Tuesday, November 24, 2015



“Stories used to be simpler, that’s for sure. This, then that. Now, I don’t know where it starts or how it ends. I truly don’t.”

There are few things I enjoy more than a proper filmmaker doing a mob war montage.  It’s a mini-artform unto itself, and one that feels quintessentially American, like baseball, G Funk, or electorally-subsidized dick pics.  Which is to say that the opening this week was like catnip to me.  I don’t care that Bear and his idiot cousin from Buffalo machine-gunning people from a window washing platform was both predictable and from a tactical perspective, combines being very public with an extremely slow getaway.  I can be a pretty basic mofo, and shit was awesome.   But the entire season has been awesome, so it should come as no surprise that FX has picked up the show for another season. What is surprising is that despite thinking every episode of the entire series has been at least “really, really good”, I’m ambivalent about that.

Image result for white people problems
For more on my misgivings, download to your Kindle
It’s truly phenomenal how this second season has managed to avoid the sophomore slump, and maybe that should give me faith in the creative team to keep it rolling right along.  But it’s not as though it will be a continuation of the Gerhardt war, and while I don’t doubt that they can create a new cast of indelible characters, I don’t know how they can continue finding new stories to tell within this milieu without diminishing returns.  Because while True Detective or American Horror Story are free to hop from one setting to another largely more or less at will (to admittedly mixed returns), Fargo’s identity is hyper-specific.  It can’t stray far from the Upper Midwest, or not focus on a sprawling web of murder that ties in-over-their head civilians to truly monstrous criminals, or not have a thoroughly decent but perplexed lawman/woman at the center trying to puzzle out what it all means.  And the setting has to remain sleepy enough that you can’t have such bloodbaths become a permanent state of affairs without disrupting that contrast, so the stories do have to be separated in time by a relatively wide margin.  So the question becomes how far back can you go?  Prohibition?  There was a passing mention this week of tommy gun battles and heads rolling in the street, and it would give Hawley a chance to really riff on Miller’s Crossing, so maybe that’s doable.  But I think that’s stretching the premise about as far as it can go.  If you go back any further, to actual frontier times, then that contrast between man’s most brutal instincts and society’s most banal veneers is lost, because there’s no society to speak of.  Perhaps there’s room for a more classical noir type story in the 40’s or 50’s, featuring a private dick/war veteran from the Twin Cities or Chicago dropping in and struggling to adjust to the more deliberately slow pace of Brainerd.

Aint' no party like a Brainerd party, cuz a Brainerd party BLUE OX
Aint’ no party like a Brainerd party, cuz a Brainerd party BLUE OX
But I digress.  This episode does a nice job of depicting how, in the heat of battle, both sides can feel like they’re losing the war.  That dissolve of Milligan addressing less and less men as Floyd gives up information about their operation expressed his increasing desperation better and more elegantly than the venomous phone call from his superior down south.  And speaking of Floyd, this was a great week for Jean Smart, though I’m not sure what to make of her Mona Lisa smile after putting up such a show about her reluctance to testify.  Does she have a deeper game at work than just letting the law weaken the opposition?  Or was it just relief at thinking she has an end in sight?

Of course, as much as she seems to have KC on the ropes at the moment, we know that Mike is right when he says that she is the past, and the conglomerate is the future.  And the Gerhardts are doing their level best to take themselves apart at the seams even as they start to smell victory.  The war has now taken a toll on all 3 generations of the family, with Otto shot to death in the farmhouse attack, Dodd about to be handed off from one enemy to another, Charlie in the clink and poor Simone killed by one of her own.  Or is she?  No doubt plenty of viewers will note that we do not hear a gunshot ring out over the tones of “Danny Boy”, and I recall the internets still not being convinced when we did get one in a very, very similar scene from The Sopranos.  Plus the scene in Miller’s Crossing this segment is very pointedly evoking did end with such a fake out, not that the film hides the ball on that development for any length of time.  And for as imposing as Bear looks, we did see him back down at some crucial moments last week, both with Dodd and Karl Weathers (I’m never going to not type that entire name out).


But on the other hand, such a fake out is kinda bullshit.  Audiences have been trained to assume “no body = not dead” by years of cheap, sensationalist storytelling on the boob tube, and on the one hand, there are still plenty of shows that cannot be given the benefit of the doubt with such things (I’m sure I don’t need to name another show that’s been catching flack for it recently).  And I hate to assume anything and look foolish in hindsight, but also I don’t like the idea that a show can’t employ a little artistry with their cinematography at crucial story moments without a big section of the audience fixating on the wrong thing and missing the point entirely.  If every show has to treat us like children now and rub our noses in every death just to preclude the possible semblance of ambiguity, just because of the internet’s obsession with shouting “CALLED IT!!!”, well then that sucks.

So ultimately, I kind of hope that Simone is dead, partly because she’s been a tragic but one-note character, and mainly because I don’t want a show as adept at delivering surprises through the natural course of its plot to lower itself to such charlatan tactics. I have a lot of fun trying to predict what’s going to happen next, and I’m already wrong so frequently that I don’t want to have to second-guess what I’ve already seen. You’re good enough to beat me playing straight, Fargo, there’s no need to cheat on top of it!

Apropos of nothing in particular
Apropos of nothing in particular
 Case in point: While I always figured that Betsy was unlikely to make it out of the season, due to the allusions to the Solverson family history last year, I never thought she was at risk of running afoul of the violent aspects of the show. But this week, her scenes entering first her own house and then her father’s became suddenly, highly tense. All of a sudden I was convinced that Dodd (or worse, Hanzee) was about to appear behind her in every shot. And then what happened was something else entirely. I’m not even sure what it was, actually. It’s like she steps into a Dharma station on Lost, which doesn’t seem to make any sense because Danson has never seemed anything but even-keeled as Hank, and these symbols or hieroglyphs or whatever seem to be the product of a more feverish mind.  Maybe it will tie into the UFO stuff somehow, but I don’t really want that to suddenly become important when the earthbound stories are humming along so wonderfully.

Speaking of, I love how the episode offers teases out what’s going on with the Blomquists, Dodd and Hanzee off-screen, only having it tie in at the very end.  While it would not have been difficult to put together the phone calls Bear was ignoring about some guy knowing where Dodd is (and eventually being told to “sell that shit somewhere else”), I was still distracted enough by all the stuff with Floyd and the wacky room of symbols and Simone’s fate and the Breakfast King of Loyola and carnage at the Hotel Pearle that I truly failed to see it coming.  I assume we’ll be flashing back to all the good stuff next week, and I can’t wait to see the ruckus in Sioux Falls, and can’t tell you how disappointed I’ll be if ol’ Dutch doesn’t swing through there for at least a few words with Peggy.  Splitting a narrative like this is nothing new for sprawling shows like Game Of Thrones, Lost, or Boardwalk Empire, who do it out of necessity.  But when a show like Fargo does it, it feels like more a refreshing break from formula, rather than a concession to the confines of a standardized runtime.  Because FX certainly isn’t about imposing strict timeslot restrictions on its original series; it’s just that some of them used that leeway cannily and responsibly, and some of them are The Bastard Executioner.

Pictured:  Not The Bastard Executioner
Pictured: Not The Bastard Executioner
This show is just better than other shows, is what I’m saying.  Okay then, time for Coen Bingo And Other Random Shit:


– The management-type getting gunned down in his office is reminiscent of Stephen Root’s end in No Country.

– Simone drives around listening to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)”, which scored the memorable “Logjammin!” sequence in The Big Lebowski.

– Adam Arkin appears to be the default gangster overboss for any FX crime show. I love that when he’s berating Milligan on the phone, the bodies are being cleared by folks that are obviously not Mr. Wolf, but some office drones still decked out in their 80’s pantsuits.

– Across genres, networks, timelines, and facial hair configurations, one thing remains constant: Nick Offerman knows from breakfast foods.

– Hank’s wife died in Brainerd, setting of much of the Fargo film.  He also offers to cut off a toe at one point, as the nihilists do in Lebowski.

– Speaking of those nihilists, it’s offscreen until the very end, but Ed spends most of the episode trying to ransom a kidnapped victim whose family doesn’t actually want them back.

– Simone’s trip into the woods apes Bernie Bernbaum’s long walk in Miller’s Crossing, even before “O Danny Boy” starts up.

– Mike dresses to meet the Undertaker to “O Death”, which the Klan leader sings at the rally in O Brother Where Art Thou?

– The most difficult thing about this section is finding slight variations on the phrase “is reminiscent of…”

– Hank’s arcane mishmash of symbols in his study recalls (boom! nailed it) the Mentaculus from A Serious Man.

– Mike has never sounded more like a Coen character than when he’s quoting Louis XVI and pontificating about astronomy at Simone (or waving her an absent-minded goodbye).

– Floyd’s musings about things being even rougher in frontier days is extremely similar to what Ed Tom’s uncle tells him at the end of No Country.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”
– Alice, upon reading the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” in Through The Looking Glass
“Rhinoceros” was probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing a Coen Bros version of Rio Bravo, which is something I never realized I wanted, and now I’m simultaneously elated that I sort of got it and disappointed that I’ll probably never get it for realz-real.  Ah well, at least this made for one seriously great, maddeningly tense hour of television. Fargo has never felt more like a western than in tonight’s episode, wherein sheriffs have stand-offs with goons who lay siege to the local jail, while an actual Indian stalks silently about with murderous intent.  And also Mike Milligan recites “Jabberwocky”.  Because why not?


But “Rhinoceros” had something you don’t often see in classical westerns, or siege movies for that matter – a lawyer emerging as the unlikely hero of the whole affair.  Some of us were talking last week on the message board about our nominees for the next generation of the Coen bros’ repertory, now that the McDormand/Buscemi/Turturros of the world are getting on. I suggested Nick Offerman to succeed John Goodman, and tonight bore me out beyond anything I could’ve anticipated.  We know from Parks And Rec the guy can make anti-government ranting funny, but his little breaks in his drunken anti-authoritarian ramblings to say hi to Sandra and whatnot slayed me. We knew Karl Weathers did not lack for sand after backing off Hanzee (who just gets more terrifying by the week) from the garage. But his efforts this week while outnumbered, outgunned and also drunk, were on another level, particularly because he could’ve excused himself from the whole affair had he been so inclined.  But Karl Weather, much like Carl Weathers, doesn’t back down from a challenge, even when clearly overmatched.  Have another drink counselor, you earned it.

And pour one out for an American icon while you're at it
And pour one out for an American icon while you’re at it
It’s a bad week for the Gerhardts all around.  Bear is going to look foolish upon finding out the cops were secreting Ed out from under him, and that’s assuming that Weathers’ “deal” regarding Charlie actually pans out.  Dodd has an especially loathsome showing, not to mention thoroughly incompetent – though I imagine he won’t come out of that basement telling people that he killed one of his own guys with friendly fire and was incapacitated by a housewife, albeit a pretty darn actualized one, mister, thank you very much.  The only silver lining for either brother is that when they get home their own screw ups are going to be overshadowed by Milligan’s double-cross of Simone (not that he ever promised her a rose garden), and ambush of the house.  I can’t imagine the show is done with Jean Smart just yet, so I imagine Kansas City is going to try to take the Gerhardt fraus hostage instead. I refuse to watch the previews to find out if I’m right, but if you don’t give us one proper face-off between her and Bokeem Woodbine, then you done fucked up, show.

So both Blomquists live another day despite the respective lynch mobs that show up on their doorsteps, but it’s hard to say that they’re winning.  Ed is on the run with Hanzee on his trail, which is pretty much the very last place I’d ever want to be.  I was clearly wrong a few weeks back when I talked about Milligan in relation to the Coen’s nemesis archetype, as the tracker would give Anton Chigurgh the willies with his efficiency and implacability over the last few episodes.  The KC syndicate would actually be in a world of trouble if he wasn’t bound to help nimrod Dodd undermine his own family.  We must be due for a flashback to show how Dodd saved Hanzee’s life when they were little, because that alliance seems to make less sense each week.


Anyway, it’s unclear where Peggy ends up after administering potentially the most satisfying cattle prodding in television history (to be fair, it’s a fairly young medium).  Presumably she took off before Hank woke up, or maybe after since he gets called away to deal with the siege situation right away.  In any case, it was a very strong episode for Kirsten Dunst, starting with the homespun denial as she swears to a nonplussed Hank that she and Ed have done nothing wrong (though even at the height of her lather, she doesn’t declare that he is innocent but that the charges are “unproveable!”), moving to outright desperation as Hank threatens her with forensics and she eventually tiptoes right up to the precipice of a confession.  That little speech about how she feels like a stranger in her own house provides some context for the obvious question of why you would just drive home with a Gerhardt in your windshield, making her a little more sympathetic without really justifying her actions.  It makes Peggy into a near-tragic figure; she has done some really terrible things, but could be so much happier if she was either a little bit better of a person, or if she were a little bit more callous and could actually throw herself into her self-centered pursuits whole-heartedly.  But alas for her, her nature is restless enough to always have one foot out the door, but just sentimental enough to keep California permanently out of reach.

One assumes that she’ll make it as far as Sioux Falls, however, even if she doesn’t like what she finds there. Okay then. On to Coen Bingo and other random shit:


– Karl and Sonny’s relationship is very reminiscent of Walter and Donny in The Big Lebowski

– No sign of the UFO this week, unless I was just distracted by all the awesome cowboy shit.

– A very 70’s-upped version of “Man Of Constant Sorrow” plays over the end credits, which song plays a large role in the soundtrack and plot of O Brother Where Art Thou?  It’s apparently done by Blitzen Trapper, whom I know for their earworm “Furr”.

– All the standoffs this season call to mind the various instances in True Grit where Cogburn, LeBeouf and Mattie face down larger/more numerous foes. How that has become the most forgotten Coen movie is beyond me; it’s fantastically entertaining and beautiful from start to finish.

– Betsy opines that Vietnam would’ve gone a lot smoother if the cooler heads of women had been allowed to prevail.  Given current circumstances, Floyd Gerhardt would no doubt agree.

– Dodd claims not to see his nephew as crippled, saying instead he sees heart and will, much as Milligan claimed that his boss’s severed head is naught but a business opportunity to him.  But nobody takes this selective perception as far as Peggy, who sees dead gangsters and a burned down shop as a ticket to California.

– Peggy fighting off Dodd in the basement calls to mind Frances McDormand’s troubles at the end of Blood Simple.

– Lou slips with Ed out a second story window while being stalked by Hanzee, which is a move also employed by Coen protagonists Llewelyn Moss and Leo when their domiciles come under attack.  They also all have “L” first names, which is significant because oh hell I’m just making shit up at this point.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



“It’s pretty depressing.”
“Really? See, I think it’s beautiful.”

Noreen and Charlie are talking about Albert Camus with this exchange, but it’s just as applicable to the classic O. Henry story that gives “The Gift Of The Magi” its name.  The end of that story, with the couple exchanging thoughtful presents that have each been rendered useless by what the recipient had to give up in order to secure their gift, can be seen as a bleak joke on the futility of all human endeavor, no matter how noble the intentions.  Or, if you believe that the purpose of a gift is not to provide a tangible benefit but simply to demonstrate that you care, then the “joke” is actually a wonderful validation of that relationship.  Those two had to be perfectly attuned to reach such a uniquely bad result. That synchronicity is beautiful, even if the circumstance is sad.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Fargo a beautiful show, as while it is very well shot, its grace notes tend to be subdued rather than flowery.  And it’s certainly hard to call “The Gift Of The Magi” beautiful, as it is the bloodiest episode of an always-violent show, by a wide margin.  Skulls are cleaved, feet blasted off at the ankle, throats graphically cut, and heads put in hat boxes.  And that’s without getting into Milligan sexually threatening Dodd’s daughter (who the internet tells me is named Simone, though I don’t recall hearing the name on the show), or how Dodd himself physically threatens her, or how nastily he insults his brother Bear.  This is as ugly as the show gets, and yet those grace notes still shine through, however spottily.  It’s in the underplayed interactions of the Solverson clan.  Floyd’s protection of her granddaughter.  Peggy making her first truly selfless (if ultimately pointless) decision to put Ed’s dream ahead of her wanderlust.  Ben’s implicit apology to Lou and the way Lou responds by casually offering help rather than making him squirm.  How young Noreen, for all her affectations to being the goth queen of Luverne, guilelessly stirs Charlie’s compassion just by being a self-evidently nice gal.


The attempted hit at the butcher shop is Fargo operating at its absolute best, blending queasy humor and Minnesoooooootan affability with undercurrents of brutal violence, and mining a terrific amount of suspense from the intersection.  And Noreen is the key to it all.  Because from a distance, it should be obvious how this plays out. While many of us have theorized that Ed could predecease his wife by an episode or two, he is clearly the most important player in this scenario.  He’s one of the headliners of his storyline, and the fact that Dodd sends a henchman to guide his nephew through his first kill (to avenge his own brother, no less) makes less sense as a character decision than a concession that the writers aren’t ready to put him in a “one man leaves” scenario with another principle just yet.  Which, along with Charlie being the 5th or so most prominent Gerhardt, telegraphs pretty hard that Ed is going to make it out of this.

And yet, there is still so much tension, because of Noreen’s presence.  She’s a wildcard, as this is not a show that shies away from merking innocents (see the Waffle House, or the fate of a certain Mrs. Nygard last year), and she is not so well-developed as to be afforded any sort of sovereign immunity relative to the other characters.  So even if you’re convinced that Ed is not in any real danger, there’s another level of plausible threat that hums throughout the entire build-up.  The writing is wonderfully observed, and Emily Haine is terrific at showing how quickly and unconsciously this girl sheds the pretensions she was trying on a moment earlier, as teenagers are wont to do.  She’s just old enough to begin to grapple with existential cynicism, but too young not to be innately optimistic about the chance to interact with a cute boy.  It’s immediately endearing, which in turn makes things immediately more fraught, as she’s oblivious to the other level of which we and Charlie are acutely aware.


And it’s all about perception, isn’t it?  Whether Camus or O. Henry or the Coens’ works are beautiful or depressing or both is in the eye of the beholder, and to a certain extent, this allows us all to shape our own reality.  We are doing this constantly, unconsciously, and it’s amazing and magnificent and dangerous when we get carried away and start thinking that the ability to mold our own subjective reality to our preference is an actual superpower that means we can change the outside world just by believing really hard.  That way leads us to mystical bullshit like The Secret, and to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan is an oddly elusive figure for someone who lived so prominently and so recently.  I was alive for at least some of his presidency, and yet, I don’t have any sense of who he actually was, the way I feel (however erroneously) that I know what sort of guys his successors were/are.  A significant segment of today’s conservatives look back on him as something better than the Second Coming. They view his tenure through a soft focus lens of nostalgia as the last time America Was Great, which leads to a weird double-distortion effect because Reagan himself ran on a rose-colored vision of taking us back to a simpler time past.  And being a liberal, I also think he is responsible for a lot of domestic policies that are still having devastating consequences for multiple generations, and things like Iran-Contra are an absolute disgrace.  So I’m more than a little suspicious of the efforts to deify him.


And yet, even I have to admit that he was instrumental in drawing the most dangerous conflict in human history to a close, and that it may not be hyperbole to say doing so averted the extinction of the human race.  And as fan of the human race (some of y’all ain’t bad looking), I have to give that some props.  But he did so by spouting some pretty shameless propaganda about Evil Empires and so forth, when the Soviet Union was already fast crumbling from within.  Maybe he was a savvy enough operator to recognize that some inflammatory rhetoric would speed things along, or maybe he just saw that the game was close enough to over that he could score cheap points taunting an opponent that was already on the mat.  Maybe he just had a knack for knowing exactly what America needed to hear, or maybe he wholeheartedly believed every word of what he said.

That is the essential enigma of Reagan for me:  there’s no denying that he was beyond successful as a politician, but to what degree did he buy into his own line?  His famous “city on a hill” rhetoric is all about projecting appearances; the city doesn’t actually have to be Shangri-La, it just has to pass for it from below.  But it is undeniably powerful rhetoric.  Everyone is affected by it – Lou, Betsy, Constance (none of them simpletons or particularly soft touches), even the proudly paranoid Karl Weathers.  Whether its gospel truth or a line is practically irrelevant. The imagery is important, because perception is important. He’s selling a comeback narrative, and everyone loves that, like they love Rocky.


What’s genius about Bruce Campbell’s Reagan is that the performance, in addition to not going overboard trying to be either an imitation or caricature, never indicates just how full of shit he really is.  Obviously, we’re supposed to take his reminiscing about making war movies as if it was actual combat to be ridiculous.  But is he wrong when, forgetting the ending of that particular “mission”, he concludes “ah well, either way, it was a fine picture.”?  It’s soldiers that win wars, but propaganda has played a major role in every successful war effort in history, because it shapes those all-important perceptions.  Whose to say that a movie star who becomes the face of a such a war effort doesn’t contribute as much to the cause as any one foot soldier?  And a president’s duty is so tied to public opinion that projecting the right image is arguably the most important aspect of the most important job in the world.

But even when his line of patriotic patter fails to reassure Lou completely, it’s still unclear whether this guy is an idiot savant or a Machiavellian genius who simply decides chasing this one sale isn’t worth the trouble.  I don’t buy that either the real or fictional version of the man is dumb enough to believe that ketchup is actually a vegetable, but is saying so the height of cynicism?  Or is there something perversely optimistic about thinking that if we could just get everyone to go along with that idea, that would be just as good?

Of course, there are limits to this sort of magical thinking.  The 70s were always going to come in like a hangover, the killers are still coming even if you still think it’s Tuesday, and Betsy might feel a little more relief if she thought her Smartees were medicine, but she’d still be dying just as fast.  Same as you and me, and Ed’s grandpa. Just ask Camus.

Just kidding.  You can't.
Or not
Okay then. On to Coen Bingo and other random shit:


– I didn’t catch any direct quotes, but all this talk about perspective has reminded me of the meeting with the junior rabbi from A Serious Man. “Just look at that parking lot…

– The exchange in that clip about how “The Boss may not always be right, but he’s always the Boss,” calls to mind Lou and Betsy’s skeptical words about his boss. “He knows best. Probably.” “Said he did, anyway.”  Meanwhile, Reagan is boarding his bus to give another speech.

– Molly is apparently drawing the UFO now.  Little sucker sure gets around.

– About the only knock I have on the episode is that both Dodd and Hanzee act out of character at points.  Dodd sending a stand-in with Charlie is addressed above.  Hanzee slashes one Kitchen Brother’s throat, but settles for merely punching out the other a half second later?  It’s like he’s trying specifically to preserve a more dramatic confrontation down the line.  Perhaps as a Native American tracker archetype, he’s simply more naturally attuned to the ebbs and flows of seasonal arcs?

– It’s dumb, but I get a kick out of “Erstwhile on Fargo” as opposed to “Previously”.  And this week it drew attention to another thing that is great – the subtle Minnesotan lilts that sneak into Zahn McClarnon’s gravel-voiced portrayal of Hanzee.  Most of the accentwork on this show (Jeffrey Donovan, looking at you in particular) are miles from subtle, but the occasional “ya” that slips out of this stone killer, particularly when interacting with his adopted family, do a lot to suggest that he may have been born apart from these honkies, but he was bred amongst them, and it’s left it’s mark.

– Giggly Nick Offerman is a delight. Glad they found time (not that FX puts any pressure on its originals in that regard) to include his little mancrush on ol’ Dutch.

– I brushed past Milligan above, but he chooses to view Joe’s severed head as an opportunity to climb the ladder rather than signal to give up, just as he chose his own devilish brand of optimism as a rebuke to his mother’s oppressive gloominess.  He also knows the relevant question to ask Simone – “what are we, in your mind?” He knows they aren’t actually Romeo and Juliet, but what matters is whether she thinks that way.

– I like the parallel of Bear thanking Hanzee for his service to the Gerhardt family, with more conviction than Dutch thanks Lou for his.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015



This week opens with a sequence that is, strictly speaking, a prequel to the prequel we’re watching.  This should annoy me, given my avowed aversion to prequels*, but then this season isn’t much of a prequel to the first, as the incident in Sioux Falls gets referenced there a few times, but is not directly tied to any of the events there.  And similarly, the movie theater flashback offers color to Dodd’s characterization, but does not expressly connect it to any specific plot points.  We have a better understanding of how Dodd grew up to think that violence is the hammer that fits every nail, but it’s not like the Kansas City syndicate is sending Milligan and Brad Garrett up specifically to avenge the asshole he knifed in back.

This is what separates a good flashback from a shitty prequel, if you ask me.  A proper flashback feeds us added character context, that we didn’t necessarily need when the character was first introduced.  A bad prequel focuses on plot mechanics and physical minutia, setting up story elements for “future” installments that presumably worked fine with what set up they had in the first place, or tying itself in knots rushing to establish that Indiana Jones got his whip, hat and chin scar all on one wacky afternoon.  Luckily, characters like Dodd and Lou aren’t brimming with iconography that these looks at their younger selves feel necessary to “explain”.  And I think Noah Hawley is smart enough to avoid that pitfall anyway; for example, older Lou had a quirk of tying and untying knots when he was nervous.  Rather than the second season showing us how he picked up this habit, we instead find that he was already doing it as a younger man. Not every detail needs a concrete justification.


Speaking of unraveling, and impeccable segues, things came apart shockingly fast for the Blomquists this week.  Given that we’re less than half the way through the season, I thought that I had a vague understanding of the trajectory they were on.  I figured that they would continue sweating out the Rye situation for a few more episodes until Peggy’s boss caused trouble by putting together Betsy’s musings with the damage to the car.  Things would come to a violent head with her, and perhaps Mike Milligan, who is also looking for Rye but had less reason than any other party to act on that knowledge once he learned the specifics.  As I presume(d) that at least Peggy is in the season for the long haul, I figured there could be some sort of alliance brokered there that could keep that plotline circling the gang war until the conclusion.  And building up the argument over the seminar money seemed to confirm that the show was drumming up some fairly staid domestic drama to keep this storyline’s wheels spinning until the rest of the plot was ready for it.

So I was pretty blown away when this episode featured both the Gerhardts and Lou figuring out the truth in such short order.  Lou, for his part, lacks the hard evidence to make immediate arrests, but he has a detailed theory that matches all the circumstantial bits available.  And Hanzee could be offed before he’s able to relay his findings to Dodd, which if this were a 24-episode network season we were talking about then I’d be sure that precisely that would happen, but this show operates on its own level and timeframe, so I’m just not so sure what to expect anymore.  I won’t be surprised if Peggy comes back from the Lifespring seminar as a fully-actualized, assertive widow, but beyond that I can only hazard a guess that things end very badly for them both.


With Hanzee hot on the trail, straight razor in hand, it seems like this storyline is headed for some immediate bloodshed, or at least a tense standoff like we’ve seen several other times recently.  But instead, he quietly vacates the premises and we get something quite different, as Lou has an unsuccessful come-to-Jesus talk with the couple, where he details his wartime experience dealing with soldiers who have been mortally wounded but remain in enough shock to be coherent.  It’s an apt metaphor for any number of Coen/Fargo characters – poor Skip last week didn’t even get the blithe reassurances Lou describes as he literally stood in his own grave.  But Lou fails to convince the Blomquists to come clean, and while we knew they weren’t going to stop digging now anyway, the real power of the scene doesn’t come to fruition until he goes home to Betsy.  He assures her with as much sincerity as he can muster that he’s sure she got the real medicine and she’s going to be fine.  They both know that isn’t true, but it’s a lie they have to tell themselves in order to enjoy what time she has left on any level.

That’s going to be hard for Lou, however, since the KC/Gerhardt war seems to have passed a point of no return, spurred on by Dodd and his nephew’s assault on some goons in the procurement of donuts from John C. Reilly’s body double, and the possible murder of Otto by Milligan and the Kitchen Bros.  I say possible because I watched the bedroom scene twice and couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be lying in state or not.  The parking lot ambush ends with Milligan and co. lowering their weapons and walking away having only removed his hat (which is weird considering they have already committed an act of war), but when he’s lying there he seems to have some new head wounds and we don’t get a shot of Michael Hogan flexing the one-eye acting muscles he honed on Battlestar Galactica.  It’s a weird, I’m sure unintentional, ambiguity, but I can’t figure out which way makes more sense.  I’d be interested to hear what people’s assumptions were in the comments.


But backtracking a bit, the “negotiation” scene at the hotel is fantastic stuff for Jean Smart (and Brad Garret, who I have never given a single thought to as an actor, but is perfect here), and the bit in the car where hardcase Dodd seeks silent reassurance from his mommy is ready-made for her Emmy reel.  Given the set-up of Kansas City as the Walmart of Crime, it doesn’t make any thematic sense for Mom n’ Pop to triumph in this conflict, but I can’t wait to see her as a wartime president.  As she loses family members, I only see her becoming more dangerous, and I’m already kind of terrified of her.


But ultimately, while I think Milligan specifically will be taken down by a Gerhardt woman, I don’t think it will be Floyd.  It will probably be Dodd’s wanna-be bohemian daughter, who is introduced in this episode by the ever-smooth Milligan** noting that she surprised him there “in the end”.  They’re ostensibly talking about sticking a thumb in his butt, but it nonetheless lays the groundwork that this smooth operator is still capable of underestimating her.  And while she may be sore enough at her dad at the moment to be nonchalant about his potential murder, she may see things differently once they start to make good on Garrett’s threat to wipe every member of her family off the map.

Okay then.  On to Coen Bingo and other random shit:


– Dodd uses a cattle prod to assault the goons, while Anton Chigurgh uses, among other things, a bolt gun also designed for use on cattle to kill his victims.

– Hanzee’s largely silent, eerily efficient tracking of Rye’s final journey is also highly reminiscent of Chigurgh stalking Moss’s progress through Texas.  Zahn McClarnon is absolutely killing it in those largely wordless scenes, though, becoming at least for the week the Nemesis I was blathering about last week.  If he doesn’t at least get typecast as the heavy in another half dozen crime shows after this, it’s a goddamn travesty.

– Lou’s nighttime musing about the world being out of balance sounds an awful lot like Ed Tom Bell’s complaints to his uncle.

– The UFO is back!  Sort of!  This time it is checking out Hanzee in broad daylight.  Maybe, since it’s still presented in a way that could just be a trick of the light – which may make more sense, since he sees it in the same place as Rye did, and it would be an odd place for a flying saucer to be camped out, but then the close ups on the diner clock and his watch suggest he lost two hours sitting there on the side of the road, so I don’t know anymore.

– The vagaries of Netflix’s long/short wait made me a liar, so I ended up rewatching The Man Who Wasn’t There over the weekend.  Alas, I managed to glean no insights into its connection to the show from watching it again, or added appreciation for it.  It remains a lifeless if beautiful outlier in the Coen filmography, at least whenever James Gandolfini or Tony Shaloub are not on screen.

– Lou’s pitch about being dead but not knowing it yet is pretty similar to the one Carson Wells gives to Moss in the hospital in No Country. It also failed to sway the other party to give up there.

– The closing song also appeared in Raising Arizona.

– The hotel Pearl is pretty close to the Hotel Earle, in name if not in layout. But those slow pushes down the hall did have that Barton Fink feeling.

*Which, I want to stress, is not just scarring from “The Prequels”.  As bad as those movies are, most of their problems are unrelated to the timeframe in which they take place.  And I’m still not saying that a prequel can’t be good, just that “untold origin story” has about the worst batting average of any sort of narrative subgenus.

**I don’t think Bokeem Woodbine is even a person half the time.  He feels and sounds more like a muppet designed to teach the concept of Smoothness to the more advanced kids on Sesame Street.