Crossing the halfway point of this brilliant second season, we reach what could be considered a transitional episode. It's filled with cliffhangers and unanswered questions, but amplified with enough tension to also entertain. "Rhinoceros" is the most functional episode of the season, often playing out in actual time as if it were 24 — which is a crossover I would totally watch. "This is a true story. Events take place in real time, ya know."
"Rhinoceros," named after the Eugène Ionesco's play about groupthink and conformity, picks up minutes after the end of episode five. Lou (Patrick Wilson) and Hank (Ted Danson) have arrived at the Blumquist home, where they take Ed (Jesse Plemons) into custody, much to the protestation of Peggy (Kirsten Dunst). "You're not gonna prove my Ed did anything wrong! It's un-provable!" she yells. It's not that he didn't do anything wrong, though. They just can't prove it. Poor, naïve Peggy.
As each piece is put in place for the showdown that comprises the bulk of "Rhinoceros," we flash to the Gerhart compound, where Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is still strutting his stuff and verbally abusing his daughter Simone (Rachel Keller). Bear (Angus Sampson) gets the call that Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) has been arrested and tackles his brother to the ground. While Dodd gets what he deserves, Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon) points a gun to Bear's head, giving him the freedom to go alpha male again. In this case, that means "whip your brother with a belt while another man points a loaded gun at his head." That's Dodd for you; he's only tough once he has an armed man behind him. Floyd (Jean Smart) steps in just in time, then loads everyone into the cars to head to Luverne. "Bring back my grandson," she says. "No excuses."
Before we leave the compound, Simone tells Mike (Bokeem Woodbine) what's happening, then asks him to kill her father. Mike wants to know if Simone has any last words for her abusive father, so she quotes the TV show Alice, which inspires Mike to quote Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," a nonsense poem found within — what else? — Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. How many shows can manage a jump from a 1970s TV catchphrase to a 19th-century poem? Only Fargo. I could listen to Woodbine read "Jabberwocky" from beginning to end, employing that sing-song cadence he's used all season:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe
After the literary diversion ends, we're treated to a fantastic scene between Peggy and Hank. She still thinks she's going to Lifespring in Sioux Falls tomorrow. I do wonder if she will actually go. We know that part of the season takes place in Sioux Falls, and last season, Lou referenced a massacre there: "Madness, really … If you stacked the [bodies] high you coulda climbed to the second floor. I saw something that year I ain't never seen, before or since. I'd call it animal, except animals only kill for food. This was … Sioux Falls. Ever been?"
Peggy is still deep in denial and Hank is out of patience, asking her if she's "a little touched." When he reveals that a forensic team is about to scour the car that Peggy no longer controls, her wall of excuses crumbles. She confesses off-camera, then we learn why she didn't just call the cops that night. After noting that decisions don't happen in a vacuum, Peggy talks about how she was ready, almost eager to run. Was the hit and run an excuse to escape a life inside "a museum of the past," which she didn't really want?
Then Dodd and his posse show up.
While Peggy hides, Hank heads to the porch for the first major standoff of the episode. "Son, I can fill a steamer trunk with the amount of stupid I think you are" is instantly on the shortlist of the season's best lines. Dodd may be a steamer trunk of stupid, but he's got Hank outmanned. Hanzee knocks him out, then Dodd sends him and his men to the police station. When he goes inside to clean up, he heads down to the basement — where Peggy's hoarding proves to be a lifesaver. A sink falls onto one of Dodd's men (or is it pushed?) and he shoots another before Peggy tases him unconscious.
Before we get back to Luverne, there's a shocking scene at the Gerharts, where we learn that Mike and his posse have declared war. They shoot away at the house, forcing Floyd and Simone to dive for cover.
Meanwhile, Ed keeps denying that he's guilty, and asks Lou for a lawyer. He summons the only one in town, the inebriated wordsmith Karl (Nick Offerman). As Karl rambles on in ridiculous ways — "The law is a light on a hill, calling to its breast all those in search of justice" — Bear and his men arrive outside, sparking another standoff. Lou tries to talk them down: "This is the kind of thing that didn't work in Westerns and it's not going to work tonight." When he decides to take Ed someplace safe, Karl goes to talk to Charlie.
After a meeting with his second new client of the night, Karl steps out front just as Lou sneaks Ed out the back. Karl breaks it down for Bear: Charlie needs his dad to leave right now. That's the deal. If they leave, Charlie stays clean. Lou and Ed emerge from the woods, the "Butcher of Luverne" runs home, and Hanzee quietly follows him. But where are Lou and Hank headed? Are they going back to the station? Wouldn't they get a call when Bear left? Why didn't they head back in Ed's direction? We'll find out next week.
Apart from all that:
- There was only one major music cue this week — and it was a direct reference to another Coen project. The episode ends with a cover of "Man of Constant Sorrow," a folk song featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou? I like how the cover resembles a ’70s disco song. It befits the show's era.
- "Rhinoceros" was the shortest episode of season two to date, which added to the tense nature of its action.
- It's interesting to think about what we didn't watch this week. We didn't see or hear Charlie's call to Bear, or Peggy's confession to Hank, or Charlie's meeting with Karl. The writers of Fargo are very keen on letting viewers fill in the gaps, especially in an episode that's so tightly constructed. Too much dialogue would hurt the tone.
- Each episode seems to bring new actors into the spotlight. This week belonged to Danson, Dunst, Sampson, and Offerman — and all four delivered. Who will step up next week?
- The episode ends with so many cliff-hangers. What is Peggy doing with Dodd? Has the assault on the Gerharts ended? Were Floyd, Simone, and Otto hurt or even killed? And, of course: What will happen after Hanzee catches up with Ed?