With just three episodes left in Fargo's second season, Noah Hawley and his team pull off a number of daring moves this week. First, they allow notable narrative threads to linger, like exactly what happened to Peggy and Ed Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons) and Hanzee and Dodd (Zach McClarnon, Jeffrey Donovan) after the cliffhangers of last week. Second, they shifted the tone of the show toward something tragic, as we see two major characters head to their final destinations. While Betsy (Cristin Milioti) comes to terms with the idea that she's not long for this world, Simone (Rachel Keller) learns that her days are way more numbered than she thought. As Floyd (Jean Smart) says when Hank (Ted Danson) tries to relate to the recent loss of her husband: "Different journeys, same destination."
"Did You Do This? No, You Did It!" opens with a fantastic bit of filmmaking, as we see violence intercut with its grim impact. As the strains of Jethro Tull's still-glorious "Locomotive Breath" play, the gang war between the Gerharts and the Kansas City mafia reaches a fever pitch. An awful lot of people are getting killed — and this is the week where the violence hits home for the Gerharts. We learn that Otto (Michael Hogan) is dead and Simone takes her a final trip into the Fargo woods. Otto and Rye — well, the little bit that's left of him — are buried next to each other as we see men garroted and drowned in a toilet. (Perhaps a Big Lebowski reference?) As Ricky G (Ryan O'Nan), a Buffalo guy who comes to help out, notes, it's like "Wild goddamn Kingdom out here."
Bear Gerhart (Angus Sampson) gives Floyd an update on the turf war. They got five of theirs, but South Dakota has turned. And Bear thinks Dodd is probably dead. (This is worth noting, given the choice Bear makes later in the episode.) Simone snaps back about Dodd — "It's not like my dad is the shark in that movie 'We're gonna need a bigger boat'" — and Floyd points out that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Simone is always looking for a fight too. The righteous disappointment that Smart imbues into "This family deserves the ground" hints that this may be a more serious episode than we've seen this season. Ben (Keir O'Donnell) and Lou (Patrick Wilson) arrive to take Floyd in for questioning, and we realize that Lou doesn't know where Dodd is either.
The great Terry Kinney (from HBO's Oz and many other shows) pops up as a partner to Hank in Floyd's interrogation. The two share a bit of No Country for Old Men repartee — "Things just plum out of control" — and I began to consider how these are the same lamentations we heard from Lou in Fargo's first season and from Tommy Lee Jones in No Country. Things were always better than they are today. Hank pushes Floyd, pointing out that her husband is dead, her youngest is missing, and her grandson is in jail: "This thing is over when you say it's over." If she turns on the KC mafia, he says he'll offer her police protection.
Simone is snorting coke and listening to "Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)," a song originally written by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, then revived by The Big Lebowski. (It's performed by Austin artist White Denim in this episode.) So, Simone's gone back to the Pearl Hotel. What does she think will happen? Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), the cold-blooded killer who just shot up her house, knows that she is likely there. It's a bit questionable that she would go back to the Pearl, although I suppose Simone has nowhere else to turn. As she's walking in, Mike gets an important call from KC (and we get a great cameo by Adam Arkin). He has two days to win this turf war, or else "The Undertaker" will be sent in to clean up the mess.
Mike and Simone argue, and Milligan actually quotes Camus, whose Myth of Sisyphus already gave title to episode three, a speech to Noreen in episode five, and even a bit of peace to Ed in episode six: "Freedom, that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm" is from Camus's The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. Mike spins from that quote and its source to discuss revolt, revolution, and why they share so much in common. Of course, Simone calls him a thesaurus, then yells at him for killing Otto and nearly killing her.
There's a knock on the door and Simone screams. Lou and Ben charge in to save the day. Would Mike and "Thing 2" have killed Simone? Probably. Ben walks Simone out, and she flirts with him in the elevator, before kneeing him in the groin: "I'm done lying down for men." As Lou will point out later, Ben is a "shit cop."
Betsy comes home to strange boots in her hall. Would her assassins really leave their shoes by the front door? She's paranoid enough to grab a shotgun, only to discover Sonny and Karl making eggs and pancakes. (Given how often I quote this scene, it feels like another Fargo movie reference to me — "Where's Pancakes House?")
The centerpiece of episode seven is the year's most tragic scene to date. Simone tries to talk to a silent Bear, who has defended her in the past, but now tells her to call Dodd "Dad" instead. Is Bear just doing what he thinks Dodd would do because he thinks Dodd is dead? If Simone has to be killed by family, he's really the only Gerhart left to do it. The next sequence echoes back to Miller's Crossing: an execution set in the woods, a reticent executioner, and Lisa Hannigan singing "Danny Boy" on the soundtrack. Before he kills Simone, though, Bear says something crucial to the world of Fargo: "It doesn't matter what you mean, it's what you do." Both seasons of this show — and the film — are about people who make mistakes that they can't undo. Beyond a certain point, intention means nothing.
Lou checks in with Betsy as Hank finishes up Floyd's interrogation. She's about to crack. She demands the record reflect that this is her last resort, but nevertheless, she gives up tons of information about the Kansas City operation, right down to where they store their dope and weapons. As they leave to check out her information, a look of satisfaction flashes across Floyd's face. This might actually work. And it if does, it will bring down those who want to destroy her.
In a quick, funny scene, we learn that Hanzee shot two troopers in Sioux Falls while looking for a young couple. Then, we get to the episode's second emotional sequence: Karl and Betsy. We learn that Lou was supposed to marry Betsy's sister Lenore, but Lenore didn't want to wait for her man to come back from the war, so Lou got "the dud." After Karl says something typically great about Betsy and Lou, she says, "You'll look after them, right?" (As my six-year-old likes to say when something is emotional,"I got water in my eyes.") She knows what we've all suspected: She got the sugar pills. She offers some advice — don't let Lou marry Rhonda Knudsen — and the scene ends with a beautiful hug, a moment of comfort between two people trapped in a story defined by violence.
Before Betsy's episode ends, we get one truly odd moment: She goes to her dad's house to feed his cat, Snowball, and discovers … something. There's a room filled with symbols, with translations written underneath some, as if Hank is trying to crack a code. What does it mean? Is he looking for meaning in a meaningless world? I'm sure we'll find out more. And where is Snowball, by the way?
As Mike prepares for the the Undertaker's arrival, we hear a cover of "O Death" (from O Brother, Where Art Thou?), performed by another Austin artist named Shakey Graves. Mike, a character so verbose and witty, doesn't take the time to negotiate with the man sent to do his job. He acts quickly, shooting his assassin and knifing his henchmen. The phone rings. It's Ed. He's got Dodd Gerhart in the trunk of his car.
Apart From All That:
- I kind of hate that Dodd outlived Simone, although nothing's fair in North Dakota. Dodd treated her like garbage, and I hoped for a little bit of vengeance, even if her betrayal of the Gerharts amplified the bloodshed. I'm still pretty sure Dodd will get what's coming to him.
- It's worth noting that "It should be family that pulls the trigger" was included in the "Erstwhile on Fargo" segment. Bear took it to heart, killing Simone before Mike had a chance to do it himself.
- We haven't paid enough attention to the show's costume design. It's some of the best on TV, from Simone's glorious coat to the Buffalo guy's entire outfit, especially the orange sunglasses.
- Another sign of this season's brilliance: It's the rare sort of prequel that improves the story that came before it. When the season ends, watch Keith Carradine's performance in season one and try not think of Betsy. I dare ya.
- What a sad episode. Here's Kenny Rogers and the First Edition doing "Just Dropped In" live to cheer things up a little bit.
- If you haven't heard: Fargo got renewed for a third season. Will it be set even further in the past? Back to the present day? Future Fargo? Only time will tell.