A woman starts her new job for a virtual reality gaming company, only to discover the Chief Technical Officer has strange delusions of grandeur.
The Master. 2012. Directed & Written by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Martin Dew, Joshua Close, Jillian Bell, Kevin J. O’Connor, Patty McCormack, Laura Dern, & Mimi Cozzens. Annapurna Pictures/The Weinstein Company/Ghoulardi Film Company.
Rated 14A. 144 minutes.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the best filmmaker of his generation. There are tons of other writer-directors I admire, to the fullest. However, he stands atop that pyramid. Time and time again his films captivate me in genuine ways others do not. I’ve followed his career closely since initially seeing Magnolia, then going back to Hard Eight and moving on forward again. His work as a director is astonishing, as Anderson cobbled together his own style through watching the cinema others produced, learning the craft through seeing it in motion. With equal parts Stanley Kubrick influence and that of Robert Altman as well, Anderson makes movies in an epic style while also managing to keep complete focus on the humanity at the core of his characters and the plethora of stories he tells. His earlier work is dominated much more by the Altman-esque sensibilities of his talent. Starting with There Will Be Blood, he’s transitioned into his more Kubrick inspired work.
The Master is at once an unauthorized, fictional version of the life of L. Ron Hubbard, and also the story of two men locked in a love they’ll never fully express; not in this life, anyways. Perhaps the next. And then there’s also the fact this film speaks to that Scientology influence without directly condemning and shaming their beliefs (no matter how crazy they are). Anderson questions what is at the heart of faith: could it simply be the searching of the lost for love and comfort? Who knows.
Throughout the film a Navy veteran out of WWII named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself in the midst of The Cause, a group on the verge of being a full fledged cult run by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), affectionately known as The Master. What follows is a story that touches on belief, duty, love, war, and much more.
After WWII, there was this search for a new meaning to masculinity. In peace time there must be a redefinition of what it is to be masculine. How does a man pushed to kill for his country come back home to that very country and simply… exist? On the Blu ray Special Edition of The Master the 1946 documentary Let There Be Light directed by John Huston is included. This is the catalyst for Anderson’s film. The opening scene is essentially directly from that documentary, as men are interviewed just like Freddie about various psychological elements. One thing the V.As all hear is that people will not understand, and it’s quite possible they might even find their “condition” shameful, so on. So that violent outburst we see from Freddie as he tries to work a normal job taking photos in a department store is merely the aggressive, wartime side of him fighting to survive. Like a delayed reaction or a motor that’s only recently been shut down, it takes time for that aggression to work itself out. Maybe it never does. But that’s why Freddie is almost the perfect test for someone like Dodd, coming along after the Second World War and likely still filled with hate for the enemy. He challenges that “inherent state of perfect” which Dodd refers to in his teachings.
There’s a significance to seeing the beginning V.A. scenes with the doctor and Freddie in juxtaposition with Freddie being ‘processed’ by Dodd. On a simple visual level, there are certain frames where they sit across from one another similarly in each scene; the doctor and Dodd appear on one side of the frame, as Phoenix often remains on the other. Above that there’s the fact Freddie is always searching for a master. Just so happens he ends up finding The Master, Lancaster Dodd, head of The Cause. But before that it was the army; in those beginning scenes, the V.A. Doctor is an extension of the army, and a master in his own right. Moreover, the questions aren’t so dissimilar between Dodd and the doctor, as they each come at Freddie from a psychological standpoint. And finally, it’s the parallel of real science, real psychology versus the fake, pseudo-religious Scientology-like madness Dodd is spinning. So at once there’s a ton of different elements at play all in these two scenes put together.
One of the final scenes has Lancaster singing to Freddie, the song “(I’d Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China”, and it calls to mind an earlier moment. When Freddie is first ‘processed’ by Dodd he remembers the girl named Doris he left behind at home, the love of his life. She also sings to him “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”. Now what I find interesting is obviously that they’re both romantic songs. And they’re both sung in scenes that precede a farewell, a final goodbye. But the longing in both scenes from Doris and Dodd respectively is evident, which reveals a good deal. It’s obvious before that Dodd and Freddie have a special relationship. I’m not saying that it’s full-on homosexual. However, they do love one another, and on a level of understanding.
The duality of man: Freddie and Lancaster are two sides of a coin, the Split Saber, which is of course Dodd’s own title for his second book that comes furiously from his own hand after Freddie arrives on the boat and in his life. During certain moments the animal in Lancaster comes out, the one whose world of which he vehemently denies man is a part. For instance, when challenged by an insistent man at a party Dodd bursts out calling him “pig fuck” in front of the entire room while trying to defend his position. So of course we see it immediately as his breaking in front of people and unable to appropriately explain/defend The Cause (because it’s all bullshit). Though it’s more. It is that beast in Dodd that wants to live out in the world. In turn, that beast in him unable to unleash lives in Freddie, which is a large part of why he’s drawn to the man.
Ultimately, I do feel that Dodd is a closeted homosexual. That’s my call. I don’t think Freddie necessarily is, though he seeks great comfort in Dodd, and most certainly cares for the man deeply. But the scene where Peggy jerks her husband off in the bathroom over the sink is telling. They don’t make love, even though she is pregnant. They don’t even lay down in bed or get comfortable. It’s something that’s got to be done, like milking a cow, or doing any other chore. She also tells him to give up on certain ideas, that it “didn‘t work for them and it‘s not going to work for you“, and then advises him not to drink anymore of Freddie’s hooch. On the opposite side, Freddie is a lost man. He can’t seem to really connect with women well enough, other than physically, to form a relationship, at least one that he doesn’t abandon. His relationship with women is problematic at best, as we see immediately on the beach during his tour of duty where he and other men build a woman in the sand; one he proceeds to finger bang and pretend-fuck in front of everybody, all before masturbating furiously into the ocean. So there’s a form of homosexual love on Freddie’s part towards Dodd, too. It’s out of a need, a necessity. He has to have that master, someone to control and guide him. On ther other side Dodd requires somebody to indulge the animalistic nature in him.
In the end this is one of the strongest messages I see in The Master: religious groups such as The Cause are built by emotionally fragile people seeking the comfort in numbers among the fragility of others, so it’s basically the lost leading the lost. This further perpetuates others that are lost looking for a home and a place of comfort to end up further adrift.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic here. He embodies The Master well and takes us to the serious side of a man whose mental stability is questionable. All the same, he makes the man believable, very strong. A great performance. Opposite him Joaquin Phoenix gives what might be the single best performance of his entire career. He actually physically embodies Freddie to the point you can see how he formed the walk, the way he stands, his entire look. A remarkable role and Phoenix just downright nails it. Some of the scenes between Hoffman and Phoenix are beyond intense, especially the quiet, closed in moments where it’s just the two of them like the processing early on, et cetera. These two have wild chemistry. Love the scene of them in jail – everything about it is perfect, the angle at which Anderson catches them, the intensity of their conversation, we even see Lancaster slip more into his animal behaviour and just hurl curses and insults at Freddie.
Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame comes back with Anderson again to do another innovative, unique sounding score. His compositions here are downright magical, as they float and hum and burn below the drama. It really is wonderful stuff. At times there’s this gorgeously flowing orchestral music. In other scenes Greenwood employs some of the ole Radiohead weirdness, as he did with portions of There Will Be Blood. It works even better in this film because the strange atmosphere of the music mirrors lots of the oddities in Anderson’s screenplay. They are a solid team together as artists, likely why Anderson has done other work with Radiohead and Greenwood.
In addition, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. captures the vision of Anderson perfectly with his full, rich lens. Between Malaimare and Anderson the flow of each scene is intense. Certain scenes are blocked with great care and attention. Others it’s simply the fact Malaimare captures every last raw emotion in the faces of the characters. The period is likewise captured elegantly. Also the boat and most of the locations were great settings. When a film that’s written and directed well, filmed well, is also a properly rounded production in terms of set/costume design (and other areas) then it’s altogether an amazing experience.
This is a masterpiece of a modern film. Paul Thomas Anderson proves over and over he does well with period pieces, no matter if it’s late 1800s, mid-1970s, or any other time. He can turn period pieces into more than just spectacle. Within those he works over the human emotions to an endless degree. Here, his exploration of a forbidden and powerful love between two men is disguised amongst a larger story about belief and faith, fringe religious groups (a.k.a cults), as well as the power of one person over another, for various reasons. The two powerhouse performances of Hoffman and Phoenix are something spectacular to behold. They make this film even better for their presence in it. Anderson will continue to make beautiful cinema, and this will likely always be a favourite of mine out of his filmography. The Master moves me, emotionally and visually, to the point I can watch this endlessly.
Black Mass. 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper. Screenplay by Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk; based on the novel by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill.
Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, and Adam Scott. Cross Creek Pictures/Grisbi Productions/Infinitum Nihil/Free State Pictures.
Rated 14A. 123 minutes.
The story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a wild one. I remember when the excellent drama Brotherhood came on, with Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs; that had roots in Bulger’s story, the parallel between him and his political brother. It’s a story that, if you know anything about it, is intense and has many layers. Almost as if it were written and made up. Yet the details most certainly are not made up. After things eventually went further south for Whitey, he went on the run as a Most Wanted face on the FBI’s list. Only a few years ago, at age 81 ripe and tender, he was apprehended and in 2013 his trial started.
So naturally, after seeing Scott Cooper was taking on an adaptation of this man’s boisterous, wild life, it had every bit of interest I needed. Black Mass gives us big heaping slices of the life of Bulger, from a time when he was already known to later on when he became one of the most well known names of the underworld. A ton of what makes the movie interesting are the central performances, particularly Johnny Depp in one of his strongest roles – ever – and then there is great writing on top of great directing from Cooper. This intense and at times fairly grim tale is weaved out of real life, pumped full of bravado, but best of all it breathes air into a true villain out of the history books.
James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) is a tough customer. One of the worst. He’s a notorious criminal from South Boston whose reputation precedes him. Better yet, he’s the brother of prominent politician Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch). While Billy is busy climbing the political ladder, Jimmy is on the streets busting heads, killing, doing the most illegal of business.
But a terrifying deal is struck behind the scenes between Jimmy and the FBI, led by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happens to have grown up on the same street as the Bulger boys. Using the FBI to essentially take out competition and aid his nefarious dealings, from guns to drugs, Whitey spins the entire deal into a downward spiral. Soon enough, the FBI informant in Jimmy is lost and he is officially on the Ten Most Wanted List. His story is one of family, corruption, ego and above all else – crime.
Immediately we’re introduced to Whitey Bulger as someone who does not mince words, nor does he put up with anything he sees as bullshit. No nonsense. The opening scene with Depp his eyes are piercing through the darkness, Bulger is sitting in silence and watching Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown) – an extremely dangerous and feared man in his own right – sloppily eat peanuts on the table, which he does not like. And makes it known. But this semi-funny scene brings a little more to the front. If you understand who Martorano is, then it’s even further evident that Whitey does not care who is in front of him. He says it like it is and couldn’t care less what anyone feels about it. The menace is present enough in the shots where Depp is barely visible through the darkness, almost like a predator laying, waiting in the black. More of that comes out later, though, it is heavily featured in this first moment. As time goes by, it isn’t only the contacts Depp wears that makes the eyes of Bulger burn into your soul. It is the absolute dead eye stare Depp seeps through the frame, it won’t let you go. With only a few looks Depp conveys the nastiness in Whitey.
Everyone is really solid here. One of those ensemble casts you dream of, as there’s a number of performances to enjoy. Of course you can’t not talk about Cumberbatch, whose American Boston accent is pretty great, and natural. Not just that I found he was well contrasted with Depp; they truly felt like brothers, two guys at the opposite end of one spectrum. Their chemistry was good when they shared the screen. Then there are smaller roles that worked well, such as Peter Sarsgaard (always a fan), Rory Cochrane, and more. But I also have to mention Joel Edgerton. He is a talent, one who can play interesting roles with lots of weight. He is compelling from scene to scene, especially considering what his character is involved in, and Edgerton definitely sells the performance. He and Depp do nice work together, too. Having all the actors in this film together is a definite plus. Without them these real life characters would’ve felt like caricatures and bad impressions. With them, Whitey Bulger, John Connolly, Billy Bulger and the rest of them all appear to us vividly and full of passion.
There are certainly similarities at times to the classic Martin Scorsese mob picture Goodfellas. Cooper does an excellent job mirroring some of the music montage moments in that film, excellent homage. Although, it isn’t borrowing too heavily. This is its own story, its own film all the way. But apart from some of the techniques Cooper uses to move the plot along, particularly the first montage with “Slave” by The Rolling Stones, there are plenty differences. The writing doesn’t fall back on homage. We get lots of exciting dialogue, which in turn obviously brings us fun, intense, and likewise exciting relationships between characters, scenes that come to life. It’s not just some period piece jumping from one decade to the next with a couple decent characters. The screenplay is solid. I love the pace of the movie, from start to finish. Never once during the 123 minute runtime did I find myself hoping for more excitement. There are bits of extensive expository dialogue, but only in the sense that we need it re: FBI actions, and so on. Then, we also get our fill of the character development, the violent scenes, the mob talk. There could’ve easily been too much, or not enough, of all these aspects. Instead, Cooper & Co. offer us up a good variation most of the time.
Easily a 4 star film. There could’ve been a few things edited better, to ramp up the intensity and suspense, but overall the pacing of the film especially keeps things proper. Boasting a massively impressive performance from Johnny Depp, as well as a handful of great supporting roles, Black Mass packs a heavy, bloody punch. Maybe people see too many parallels with other films and that Scott Cooper drew off classics too much. Not I. This is a truly compelling story that deserved to be told and this was told in fine fashion. There are moments you’ll laugh, moments you will root for a good outcome. But this is a dark, twisting story. There are no happy endings. Regardless, the film is very well made. It has a wonderful atmosphere and a constant tone that brings out the best in every aspect of the production. This is top notch and one of the best crime biographies of the past decade. Some bits and pieces need tuning, though, if any Depp shows us he’s not done yet. Not by a long shot.
Season 2, Episode 10: “Palindrome”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Noah Hawley
Here we are, the finale of Fargo‘s Season 2. You betcha.
So, ramblers – let’s get rambling!
“Palindrome” begins with a view of Rye’s body back in the Blumquist freezer, another look at a dead Otto Gerhardt shot at his kitchen table, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) dead on the floor in that little cabin, as well as Simone out in the woods, Floyd where Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) left her, and even in Bear (Angus Sampson) in the parking lot where Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) blew his brains out.
Then, the shot fades into Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) lying in bed with daughter Molly at her side. Apparently she had a bad reaction to the pills she was given, they were no good. Noreen Vanderslice (Emily Haine) is by the bed looking after Betsy, trying best to get her to follow doctor’s orders. We watch Betsy dream, seeing Molly grow up in the modern world – the world of Costco, one where Lou gets older by his daughter’s side, one without Betsy anymore. She sees into the future where we see the grown Molly (Allison Tolman), Lou (Keith Carradine) and the happy gang from Season 1. Quickly we cut back to Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) shot in the motel, Lou wrestling Bear, the face of “chaos” a.k.a Hanzee. All to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath – so god damn fitting.
This whole intro starts with a split-screen, right at the beginning of last episode. It gave me chills with Sabbath playing over top. Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) run off, as Hanzee follows, shooting anyone in his path. Lou boldly goes off after the renegade Native, while Ozzy, Iommi and the gang keep rocking. One of my favourite openings of the season, such a perfectly executed start to the episode. Especially once we find “War Pigs” playing in the vehicle with Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann), as they pull up at the Gerhardt ranch: “People of Earth – I‘m home,” says Milligan while walking in through the front door. The two settle in and hear nothing but silence in the big house. Of course, they saw some of the massacre at the motel, so I’m sure they didn’t expect much of a greeting.
Meanwhile, Ed and Peggy stumble into a grocery store, shooing off an employee as Peggy tells him there’s “a bad man coming here“.
On the street, Hanzee is still lurking closer towards the Blumquists. Yet trusty Lou Solverson hasn’t given up on Dent, either. A few shots get popped off here and there. Out of nowhere, Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) shows up, almost getting a bullet from Lou out of surprise.
Ed and Peg end up hiding in a meat locker. Either way they’re out of the way of Hanzee and his warpath for the time being; only problem is Ed took a bullet on the way, and tells her “Peg… I don‘t think we‘re gonna make it.” She wants to fix everything, as Ed says, but some times things aren’t broken. They have a bit of down to earth conversation, even at such a rough and tumble time. But I can see why, Ed only wants to “get back” to what they had after being hauled into all this through the unstable actions of his wife. Will Hanzee find them, as they try and wait things out in the cooler?
At the Gerhardt ranch, Milligan and Kitchen find an old native woman cooking, obviously a housemaid for the Gerhardts. Then some lights pull up to the house, a car arrives. It’s Bear’s right-hand man Ricky G (Ryan O’Nan). He heads inside, ready to fleece the Gerhardts of anything he can take in a bag. But Milligan is still kicking around, and no one close to the Gerhardts is getting away too easy. A shotgun blast takes Ricky to meet his maker, staining the Gerhardt flag – suspiciously Nazi-esque – with a good deal of blood and gore. Nasty stuff.
Hanzee has found his way into the grocery store, the lights flickering and shadows everywhere. Ed and Peggy are still trying to survive. Then the door to the meat locker starts shaking. After the door won’t open, smoke starts seeping in through the fan near the ceiling. Hanzee sure knows how to track and hunt, that’s for sure. But Peggy starts remembering the movie she was watching, before Dodd untied himself, claiming it’s exactly like their own situation. Is she working towards something? Or is she wasting time? Ed’s gone unconscious in the meantime and Peggy can’t wake him up. With Hanzee right outside the door, buck knife in hand, how is Peggy going to escape? Knife sharpener against buck knife?
She pushes out the door and there is Lou Solverson, along with Ben Schmidt, guns drawn. Peggy is gone crazy. There’s no smoke or anything. Inside the cooler, Ed is seemingly dead. Yes, I think Peggy has finally lost it for good. Her husband is gone now, too. Even worse. For all her faults, I feel really bad for Peggy right now. I also feel bad for Lou, even Schmidt; Hank is in critical condition at the ICU, Schmidt’s boss is dead and gone, as well are a bunch more police officers due to the Sioux Falls Massacre.
Again, Noreen is reading Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus. Love all the philosophy worked into this season by Noah Hawley and the writers. Betsy is still in bed with Molly, Noreen watching over her. They have a bit of a morbid conversation on cancer and Betsy’s pain, though, she says there’s nothing bad yet. Best of all is how Betsy balks at the Camus philosophy, she has her own view on life. Excellent use of split-screen again, now with Betsy talking and her husband Lou riding along in his squad car, each in their own half of the screen. Nice, brief little bit.
Then we’re back to Peggy, in back of Lou’s car, musing on where she might like to serve her sentence. It’s amazing, though, how Peggy is fairly loopy, yet she can snap into being so sensible, practical, even if it’s still a bit crazy of her. I love her character and I think Kirsten Dunst has done such a wonderful job in the role, she was a great addition to this season. We get a nice conversation between Lou and Peggy, mostly as Lou tells her about being at war near the end; a sad story involving a helicopter pilot, and also a baby being dropped by his mother, but caught by a fellow soldier.
Peggy: “And when you can‘t they say it‘s you – you‘re faulty, like you‘re inferior somehow.”
Part of Lou plays into the Camus reference, and Sisyphus. Lou says protecting one’s family is like a a rock all men have to push. Lou, as it appears, is happy with pushing that rock. Part of the philosophy of Camus in regards to his reference of Sisyphus is that, instead of viewing Sisyphus as unhappy and tortured by pushing the rock constantly back up the hill each day, we must see him as happy, content with his lot in life, and as having embraced the absurdity of life. Therefore, Lou is like the ideal view of Sisyphus here.
In other news, Hanzee receives a new identity in the form of a Social Security Number and such. He also tells the man who brought it for him he needs a “face man“, in order to fix the damage, and possibly transform him into someone entirely new. Dent sees life as “kill and be killed“. He is still very ominous and very scary, I expected him to die but he did not at all. He becomes Moses Tripoli, leader of the Fargo mob in Season 1. Hanzee suggests facial reconstruction, and so now we know the past of Moses. Some say a bit of a stretch. Really? In the Fargo universe it’s perfect. Hanzee goes from an active, merciless killer, to a slovenly older man who dies like a punk later in life. Fitting end for a villain. Even further, the kids Hanzee heads to help out in the ball field last we see him are indeed the young Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, as evidenced by the use of sign language. Amazing, amazing. I can’t say it enough.
Then, director Adam Arkin shows up as a head of the Kansas City racket, slick and bald-headed. Milligan is being congratulated slightly, and the new “oversight” is being explained. Now, the gangster Mike Milligan is being given his own office, a 9 to 5 job, and so on. He goes from street level thug, in the blood and guts, to a guy who has to start wearing pinstripes, cut his hear, and get right of the whole “cowboy thing“. He doesn’t seem happy about it all. But the boss explains it’s all about money, “ones and zeroes“. There is nothing else anymore. Officially, Milligan is out of his element and in an entirely new world: the future, apparently.
Hank Larsson, thankfully, is okay. He’s back welcomed at the Solverson home where Betsy and little Molly are happy to have him back. They get a congratulatory beer each and some nice family time happens, after all that mayhem. Then we finally have a brief mention of the spacecraft at the motel; very brief, but still there. Lou mentions he’ll obviously leave it out of the report, “in subtext” says Hank. Finally some smiles are infecting them all, and Hank gives a beautiful quote quickly, trying not to heavy things up too much. A great scene with three excellent actors, all of whom seem to have good chemistry together.
Moreover, Betsy brings up the room she found at Hank’s place – the one with all the alien related stuff. Hank fesses up after his wife died, depression set in. When he took time off, the senseless and violence of life started to get to him, which Hank describes as due to “miscommunication“. He became interested in the “universal language of symbols” because “pictures are clearer to my mind than words“. Hank says he was sort of making up his own language, in a way. It started from there then grew into an obsession. But his daughter loves him, his son-in-law obviously cares a good deal, and it doesn’t matter. He isn’t crazy, just a man with “good intentions“, how he puts it himself.
Fittingly, the season ends on Betsy and Lou in bed, coming to rest. A great and spectacular end after all the wild madness which preceded it. Loved this finale. I’m very excited that Fargo will, of course, be coming back next year for an additional season. Apparently it’ll be modern day, too. So a change of pace is always fun, as it was for this season going back into a kind of prequel. Noah Hawley and the entire team are amazing, this is one of the best shows on television as of late. Season 2, for me, is even better than the first, but that is NOT knocking the first season at all. They’re both incredible.
Stay tuned with me for other reviews, and I’ll see you back around Minnesota somewhere next year, don’t ya know!
Season 2, Episode 9: “The Castle”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Steve Blackman & Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode,”Loplop”- click here
* For a review of the finale, “Palindrome” – click here
With only this episode and the finale “Palindrome” left, Fargo‘s amazing second season is almost ready to clue up. Is war coming? You betcha.
We start closing in on a book and read about more Minnesota tales, specifically the Massacre at Sioux Falls in 1979. Great little narration at the start here – do you recognize the voice? – with illustrated pictures of everyone from Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst).
Then we switch to real life, back at the gas station where Ed was awhile back. Out of the woods the station attendant sees Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Before the poor fella can dial the police, Hanzee snipes him with an assault rifle. Dent picks up a bit of hydrogen peroxide and a tiny tube of what looks like model glue, or something similar. In the bathroom he uses these items to close up the wound where Peggy stabbed him at the end of last episode. The narrator proceeds to tell us about the enigma that is Hanzee; no birth record, no link to any tribe, et cetera. He’s a lone wolf, that Hanzee.
Ed and Peggy are cuffed. Most of the cops in town are there, too. Lou (Patrick Wilson) and Ben Schmidt look pretty baffled, as do Chief Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and Chief Gibson (Terry Kinney). It’s a typically hilarious chat between the officers and the Blumquists. Eventually Ed lets slip the information concerning Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and the meeting up at Sioux Falls. Can we feel what’s coming? Yer darn tootin’. The worst part is there happens to be corruption inside the police ranks, as noted by one of them officers present. Lou is an army man, plus he knows Milligan and what could happen. But no one else seems onboard with him, he sees the tragedy coming; only Lou seems to understand it’s “dumb luck” that brought Ed and Peggy this far. Hank stays to keep an eye on things, but Lou makes it clear: “This thing‘s officially outta control.”
So Captain Jeb Cheney (Wayne Duvall) offers Ed the chance to go meet Milligan. Wearing a wire, too.
I’m loving this episode’s narration, recapping things in a way that doesn’t feel overly expository (even though it is). Just the charm of the British narrator – Mr. Martin Freeman who starred in the first season – it makes things so fun as we get recaps, yet not full, long ones. It’s fresh, and I dig that. As well, there’s that great split-screen technique happening, of which I’m always a fan. They use it a lot in certain scenes. To great effect, though. Mostly, I find it’s a great transitional tool and the filmmakers/writers together use it very well overall on Fargo.
While Lou is off doing his thing, there’s his faithful wife Betsy (Cristian Milioti) at home. And she is not well, having taken a hard fall downstairs where her daughter Molly finds her laying on the floor next to a bunch of shattered glass. Right at the same moment when Lou is calling on the same pay phone where Ed called Milligan, outside the gas station where Hanzee murdered the cashier. Naturally, the ever vigilant Lou spies the broken glass from Hanzee’s bullet. Inside he finds blood on the wall, a dead cashier. What makes things so great is the fact Patrick Wilson does a fantastic job with his performance, right from the first episode. Just the way his breath gets heavier once he sees the brains on the wall, his silent, physical acting speaks wonders.
I have to note this: on the wall when Lou looks around behind the register, there’s a WE ARE NOT ALONE poster, a small thin one. Will we see more to connect with Hank’s seeming alien obsession?
Speaking of Sheriff Larsson, Lou calls over to Hank, along with Schmidt and Chief Gibson, telling them about Hanzee and the red car he’s driving. But they’re on the way to do their nonsense, even if Hank isn’t totally into all that. Lou’s got a bad feeling, rightfully so. Nobody listens, at least Chief Gibson doesn’t. They’re determined to go in there and take the whole operation down, it seems. Pretty foolish.
Soon as they pull into the motel, escorting the Blumquists inside handcuffed, a scoped sight is visible watching them, unknowing in the parking lot. Captain Cheney and Chief Larsson have a misunderstanding, a little conversation over Lou and his supposed insubordination. Hank is a more sensible man. Then, up across the road perched on a building hidden, Hanzee watches on.
On the Gerhardt ranch, Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) and Bear (Angus Sampson) arrive home. To news from Mr. Dent. He claims Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is still alive. He’s about to betray the Gerhardt clan, in a huge way. Is he part of the Sioux Falls Massacre becoming what it is? He tells Floyd it was all Kansas City – “that Milligan fella.” He starts setting up a confrontation at the motel, which Floyd is silly enough to walk right into herself. She won’t just send men in, she wants to do it her way.
And at the motel, everyone is lounging, semi-aware; some of them, anyways. Ben Schmidt is kicked back watching movies on television, stuffing his face. The Blumquists are lounging, sort of. Ed is worried. Peggy, for her part, is a little too chipper, and still trying her best to scheme. And at this point, can we really keep saying oh she’s just crazy? I mean, she’s ended up doing some good. Perhaps Ed, at this point (especially with the idiot police around them), might do better listening to her, or following along with whatever she wings at any given time. Who knows. Because I was sure they were done for a couple times already, and still: here they stand.
One of my favourite shots of this ENTIRE SERIES from either Season 1 or Season 2 happens when we’re back with Milligan. Through a little montage of memories, as Mike is driven to his next destination, we see him remember touching Joe Bulo’s (Brad Garrett) hair way back when they met at a hotel restaurant, then later when he touched the hair after he received Joe’s head in a box. Great, great juxtaposition of scenes in this montage. Another excellent show of film making by the crew on this series, as a whole. The music, the editing, the writing, it’s all so damn tight.
Lou is not going to stand by and let things go bad at Sioux Falls. He heads back over the state line, which earlier he’d been escorted across, in order to try preventing more bloodshed. More amazing score here, as Lou goes back through the hotel room where Constance met Hanzee unexpectedly. There are some incredible pieces of music throughout this season, it is another aspect of the aesthetic I’m in love with.
Do you think it’s any coincidence the gung ho Captain Jeb Cheney is named as such? Perhaps a little on the nose, not exactly subtle. Or maybe it is coincidence. I doubt it.
A foreboding sequence sees Lou watching a Gerhardt motorcade drive by. He knows where they’re headed. We’re cut back to scenes of the unsuspecting officers at the motel; Lou calls out over the radio, but the one in the room where Cheney and the others are now sleeping is off, silent. The only one awake and alert is Peggy, who sits on the bed next to her sleeping husband watching a black-and-white movie with the sound turned off.
Chief Gibson and a couple of the officers play cards. He tells them about the best place he ever took a piss; the kitchen sink. Outside, Hanzee, Bear and the Gerhardt henchmen show up, armed to the teeth. Dent sends the troops in as “Sorcerer” by Junction plays, Bear along with about ten men head into the motel. One man outside is stabbed to death. Upstairs, Hank is getting his uniform on, right when the doors are about to be kicked in. As Bear gives the signal, most of the officers are blown clear away; Cheney in particular takes a shotgun blast which knocks him into the wall behind his bed. No sign of Dodd, though; obviously. Hank manages to gun down a couple men, and likewise so does Detective Schmidt: only the latter gets knocked out by Peggy, still trying to save her and Ed’s own skin. The entire motel is lit up with gunfire.
And down in the parking lot, Hanzee looks Floyd right in the eye as she figures out the men inside are all cops, that he did them dirty. Then, he stabs her right in the gut. He and Bear meet eyes across the parking lot right at that very moment, as he screams “Mom!“. But Lou Solverson popsa shot into Bear’s neck – then the beast of a man goes for Lou, they fight barehanded against the pavement. An AMAZINGLY STYLIZED SEQUENCE here with several of Hanzee’s shots being freeze-framed, each of his shots caught in a glare of light. Sadly there’s a gut shot for Hank, too.
Out of the sky then comes what appears to be an extraterrestrial spacecraft. It hovers over the motel, spotlights on the ground. Hanzee, Bear and Lou all freeze and look into it a few moments. This gives enough time to Lou who blows Bear’s head off. And the Blumquists who toss hot coffee, or something, into Hanzee’s eyes, slipping out of the room and out of sight. One last gun duel goes down between Lou and Hanzee, from parking lot to balcony, before the latter takes off into the night.
After the smoke clears, Lou goes to the room where Hank is wounded. Milligan appears when things are all said and done: “Okay then,” he quips then gets into his car again driving off with Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann).
Lou: “Dinner Sunday?”
Hank: “I‘ll be there. In a suit of armour.”
With Hanzee still on the run, Lou still on his toes, what will the Season 2 finale “Palindrome” have in store for us?
Stay tuned and we’ll find out together. See ya then, folks.
Season 2, Episode 8: “Loplop”
Directed by Keith Gordon
Written by Bob DeLaurentis
* For a review of the previous episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Castle” – click here
This episode begins with some nice tribal sounds with “Bashi Mwana” by Musi-O-Tunya playing. More split-screen montaging here, as we go back to the Blumquist house. Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) sits, head in her hands on the stairs. In the basement is a tied up Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan). Only Peggy seems to be hallucinating, seeing a man – who I’m assuming, because of his slight likeness, is meant to be Albert Camus; he’s listed in the credits as Albert – asking questions like “Do you understand the difference between thinking and being?“. Very strange yet sort of fitting. I mean, Peg is fairly nutty. First of all, look at the basement! She is a hoarder by the state of the place. Not to mention, she’s the one who snowballed all this into the mess it’s slowly, bloodily become. A real philosophical chat between the two. Until Ed (Jesse Plemons) shows up and shakes her out of it. Dodd is freaked out, I can’t blame him even if I don’t like him or care if he dies. I’m worried most of all for Ed, because having his wife go truly off the deep end is only more to add to the pile of shit that is his life.
Chief Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) along with Officer Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) find their way back to the Blumquist home discovering the dead man at the foot of the stairs. As well as another corpse further in. Poor Hank’s head injury from his previous run-in with the Gerhardt clan has him wheeled into an ambulance, after he valiantly tries to push on with his son-in-law: “This is just embarrassing,” he says being brought out on a stretcher. Hilarious moment they threw in.
Meanwhile, Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is snooping around still. He finds a note from Constance, as well as her location at the Southnik Hotel. I’m waiting for something big to happen with Hanzee. Either he’s going to do some more crazy stuff, or else some sort of craziness is going to come for him.
The Blumquists are out on the road. Peggy seems happy, smile on her face and shouting stuff like: “See it then be it!“, and things like “We’re actualized” riffing off her little daydream with the armchair philosopher in her basement. Crazy lady. What I love about their situation is that I consistently find myself surprised by what they do. Even further, Dodd gives Ed a kick on the way out of the trunk, but Peg quickly jumps in with the cattle prod for him again prompting Dodd to almost bite his tongue in half. When they get him inside a little cabin in the woods, he talks pretty tough for a man tied to a post.
Now we’ve almost made it to the end of the previous episode, where Ed is at a payphone. There’s a cop snooping around outside at the gas station. Great score with a nice thumping brass sound to it, which comes out here and in other solid moments throughout many episodes. Jeff Russo does really interesting work on Fargo overall.
But the most interesting, and nasty, thing happening right now is Peggy stabbing Dodd a few times. She snaps him out of his rudeness, at least temporarily. All he needed was a couple stabs. Just goes to show how on the edge of craziness Peggy is. Dodd is certainly no one to care for, as I mentioned already. But how easily she sinks the knife into Dodd’s chest is kind of scary, an unsettling addition to her already twisted personality. And right afterwards, she serves him up a bit of food, feeding him like an infant. Having some herself, too. Such a weird scene, but a great one. Typical of what I’ve come to expect in this season. Some seem to think it’s quirky for the sake of being quirky. I disagree. To me it fits very well.
Hanzee ends up at a bar, outside of which is a plaque commemorating the slaughter of 22 Sioux Indians; underneath is a pile of shit, or possibly vomit, and piss. Inside he asks for a glass of water, and it comes back with spit in it, so he requests a tequila poured in front of him with the bartender quipping “Here you go chief“. Bad, bad attitudes. After some more idiocy from the guy, Hanzee shoots back referencing his service in Vietnam and says: “You’re welcome.” A confrontation outside with three other racists ends excellently with Hanzee immediately firing on two of them, the other running of, and then back he goes in to shoot the bartender in the heart. When the cops show up? He pulls an assault rifle out of his truck’s front seat and pops two of them off with single shots to the head. Is this the beginning of the end? Seems like Hanzee is either going to war for the Gerhardts, or going a little crazy.
In a romantic hotel room, Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) awaits someone else than who actually shows up. When she answers the door it’s Hanzee, and he does not look friendly. Eventually, we get a split-screen scene where Hanzee has Constance hostage calling Peggy – turns out the whole seminar thing was going to be some sort of lesbian love affair instead of much concentration on anything else, at least that’s what Constance had planned. Peg is obviously not leaving to head out there. But Hanzee just needs some information, he only wants to find out where they are. Constance tries so hard to get an address, however, it doesn’t work too well for the most part.
Peggy wastes away some time watching a WWII-themed film on television. She pays too much attention, though. After a few minutes she looks over and – surprise, surprise – Dodd is gone.
Cut to Ed in the payphone booth. He spies the name Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) in a newspaper sporting a headline about the big war going down between the Kansas City guys and the Gerhardts. Now, we’re finally at the previous episode’s close. Ed calls Milligan, alerting him to the situation. Only now we know more; that maybe he doesn’t exactly have Dodd anymore, or perhaps it’s not as cut and dry as it was earlier when Dodd was still tied up tight.
As Ed leaves the phone booth, we also catch glimpse of another newspaper piece: MANHUNT UNDERWAY FOR NATIVE, alongside a picture of Hanzee’s mean mug. And immediately after Ed ships off, Hanzee pulls into the gas station. He’s hunting Ed down right to the last, asking questions of the kindly cashier at the station with whom Ed had a pleasant little chat earlier. Luckily, this guy gets to live unlike a lot of the people who cross Hanzee’s path of destruction – he notices the paper too, then calls the cops. Is this going to result in a MASSIVE shitstorm? You betcha.
Milligan: “Sir – if I were to kiss you when we meet, would that be inappropriate?”
When Ed gets to the cabin, discovering Dodd gone, Peggy nowhere to be found, he walks in a little then immediately gets strung up by Dodd. Ed’s literally hung by the neck from a beam. Then Dodd goes on to talk about Ed and his “woman problem“. He’s a super chauvinistic sort who believes “Satan is a woman“. But once more Peggy proves to be a resourceful type of woman. Not only does she stab Dodd in the foot and break the knife’s handle off, she manages to cut down her purple husband and save his life. One of the more tense scenes yet this season, as I actually wondered if Ed was going to die or not. So, as much as I constantly say Peg is the cause of all their problems, she ends up doing a ton to help. Even if they ended up where they are mostly on account of her foolishness.
Then, out of nowhere, Hanzee breaks in. INSANITY!!!!!!! Instead of saving Dodd, Hanzee puts a bullet right in his forehead. All he wants is a haircut from Peggy, possibly to change his look and make the heat on him cool off. Real strange (and awesome) scene between the Blumquists and Hanzee, after Dodd is left dead on the floor. Such an interesting progression in the plot. How much worse will things get? Milligan isn’t going to get what was promised to him, so is that about to make more problems for Ed and Peggy?
And in the woods just outside the cabin, before Peggy can cut a single hair, Ed sees Hank and Lou. And Hanzee quickly pops a shot at them. Peggy stabs him in the shoulder, he dry clicks the gun in Ed’s face, and then the renegade Native is out the door. In burst Hank and Lou to find the Blumquists, arms raised.
WOW! I mean, how good can it get? The next episode “The Castle”, no doubt named for Kafka, is no doubt going to be something intense and wild. Only two more left now. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans!
Season 2, Episode 6: “Rhinoceros”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” – click here
After the last episode, we come right back to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). In the finale of “The Gift of the Magi”, cop lights and sirens were blaring, swinging around out front of their house. Now we start with Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) taking Ed out to the car in cuffs. Behind him, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) tries his best to calm Peggy down. We’re about to see ole Ed, the poor soul, dragged down the rabbit hole. Even the look on Plemons’ face spells it all, as Lou drives him to the station. Very grim, very sombre mood. The tone here starting off the top is solid.
At the station, worry wort Betsy (Cristin Milioti) came to check on her husband, despite her own sickly disposition. Then there’s Charlie Gerhardt (Allan Dobrescu) – he gets his one call from jail.
But before we get any of that, Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) sits with his ill father, Otto (Michael Hogan). They have a deep little one-sided chat, about the family. Right before Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) shows up, looking – as always – confrontational.
Simone (Rachel Keller) calls Bear inside to talk to Charlie on the phone. Dodd doesn’t have any respect for his daughter, talking to her like trash. Then out comes Bear – he’s pissed, he finally figured out Charlie was drawn into the family shit by Uncle Dodd. They have a small fight, before Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) cocks the shotgun on Bear. Dodd gives him a choice of punishment: “Strap or the buckle.” Bad ass Bear chooses the buckle, but before that goes down Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) interrupts it all. She wants her grandson back, she doesn’t want any trouble with the brothers. I’m just waiting, though, to see if Floyd will eventually have to put down her son Dodd; it’s as if I can feel the thunder rumbling already, just waiting for the storm to hit.
With Floyd wanting blood from the butcher, as well as Charlie out of lockup, Simone calls Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). She lets him in on the Gerhardt plan as it stands, telling him they’re on their way to Luverne. Some might think Simone is petty, childish, vindictive. I don’t. I think she’s a person who has had too much abuse pushed in her face, been treated awfully by her family. Now she’s dropping vengeance on them, big time. Will it play out that way?
Milligan sends us intro a strange atmosphere with a partial reading of “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. Some split-screen action shows us him in the car, last Kitchen Brother (Brad Mann) in tow, juxtaposed with Hanzee, Bear and Dodd on their own respective journey towards Luverne.
Hank Larsson is trying to keep Peggy on lockdown at home. She clearly does not understand the situation. Either that, or dear Peg is being purposefully oblivious. I think she’s beyond nervous. She rambles and runs on talking to Hank, about the modern woman and dreams and all their plans. But Hank continually tries to get through to her: these people were coming to KILL ED. They want him dead. We know that. Hank and Lou both know that. Hell, I’m sure even Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) up at Fargo P.D. knows what’s going on. Finally, Hank breaks it all down simply – he even knows now she sold the car to the mechanic over at the garage.
We cut from Peggy, on a knife’s edge, to the police station. Ed is sitting across from Lou, they’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Obviously, Ed was planning on taking off. Yet the timing fucked them; hard. Or better yet, Peggy fucked them; real hard. He even talks about Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus; the futility of pushing that damn rock up the fucking hill, every day, one after another. Yet somehow, among the absurdity of Camus’ philosophy, Ed turns it into – “I’ll take care of what’s mine“.
Peggy: “You say it like these things happen in a vacuum. Like it’s a test – check A or B. But it’s like, decisions you make in a dream, y’know? I’ll tell ya what, if it was me and we had to run, I wouldn’t look back.”
Outside the Blumquist house, all of a sudden, Dodd Gerhardt and crew show up. Sheriff Larsson steps outside, telling Peggy to go hide someplace. Hank stands there talking with Dodd, trying to smooth things over. Although, he doesn’t let himself look like a guy who messes around, dropping an insult in with it all. The look in the eyes of Ted Danson are what great characterization is made of, he does such a perfect job showing it all in his face. But then Hanzee knocks him out, letting Dodd inside with the cattle prod. The crew has a look around in the basement, which doesn’t do much except produce a casualty of their own: Dodd kills one of his henchmen after hearing a noise and popping a shot off. Then Dodd makes the dumb mistake of dropping his cattle prod, not bothering to pick up. Peggy grabs hold and nearly prods the life out of Dodd. Dig it!
At the Gerhardt ranch, as Floyd tries to talk with her granddaughter Simone, Milligan and his own gang show up, blowing the windows out and firing until they hear a click. The fan is spinning again and the shit has stained everything. There’s going to be an absolute war now. With only four episode left after this, I can only imagine what is about to happen.
However, the most insane thing yet begins when lawyer Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) stumbles in to help his new client, Ed Blumquist. When he makes his way out of the police station, Bear and his crew stand firm with shotguns in hand. Arriving to take back his son Charlie.
The big stand off starts. Lou Solverson comes out to meet the armed hands. Meanwhile, Hanzee is sneaking around the side trying to get a shot at Ed inside the interrogation room. Bear tries to scare Lou down, but as we know: Lou’s kind of a bad motherfucker. He goes back in and gets things real tight – smashed lightbulbs under the windows, barricades around the doors, and so on. Plus, he recruits half-drunk Karl to try and talk sense into Bear/the armed henchmen. The music here is so excellent, the score has a military drum-style sound which goes so well with how things are setting up around this big showdown at the station.
Larsson finally wakes up on the Blumquist porch and figures out what’s going on. But will he or any reinforcements arrive before things get nasty? Karl slinks back out to talk with Bear, as Lou attempts sneaking Ed out a window in the rear of the building. Such a tense few minutes. Hanzee is still heading around the perimeter, trying to get a shot. Although, Lou manages to get Ed out to the woods, keeping them safe. For the moment.
Continuously, Karl is talking Bear down with legal mumbo jumbo. He actually appeals to the loving father in Bear, the one who never wanted Charlie in the family business, and defuses the ticking Gerhardt time bomb.
Once Larsson picks Lou up on the side of the road, Ed runs out into the dark horizon. They let him go because they know where he’s headed. Except right behind Lou, out of the forest, comes Hanzee once they’re gone. He then silently walks out towards where Ed was going.
Nice little cut between the credits of Karl Weathers talking more smack. Can’t wait for the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!“. Promises to be an incredible episode after what’s gone down in this chapter. Stay tuned for another one!
Season 2, Episode 5: “The Gift of the Magi”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert
* For a review of the previous episode, “Fear and Trembling” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rhinoceros” – click here
The beginning of this episode begins with an excellent voice-over. I’ve awaited this moment. A bus flies by with REAGAN across it, all the while there’s Bruce Campbell giving a speech as the ole Gipper. Brief, but amazing.
Then, out in the middle of nowhere, Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) and Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), alongside the Kitchen Brothers and a bunch of other men. Are they going out hunting? Looks like it. But hunting what? Bulo and a hunting guide of sorts head out to hunt, shoot skeet, whatever.
More of the excellent editing here. The splitscreen technique takes us between Reagan, back on, speaking to a crowd including Lou and Betsy Solverson (Patrick Wilson/Cristin Milioti), Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) and a ton of others – to Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) driving back to the Gerhardt Ranch. There, he gives Rye’s belt buckle back to the clan. Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and Bear (Angus Sampson) are not happy, neither is Mama Floyd (Jean Smart). Naturally.
Out in the woods, a massive shitstorm comes crashing down on Bulo. There are guns firing. People are shot, chaos descends. The Kitchen Brothers come out blazing, too. Then out of nowhere comes Hanzee – he annihilates the two shotgun wielding brothers with a huge knife. Incredibly wild. Especially afterwards, once Bulo comes shambling out of the woods to find Hanzee waiting for him by the cars. All the while we’re still hearing Campbell’s Reagan giving a speech. There are some parallels between Reagan and the sort of stuff happening in the small little Minnesota town. I expect the whole Reagan angle to make a nice overarching theme once the season is done.
Then we’re back to the troubles of Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). Poor Ed is having nightmares of Rye, the night of his death, all that. Even worse, Peggy is trying to convince her husband to take off. Lou really put the spook in her last episode. But Ed doesn’t want any part of that. He wanted such a normal, quaint life, and with Peggy’s mistakes – her massive blunders – it’s really all her that’s put them in such a terrifying position. I feel bad for Peggy, I mean, she’s sympathetic. Yet Ed is where my sympathies truly lie.
The Gerhardt youngsters are each their own type of fucked up. First there’s Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) who wants to pull the trigger, to avenge Rye, as he believes it has to be a Gerhardt to do the job on the butcher. To which Dodd agrees.
And then there’s Simone (Rachel Keller). She takes off from her father, out to see Milligan. Surprisingly, one Kitchen Brother remains; I thought he was also dead (“I see Thing 1, where’s Thing 2?” asks Simone). Things get damn tense. Milligan has a box with the head of Joe Bulo in it. He’s not completely convinced of Simone and her allegiance, whether it still lies with her family or with him, as her new lover: “If you want me to take you seriously, you have to be a serious person.” And he essentially gives her an ultimatum, to tell him everything before the Gerhardts even move on a plan, or else she can “die with the rest of ’em“.
Lou Solverson’s new contact in Fargo P.D., Bed Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell), gives him a call over the radio. He’s got the mess in the woods to deal with, the Bulo situation and all those puzzle pieces. Looks as if those two are going to have their hands full. Another trip to the Gerhardt Ranch is on the schedule. Can’t wait.
Noreen: “Camus says knowin’ we’re all gonna die makes life a joke”
Ed: “So what, you just give up?”
Noreen: “You could just kill yerself. Get it over with.”
Ed: “C’mon ya gotta try”
Ed: “You go to school, you get a job, start a family.”
Noreen: “You die”
One of Fargo‘s incredible strengths comes through how the tension plays out, the suspense and the technique of drawing it out. Great sequence here where Charlie heads into the butcher shop in order to kill the butcher. There’s a very tense lead up, then a funny little exchange between Charlie and Noreen concerning the Camus book she’s reading, which really breaks the tension. Yet still, this tension switches back once Ed shows up through the door from out back – we get a split-second view, from Charlie’s P.O.V, as Ed looks mean and full of blood. Then it snaps to the natural, friendly Ed. So, as we all predicated, Charlie only walks away with some cuts of beef. No dead Ed.
At the Blomquist home, it appears Peggy has plain ideas about what she wants to do. She’s packing suitcases, though, it looks as if they’re only her own. Cut to: Peggy leaving a bus, suitcases in hand. She’s headed to the garage for the car. Awkwardly, she gets it back and fumbles through a conversation with the mechanic. This is the problem with Peggy: she is fundamentally a person without sense. She never does anything with a plan. But to my huge surprise, silly Peg goes to the garage instead of running. She takes a cold $700 from the mechanic for the car, seemingly intent on putting that towards buying the butcher shop. Is this a good thing? Will this help bring her and Ed closer back together, at least on the same page again? Hopefully so.
Bear: “How’d it go this mornin’?”
Hanzee: “Killed a few, lost a few.”
There’s a ton of further tension in the Gerhardt family. We see a brief encounter between Bear and Hanzee. Then a worse one between Dodd and Bear – the latter is proud to serve with his mother as the head of their racket, the former has no time for “taking orders from a woman“. We’re going to see some serious fallout between the brothers, I think. First, there’s the fact of this confrontation. Then there’s also Dodd sending Charlie out to do a terrible thing; even though he didn’t do it, a good uncle would never involve a nephew like that.
Great meeting between State Trooper Solverson and Ronald Reagan in a washroom. Over a piss, Reagan relates a (partial) tale of some war picture he’d been in. Afterwards, Lou babbles on about the “sickness of this world” possibly being inside his wife, giving her cancer, as if he brought some of it back from serving in a nasty war. I feel for him. No doubt he has his demons. Although, Reagan isn’t anyone to try and assuage any fears. His only response once Lou asks an important question is to squeeze Lou’s shoulders, smile, then head off. Amazing, Campbell is such a perfect vision of Reagan that it baffles me. I couldn’t see how it was going to work when I first heard the casting news ages ago. Now, I kick myself to have thought anything other than: fucking awesome.
Lots of family relationships, good ones, in this show. Between the different Gerhardt dynamics – Dodd/Bear, Dodd/Charlie, Dodd/Simone, & Dodd/Floyd (a pattern emerges) – and the Solversons, I’m loving every minute of the scenes involving any of their characters.
Particularly, I love Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and his daughter Betsy Solverson. They’re great together. I’m not usually even a fan of Danson’s, but there is a finesse and subtlety with which he plays the role I can’t deny. Especially in this episode, as he tries consoling his terminally ill daughter; there’s a point you could almost cry, he’s so tender and gentle and silly. Great few moments here.
Then we fall back to Charlie. He wants to go back to school, trying to call his father on the phone. But the man who Dodd sent with the boy wants to settle things. Thanks to Noreen, Charlie misses Ed. Then a massive fight breaks out between the Gerhardt henchman and Ed, a fire ignites after Charlie pumps a shot in the wrong direction.
Yet Ed proves to be almost superhero-like. He whacks the guy with a meat cleaver, plants a butcher’s knife in the henchman’s head, then gets Noreen + Charlie out to safety (even though the young Gerhardt took a bullet – maybe just a stray grazing or something). Then, instead of sticking around, Ed takes off. No doubt to make sure Peggy is okay. Or is he now convinced leaving town is best?
Dodd: “Bein’ grown’s got a price”
Ed flies back in the door trying to tell Peggy they need to pack and leave. Worst timing ever, right? They’re destined to never be on the same page. She’s already sold the car, changed her mind. Now, everything has changed in the blink of an eye. The shop burned up, anyways. MAN, OH, MAN! I feel so terrible for the Blumquists. There’s a nasty irony to everything happening in their lives. Tragedy lurks around each and every corner they come to.
The shit really hits the fan spinning when Ed and Peggy hear sirens, the reds and blues flashing around outside their door. Harsh and darkly comedic moment, as they both stare out towards the front door, seeing it all. We return to Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun”, which played in an earlier episode – it plays as the credits roll. Quality finish to a solid episode.
Excited to see/review “Rhinoceros”. Stay tuned for the next episode’s rundown!
Season 2, Episode 4: “Fear and Trembling”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Steve Blackman
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
This episode begins with a flash to 1951 – Moonbase Freedom starring Ronald Reagan (not an actual film) plays in a small movie theatre. On the way there, a boy and his father rattle along in a truck. Over top of the scene Count Basie plays, “Topsy”. A man named Kellerman (Kai Lennox) sits waiting for the father. Ends up with dear ole dad about to be shot in the back of the head, but then the young boy ends up knifing Kellerman in the back of the skull. Turns out, this is little Dodd and papa Otto back in the day.
Otto: “Like the heads of Easter Island”
Otto: “Not a sound”
Back in their current timeline, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is teaching his nephew Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) the ways of the Gerhardt clan. They end up at a restaurant where Dodd tasers a man violently, getting Charlie to join in on the action with a few punches. Nice bonding. Surely Bear (Angus Sampson) is going to be REAL happy with his brother showing his son – someone he wanted to be away from the family business – the dirty, gritty ropes. Not just that, we get a bit of Devo’s “Too Much Paranoias” to boot. Jam.
At the same time Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) accompanies his wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) to the doctor where they have an extremely frustrating conversation. Essentially, she’s asked to be part of a trial for an experimental drug, but naturally there’s no guarantees she’ll get anything real. Possibly just a placebo, like “a Smartie – you know, a Smartie.”
Then there’s Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) who are trying to go about their lives. In fact, among all the madness they’ve become involved with – re: Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) – they seem to be gunning for a baby. Or at least Ed is, anyways. Their problems are plenty, and it’s not as if they’re going away any time soon.
Ed: “Today’s the first day of the rest of our lives”
Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is more and more a character I’m interested in. At first, he seems like the typical bad guy, the silent man waiting in the wings to do crazy things. But then we see him at the crime scene, we watch him check out tire tracks and look into the sky like a clairvoyant. Though, he isn’t. Just a smart man who has obviously spent his life around these types of nasty situations. Clearly we’ve seen this already last episode in “The Myth of Sisyphus“. We’re just expanding further. He tracks down the Blomquist car at a garage, where a very Coen-ish type mechanic character gives up a little too much information about Ed.
Then we get a glimpse of Hanzee’s character. Is it true? He talks about being a Tunnel Rat during Vietnam, after the mechanic mentions being in the war himself. Very brief, before Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) interrupts and shoes Dent off.
Mr. Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) has ended up in bed with Simone Gerhardt (Rachel Keller). Shit. That can’t be a good idea, can it? She’s clearly not too worried about her family, especially not daddy Dodd whose fists are a little too liberal around the house. But still, Milligan certainly isn’t making things easy for himself. Then again he doesn’t feel like the type of guy who cares about things being easy; in short, he’s a bad motherfucker. Or, at the very least, one cool cucumber.
Lou heads over to the garage where Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) is on the scene. They get the scoop on Hanzee, though, you can be sure Lou doesn’t exactly feel right about any of it. He has a brief flash to his run-in with Ed at the shop recently, which will come to bear later on.
The Gerhardts, lead by mama Floyd (Jean Smart), head to a big meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett); Milligan is curiously missing, no doubt held up by Simone. Then Floyd lays it all out on the table – they will not be backing down: “Partnership, not a sale,” she tells Joe. But it’s evident Floyd is one tough lady. She tells Bulo a little bit about her hardships, then makes clear: “We’ll fight to keep what’s ours ’till the last man.”
However, as we could’ve already assumed, Bulo isn’t too keen on taking the offer straight up. He wants assurance the Gerhardt boys will follow mom’s orders. Floyd tries her best to assure Bulo this will be the case, though, Dodd makes a scene. We’ll see how things go from here.
As if Otto Gerhardt (Michael Hogan) hadn’t been through enough with his stroke, Milligan had to go and make things worse. He wasn’t still with Simone. While Floyd met with Bulo, Mike and the Kitchen Brothers killed the men transporting Otto around. I thought they were actually going to kill Otto off, but Mike simply gave him a Godfather homage: “Joe Bulo says hello.” Then at the table, word reaches Bulo and the counter offer is rejected. Things are about to get even more dark and violent than ever before.
More Blomquist drama. Poor Ed. He wants to buy the shop so bad, the meat shop where he works, but Peggy’s been less than upfront with her unsuspecting husband. He’s trying his best to get things straight with her. Peggy went and dipped in when Ed thought they were clear on the money situation – even worse, Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) pushes her into being an independent woman, which is great, but Ed isn’t even being a bad guy. She’s basically fucked them and Ed only wants to buy the shop so they can be better off – instead, Constance is telling her what to do while trying to make it appear as if Peggy is living free.
Then in the background, Hanzee rolls by giving them the eye; Ed meets his gaze briefly, you can almost see it shake him.
A little later Mr. Dent strolls into the Blomquist garage, alone, quiet. He knows the ways of murder. He rubs the floor, smells it, and then looks up to find bleach on a shelf nearby. There’s an amazing presence Zahn McClarnon displays, as Hanzee walks around the house and examines everything, flicking his Zippo open to have a look here and there, even finding what looks like Rye’s belt buckle in the fireplace among the ashes. Over top of the scene plays “Song of the Earth” played by the Philharmonic Orchestra, a piece by Gustav Mahler.
Perhaps the most tense of all comes when State Trooper Solverson goes to see the Blomquists. They feed him a nervous, awkward story about what happened with the car – and Ed happens to spy, out the corner of his eye, the fireplace has been moved around a bit. Uh oh.
Yet Lou seems to want to help. At least in the sense he gives them the benefit of the doubt. He goes into a story about war, the look in a boy’s eyes after he’s been shot – the sort of unaware sense, not realizing yet what has happened. Lou’s identified that look in Ed and Peggy. He straight up knows, even bluntly stating who the man was they hit. All the same, the Blomquists keep up the charade. A very great moment comes when Ed looks up at a painting on the wall – a picturesque landscape of a farm, the ideal, the dream they hope to attain – and you can see he’s just not willing to let go of the hope that they can get out of this without admitting to what they’ve done. But Lou knows, and he tries telling them to be careful anyways.
At Ranch Gerhardt, the boys are wondering what mama Floyd wants to do about Bulo and the coming onslaught. “It’s war,” she tells them defiantly.
But what I love most about this moment is how they cut from one strong woman to another: Betsy. She’s sitting at the kitchen table staring down her experimental drugs, about to go to war herself. Nice little shift. Plus, there’s a good little scene between her and Lou when she goes out to find him on the lawn. He laments about how “we used to know right from wrong” – we, the society. It’s strange because we don’t often get such a strong and righteous type of character like Lou. Yet in the Fargo universe, we do get those characters. They come into such incredible contrast with the darker, more malevolent characters at play. So, to see Lou dealing with his wife fighting cancer, as well as watching the world he knew and loved slipping away bit by bit, now with seemingly normal and moral people like the Blomquists covering up murders, it’s a tragically exciting situation character-wise.
Every week I’m left craving more. One of the best shows on television, ever. Next episode is “The Gift of the Magi”, directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
Stay tuned for another one. Looking forward to it!
Season 2, Episode 2: “Before the Law”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “Waiting for Dutch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
After the incredible opening episode, Fargo moves further into Season 2 with “Before the Law”.
This episode begins with more of the stylistically awesome editing, loving the splits-screen and how they use it at various intervals. Nice montage to start with Bobbie Gentry’s “Reunion” playing over top. We see glimpses of almost all the characters here and I thought it was a good way to start things off.
Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s stroke. A Gerhardt nephew, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) – whose father is Bear (Angus Sampson) – helps his grandma out with “the bank“. Out in the barn, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is viciously interrogating some poor guy with his partner in crime Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Meanwhile, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) have also come in from Kansas City to see the Gerhardt clan.
Plenty of things happening. Seems there are troubles within the family, let alone anything else outside of their ranks. Dodd wants to be the boss of the family now that patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) is temporarily – and most likely permanently – out of the picture as figurehead. However, even his brother Bear believes their mother is the proper candidate. A tense little scene where we see how there’s not much real love in the Gerhardt family, it’s all about politics and hierarchical structure. Not saying they don’t love one another, but more that their family is built around an empire. It’s more a business than anything.
Dodd Gerhardt – with his right hand man Hanzee – is not letting his mother’s newly found leadership get in the way. They’re plotting something, planning. We’ll see exactly what that is sooner than later.
Floyd: “That’s what an empire is – it’s bigger than any son, or daughter.”
One big pot of jumbo going on here. So many complexities happening. I haven’t even mentioned the fact of Rye (Kieran Culkin) having been killed in the last episode by Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). The rest of Rye’s clan think he’s off either getting laid or doing something else just as trivial, in their eyes. I keep wondering how this is all going to come together, a big SNAFU of epic criminal proportions.
Heading away from the Gerhardt home, Bulo and Milligan have a conversation about their job. Seems they’re going to try divide and conquer among the Gerhardt boys. The first suggestion from Milligan, Rye, is obviously not going to work out.
Usually I find Ted Danson sort of… tedious. I’m already loving him in this season of Fargo. This character has a good deal of depth off the bat. Hank Larsson (Danson) and Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) are very believable together as father-in-law/son-in-law buddy cops. Added into that situation is Lou’s wife, daughter of Hank, Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti). I think the three-way dynamic between these actors and their characters is beginning very strong. Look forward to seeing more of them with each passing episode.
I feel bad for Ed Blomquist. Peggy really did him dirty with the whole accident and not telling him. What did she think would happen? What was Peggy planning on doing? Very clear Ed loves his wife, if not he wouldn’t stick by her so closely. Her transgression has really put them both in a terrifying place. Not only that, Ed has to deal simply with the fact he took another man’s life. Regardless of how it happened, what went down, he still killed someone. Cannot be easy to live with.
Really, though, I’m sure Peggy will be the downfall of them both. At least in terms of public image. She is so nervous looking and her disposition is totally off when around others, so I can almost see it coming right now. She’s too edgy while Ed appears level headed and focused on making sure they don’t get caught.
Milligan pays a visit to the shop where Rye had previously been conducting his business with Skip Watson (Mike Bradecich). He’s tracking down the youngest Gerhardt. A real great scene here, which shows the solid acting abilities of Bokeem Woodbine; an underrated actor. He pulls Watson’s tie into one of the IBM typewriters, looking for information on the Judge killed over at the diner in “Waiting for Dutch“, then follows up with a little story about writing a letter to General Electric and some questions. It’s such an expertly written scene, something I’m coming to expect from Hawley.
Jesse Plemons is someone I think is also underrated. After his turn on Breaking Bad, playing a very unlikeable character (though he played him well), here he gets a bigger role, as well as one with even more under the surface. Watching him clean up the mess his wife made, first the car and bleaching the garage floor then in his underwear burning bloody clothes at the fireplace, you can tell he’s even come a long way just since Breaking Bad. The Blomquists story is a part of this season I’m already super invested in personally and I’m sure there are going to be more little tragedies for them the further we go.
One of my favourite scenes of the season already comes when Lou Solverson goes over to the diner. He heads inside to have a look at the nasty crime scene. Outside, his daughter and wife play in the snow. Then when the little one picks up a deflated balloon, Betsy ends up finding the shiny silver revolver Rye used in the murders. Sort of a bittersweet moment because it’s awesome she found the gun, also sort of darkly funny the way Lou was inside with all the blood and death, as his wife and daughter are just outside, having fun in the angelic white snow. Perfect sort of Fargo moment of juxtaposition.
Right afterwards there’s an intense scene. Milligan and his henchmen are pulled over by Larsson. There’s a bit of messing about, with Milligan playing games briefly. Honestly, I was completely on edge from the moment Larsson stood in the road and their car showed up. Ted Danson has such an outstanding degree of suspense in his own eyes, such a burning stare throughout the confrontation, you’ll find it very hard not to fall in with how tense things feel. I actually let my breath out slightly once the scene faded into the next. Wow.
Still, I’m most interested in Ed and Peggy. More so Ed, though, as he’s carrying the major brunt of the entire situation on his shoulders. Just watching him smolder alone in his car, at the meat shop, at home, it’s almost unnerving. Because you don’t know how regular, everyday people will be affected by murder. It can lead certain people into a dark descent. Will Ed be one of those? Will he crack under the pressure, or keep it all together in order to protect himself, his wife, his potential family down the road? One thing I know is that it’s totally fun watching the dark drama play out in front of us. The spirit of the Coen Brothers Fargo is continuously alive and well.
Feeling like a broken record, again there is trouble for the Blomquists. Co-worker Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) ends up finding the stolen toilet paper she’d mentioned earlier, to Peggy – in Peggy’s house. The smallest sort of thing, but in these murder cover-up situations, aren’t the smallest details almost most important? Even worse, now more people – Constance – are seeing the car, the damage, so their dirty secrets are starting to filter out. In a small Minnesota town, secrets like theirs, or any secrets for that matter can easily make their rounds through the locals. The more I see Peggy onscreen, the more I feel she’s going to do something even more stupid than she originally did and the secrets will start flowing like waterfalls.
Larsson and Solverson have a nice little conversation nearing the episode’s end. Not only are the idiosyncrasies of these two characters revealed a little more, their talk about “convergence” and “callback” is important. Fargo is a show based around those ideas, that one situation will remind you of another, that things come back to bear on all things relevant; ultimately, the bad keeps repeating, calling back to other bad things, and so on. There’s more to their conversation, mostly concerning the diner crime scene. However, I think a good deal of their dialogue lent itself to the idea of history repeating itself, at least in part.
Larsson: “Sometimes I wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with ya.”
Ed Blomquist finally finds himself in a tight situation. About time, really, in terms of this season’s plot; may as well get things going full steam. As Ed chops and grinds the body of Rye Gerhardt at the shop, putting it through the machinery like he might a bunch of sausages, et cetera. Amazing shot where he chops fingers off, they roll to the floor and one slips under the door out into the shop! I couldn’t believe it, such a gnarly moment. Plus, the suspense goes up with Lou Solverson out at the door, knocking away. Extremely tense – Lou wants bacon (get it?) for when Betsy wakes up, so naturally Ed invites him in while he cuts off a few pieces. Two excellent actors here bouncing off one another. Great writing. This is typical – and awesome – Fargo type fare, with the music really riling things up, the acting on point and a hairy situation playing out. Kept me on edge for the entire few minutes of the scene.
“The Eve of the War” by Jeff Wayne begins to play over the final shots. So fitting and beautiful and dark at once.
Cannot WAIT to see and review the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Stay tuned, fellow Fargo-ites!