Less firefights, more confrontations and character building moments this week. This is “Fear and Trembling.”
The episode begins on an upbeat note with jazz music. We’re in Fargo, North Dakota, 1951. A young Dodd Gerhardt accompanies Otto to see Moonbase Kingdom, starring Ronald Reagan. At the theater, Otto sits next to a man who says that Cheech is talking about going to the moon. There are too many gooks to take care of first, though. The way Otto sees it, the man is sitting on his father’s throne, not the other way around. But maybe Otto is here for revenge and not just to get a seat at the table.
The man figures that only he sits at the table. Everyone else on the floor. The man figures it was stupid for Otto to bring Dodd, but that’s when he ends up with a blade in the back of his head. Dodd overtakes the henchmen and kills them.
In the present, Dodd and Charles go for a stroll, even though Hanzee normally goes with him on operations. Bear apparently wants Charles to be a professional, like a lawyer. Charles always wanted to do what Dodd said- bust heads. Charles maintains that he knows how to shoot a gun. Well, Charles prepares to show what he knows and indeed is good at firing off shots.
Later, the two arrive in town at a donut shop. Joe Bulo sends his greetings from one of his associates. In respond, Dodd plants a kiss with his cattle prod. Charles offers one man his own kiss in the form of two punches. Dodd does the next best thing: order a chocolate glazed donut for himself and an Old Fashioned for Charles. Not my donut of choice, but whatever.
Meanwhile, a doctor speaks with the Solversons about Nixon’s war against cancer, or the war against Betsy’s body, anyway. Dr. Gerber said that a few weeks of chemotherapy would do the trick for Betsy since doctors caught it early in her. However, with Betsy’s results, she’s in any condition but good. The cancer is spreading, but there’s a clinical trial that may be beneficial to her. The Solversons are open to trying anything. It’s a new drug- Xanadu- for the trial. It shows promise…and Betsy will receive either that or a Placebo.
To ascertain the effectiveness of the drug, it has to be judged in a controlled setting against patients that aren’t receiving the drug. Those patients receive something else, like a Smartee. No word on what Betsy herself would receive. So, shall the good doctor sign her up?
Hanzee, meanwhile, heads for Luverne. As he does, we cut Ed and Peggy after a love making session. Ed still has trouble thinking about a baby, but he still plans to buy a shop. It’d be like three pigs in a blanket. In addition, he’d like a bigger house if the family plans to expand. Siblings would need their own room. But Ed thinks that Peggy would have to wait on the seminar since they can’t afford it with Ed buying the shop.
Peggy isn’t looking for a cheaper course. She doesn’t want to be a lesser her. Ed just figures the house and shop are their future. That and the knitting class, which it actually isn’t, Peggy says. Time to get dressed, Ed says. It’s the first day of the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, Hanzee, heading for Luverne, investigates The Waffle Hut. He finds blood still on the table where the judge was killed, notes the clock’s time, and when outside, spots the blood trail in the snow. He then finds a piece of glass in the snow. How he managed to spot that among the white snow is another thing altogether. Also, extraterrestrial lights again?
He then heads to an auto shop, where he matches the glass with a car’s busted light. As he inspects the car, a mechanic, Sonny, played by Dan Beirne, asks if he needs help. Hanzee ignores him and looks inside the car, where he finds a bit of blood. He checks a pack inside and gets Ed’s name. When asked for a location, Sonny talks about Vietnam, when he was called Mad Dog. Hanzee can’t get used to this cold winter.
Hanzee has seen much worse than Sonny can imagine. Just then, Karl Weathers enters. When asked if he has a problem, Hanzee leaves without another word. Time to alert the local constable.
We then cut to a hotel room. The Kitchen Brothers play Solitaire while Mike Milligan finishes up a session with his White lady friend- Simone. She apparently surprised him in the end. Not that he liked he, she just surprised him. Mike, meanwhile, supplies the fix that Simone snorts off of him. Mike has heard that Gerhardt family will go the wrong way on this deal. Simone figures that her father will be killed, and she’s fine with that.
What depresses her is missing the 1960s- Woodstock, free love, Flower Rain Blossom and so on. But the 70s were always coming, like a hangover. Simone would have been free, before she woke up. Simone confirms that Hanzee is out looking for Rye. She’s bored by this talk and wants more fun. It was fun. Mike can still feel her finger in his ass…which was actually her thumb. Word from Simone is that Floyd has a compromise. That and Otto is being taken to a doctor to see if something can be done to stop the drooling. Oh? And which doctor would that be?
Meanwhile, Otto is taken to the Evan Spence Medical Center.
Lou and Betsy return home. Lou plans to take Molly ice fishing, but he wonders if he should be treating Betsy any different. She insists that he not do it. Before Lou can head inside, he receives a call from dispatch.
Sonny and Karl talk to Hank and eventually Lou about their surprise run-in with this Indian buck. Seemed that this Indian took a real interest in Ed Blomquist’s car. The damage, Lou thinks, is from hitting a suspect who just killed three people, but Hank still believes Ed and Peggy’s tale about their supposed accident.
Floyd, Dodd, Bear, and other members and associates of the Gerhardt clan meet with Joe Bulo to discuss the Kansas City offer. Milligan is not present, though, due to another matter in Kansas City. After 48 hours consideration, Floyd says no deal, but she has a respectful counter offer. Instead of a straight sale, the Gerhardt will pay 1 million plus 20 percent of the Minnesota territory. In exchange The Gerhardt family still runs North Dakota and retains full control of their operation…but with Kansas City. Partnership, not a sale.
Bulo, a bit stunned, takes this all in. Floyd figures that Bulo sees her as a 61-year-old woman, and she is. Two of her children were stillborn. Her firstborn was killed in Korea when a sniper took off half his head. The point is don’t assume that just because she’s an old woman that she isn’t strong. A deal is better than war, she says. The family will fight to keep what’s theirs until the last man. Bulo calls Floyd a good woman and wishes that he knew Otto. But no, Floyd figures that Otto would have killed Bulo on sight during their first encounter.
If it were up to Bulo, he’d take the partnership offer, but he wonders that if this territory deal happened, can Floyd guarantee that her boys will comply? The boys obey their mother, but here are two henchmen assaulted without provocation by Dodd. Floyd insists that the boys will abide. If one of Bulo’s men defies him and jeopardizes a deal, he loses an arm. But what will Floyd do to her children and grandchildren to show that she is committed?
Dodd flips out and rages at the men, prompting Floyd to have him sent out. She then apologizes, but Bulo figures that Dodd just wants his piece of the empire. He doesn’t think that Dodd will fall into line.
Otto’s associates help him to the car when they find a car parked dangerously close to theirs. One enters on the passenger side and tries to start the car, but it fails. Then, a car approaches. Turns out to be just a man being dropped off at the medical center.
The car eventually starts, but the three helpers are shot and killed by Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers. Mike confronts Otto, removes his hat, and sends greetings from Joe Bulo.
Back at the meeting, after receiving an update, Bulo rejects the offer and lowers his price offer by $2 million. He gives Floyd the night to consider. Anything less than unconditional surrender, and Bulo promises to wipe off every Gerhardt from the face of the earth.
Over at Bud’s Meats, Ed talks to Bud about Peggy’s emergency yesterday. The check he gave Ed for the down payment bounced, unfortunately. And there’s another buyer from Sleepy Eye that wants to be close to his sick mother, and he offered more money than Ed…but Ed is certain that he has the funds. He even checked. If Ed doesn’t have the money soon, Bud will sell to the other buyer. Oh, and he wants Ed to check out the grinder since it’s making a funny noise.
Ed meets up with Peggy to talk about the shop. How did the check bounce due to insufficient funds? The two agreed. And now there’s another buyer, even if Ed and Bud shook on it. Well, Ed did talk, and Peggy also talked, but she’s not sure that Ed heard her. As the two talk, Hanzee drives by and eyes Ed. Peggy still wants to attend the seminar. It’s more important than the shop, but Ed tells her to get the money. If not, the fella from Sleepy Eye gets the shop and then the two of them are screwed.
Peggy tells Constance that she needs the money, but Constance isn’t handing it over. First off, it’s been sent, but she also wants Peggy to buck up. Who does she see in the mirror? Not a girl, but a strong, vibrant woman that can do whatever she wants with her body and money. She puts away her hard earned money for this seminar. Women surrender their needs to the needs of men, to their detriment, but no more. Peggy is going to Sioux Falls to be the best her that she can be and no one will tell her how to live her life again.
A now debilitated Gerhardt family heads home. Dodd even allows himself to weep with his mother there to console him. Meanwhile, Hanzee inspects the Blomquist household and holds a lighter to the ground. He takes a whiff of the floor and then spots some bleach by the window. He then heads upstairs and examines the fireplace, soon finding the burned remain of a belt buckle. However, headlights get his attention. Lou Solverson has arrived.
With the Blomquists not present, he waits for Ed and Peggy to return, which they eventually do. He tells them that he saw their car and they explain how Ed ran into a tree. Sounds convincing, but Lou senses something off when Ed focuses on the fireplace. Lou offers his help, but the two have to be straight with him. If he checked the interior of the car, will he find blood? Ed hurt his neck, but no blood.
Lou talks about a boy who gets his legs blown apart by a landmine. His brain didn’t catch up with the reality that he was already dead. The rest of Lou’s squadron saw it, but lied and told him to lay still. If Ed had been to war, he would know the look. Ed and Peggy have the look like they have no idea what’s coming. Lou gets right to it and says that the man Peggy hit was named Rye Gerhardt and his family hurts people for money…and they’re coming.
Lou’s point is that if the two made a mistake, now is the time to say it because they can fix it. But if Lou is right, then the window is closing, Ed and Peggy may already be dead. Before Ed can explain, Peggy calls Lou out of line and asks him to leave. As for Ed, he eventually thinks that it’s also for the best that Lou leave, but he also says that it was just an accident. Lou advises the two to lock their doors.
At the Gerhardt household, with Otto now safe, Bear asks his mother about their next move. Floyd makes her decision: it’s war.
As Betsy looks at her trial drug, she joins Lou outside, as he couldn’t sleep. Lou thinks that Betsy got the real pill. She asks if he hopes or thinks that. They’re just out of balance- the whole world, Lou says. Everyone used to know right from wrong and their moral center. Not so much anymore.
A constant of Fargo is that you can’t escape your past or the horrible things you’ve done. No matter how small or inconsequential you feel your sin is, it can and will catch up to you, whether from the authorities, your friends, or a near silent hitman. Rye’s death in the premiere kicked off a series of events that has had the three factions- the Blomquists, the Gerhardts, and the authorities- scrambling not just to find out and make sense of what happened, but also keep their eyes open for impending threats.
We’re close to the halfway point of the season and the show has done a good job, I feel, of building tension between the various groups. War is coming and there’s sure to be hell to pay, but so far, we’ve had a few firefights alongside a lot of tense confrontations. Hardly matches up to the pile of bodies that Lou spoke of in Season One, but you get the feeling that danger is coming.
Right now, there’s no peaceful resolution for anyone, even someone as unassuming as Betsy, because there’s no longer a true sense of right and wrong anymore. Along with the stories detailing the horrors of war and what soldiers witnessed in Vietnam, Lou touched upon the fact that the world can’t distinguish from good and evil anymore. Everything is out of balance. That free love and embracing of life in the 1960s that Simone longs for is long gone. In its place is an ambiguous world where fear and violence reign.
But as we’ve seen this season so far and even in this episode, that bloodlust isn’t something that just comes with the decade. Hank talked earlier about soldiers bringing demons back with them, and yet, in addition to that, some have carried that darkness with them all along. We see Dodd at a young age trained to kill. So already he has that thirst for violence that he’s openly displayed. Now that cycle continues with bringing Charlie along to beat up some of Joe Bulo’s men.
Dodd sees the writing on the wall. His father’s stroke, Rye’s disappearance, the Kansas City syndicate’s offer- he views this as a chance to rise up within the family and prove his dominance by making a name for himself, even if that means going against his mother’s wishes. Though he has his family’s best intentions at heart, Dodd would prefer it if he called the shots, which is why he’s willing to go out and assault Bulo’s associates and openly badmouth Bulo himself during negotiations. He considers himself the alpha, but lacks Floyd’s subtlety and knack for leadership.
And even though Dodd is willing to put a wrench in his family’s plan, he’s still, at the end of the day, that same boy who would obey his parents and follow their guidance. One of my favorite moments of the episode was Floyd consoling Dodd after their day filled with nothing but bad news. Floyd realizes that Dodd is acting out and could ruin negotiations, but he’s still family and when they’ve all been wounded, they realize this is the time to band together.
Floyd is right that men like Bulo underestimate her because of her gender and age, but she doesn’t consider those disabilities. In fact, I’d argue that it makes her even more unassuming because no one would expect her to be such a calculating negotiator. This business has been in her family for years and no way in hell will she just willingly give it away without putting up a fight. Like she says, a deal is better than war, and if she can avert violence, she will.
But Kansas City is one step ahead and forced them into a position where they must counterattack. The assault at the medical center accomplished two objectives: it put the Gerhardt family even more on the defensive and showed that the syndicate will retaliate harshly when threatened. The shootout was quick, but effective and showed that Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers, calm as they may be, can turn deadly in a second, very similar to Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench from the first season.
While Rye’s death is still a mystery to some, the Gerhardt family remains a step ahead of else through Hanzee managing to piece it all together. We don’t know much about Hanzee compared to the other characters, and that’s fine because I think he works better as a character shrouded in mystery. We’ve seen and heard of his ruthlessness, but now we learn how methodical his investigative skills are, and in less time than it took the authorities. To not just find the glass, but in no time after that match it to the Blomquists’ car, notice bleach used on their floor, and find Rye’s belt buckle in the fireplace- this guy is about as good as Molly will be when she’s an adult.
And like Malvo before him, Hanzee is able to intimidate through little words. We don’t need to see him try to one-up Sonny as far as who has seen it worse in times of war and strife because we’ve seen what he’s capable of already. Nor do we need to see him confront the Blomquists because his stare at Ed and entering their home is enough for at least Ed to know that he and Peggy are targets.
But they’re having too many communication issues now to combat their problems because they’re too stuck on their individual needs. Ed is too obsessed with the future and putting his stock in the butcher shop to the point where he downplays Peggy’s needs and desires. Ed may know what he wants, but he’s not assertive enough to take it. Not to say he folds too quickly, but like Lou indicates, he has the look that shows he knows something is wrong.
Meanwhile, Peggy doesn’t have the same assertion as someone like Constance, but she’s on the verge of getting it. Like Floyd, many would underestimate Peggy because she comes off like your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man-I mean housewife. She’s a fighter and is willing to do what it takes to protect what’s hers. After all, she was more worried about what to do with Rye’s body, had the plan to smash the car and cover their tracks, and lies to Lou just when it looked as if Ed was ready to confess.
As Constance implored her to do, Peggy is taking control of her life. Up until now, it seemed like Peggy was very complacent with her lot. She’s even taking birth control to keep from having a child, against Ed’s desires. So Peggy feels like the real brains of this operation much more than Ed. She’s more willing to take risks that will endanger them, while Ed just wants a simple, but promising future for his family. Without showing any anger or outrage, the show lets us see that the two are already at war with one another and that could get them hurt.
But they’re not the only family at war with itself. While the Gerhardt clan appears to be united against the Kansas City syndicate, Simone is working to undermine them. There’s been nothing to indicate she would betray them before, but it’s a nice surprise. And I appreciate that she’s being more assertive after we saw her father slap her around previously. A lot of the women on this show have more fortitude than the men would give them credit for, it seems.
Also, Simone is gorgeous. I just want to point that out.
After all, Betsy was able to piece together the investigation before either the police or Hanzee. But unlike Peggy or Floyd, she’s unable to take control of her situation because the cancer has spread too deep. She’s still keeping up her optimism and strength while she can, but no one is spared from tragedy in this world. And in typical small talk fashion, I like how Lou can casually bring up the doctor’s appointment in the middle of a police inquiry.
Patrick Wilson had two great moments this week: his warning to the Blomquists when he confirmed that they were behind Rye’s disappearance, and his words to Betsy about the world losing its moral center. He’s wise, but careful and not blind to the growing atrocities around him. And he hasn’t allowed the violence to change who he is as an officer of the law. He knows Ed and Peggy are guilty, but instead of casting judgment, he’s offering them a chance to save themselves. Wilson is further selling me that this well-mannered, but careful officer could grow into the wise Lou Solverson we know him as years later.
“Fear and Trembling” wasn’t the calm before the storm because we did get our fair share of violence this week, but it did set the stage for characters preparing to go to war. It delivered in character building and dramatic scenes balanced out by lighter moments like Dodd ordering donuts after brutalizing Bulo’s henchmen or Mike Milligan surprised by Simone putting a finger in his ass. It showed the divisions within the Blomquist and Gerhardt families, while also allowing Lou and Betsy to share some quiet moments in light of more bad news.
But despite one bad update after another and society losing its moral center, characters like Lou continue to fight on in a world that’s lost its way.