainly not after dawn. Maybe it’s mystical fog, tied to whatever Ole is. Could be worse

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “Blanket

Next Episode: “Bisquik

Comments

  1. Mary Friedlieb says

    Just finding your “Fargo” reviews, Aaron Brown, and so glad I have. This particular episode, and the closing with Allman Brothers classic Whipping Post, brought me to OH HELL YA! Let’s just saw that tune and that moment spoke in profound ways to this 60-something daughter of the range who was cranking that tune on a few long mind-clearing road trips following a divorce from a Roy Tillman-light. Can’t wait for the finale.

  2. joe musich says

    Hawley really put a script together for this season. He sort of bought in the vibe of The Legion series. Ole Munch is spectaclar. I wonder about the origins since Hawley is an image guy…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream

  3. joe musich says

    This was his image for the Legion series.https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/original/d6T86JYMW4sSLRmNfdtFilvugOv.jpg This is the image connected to Legion. There are others but this seems to dominated

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