Truth is so much stranger than fiction. And much uglier.
Midnight Special. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier, Sharon Garrison, Allison King, & Sean Bridgers. Faliro House Productions/Tri-State Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated PG. 112 minutes.
When it comes to independent films, Jeff Nichols is a writer-director I’ve admired now for a few years. Shotgun Stories in 2007 was a great little movie that tackled the flawed masculinity inherent in Southern blood feuds as it examined two sets of half brothers in the aftermath of their father’s death. It also starred the wonderful character actor Michael Shannon, whom many have grown to love as of late particularly. Later, in Take Shelter again starring Shannon, Nichols took us into a highly psychological world that bent the limits of reality, begging us to wonder whether or not the events onscreen were real, or if they were just manifestations of the lead character’s troubled mind. Mud was an interesting, subtle look at people on the fringe, how they come together, and how they survive.
But now, teaming once more with Shannon alongside a slew of other wonderful talents from newer (Adam Driver) to classic (Sam Shepard), Nichols breaks out with an emotionally charged, intelligent, slick thriller that runs the gamut of family drama and adventure to science fiction. Midnight Special is a lot of things. Above all, it is engaging. In a day and age of remakes – some good, a lot terrible – big budget blockbusters without any soul, Nichols’ films are continually a ray of light. This is no different. There are many things to enjoy. And if I can suggest anything, go in without knowing anything. Even the plot. It won’t ruin things if you do, but the beginning is even more tense and filled with excitement if you’re relatively clueless.
And for that reason let’s just dig right in.
The plot is a lot of fun. Despite knowing from trailers that the film is heavily science fiction, there’s a very raw human drama to the opening few scenes. It doesn’t stop there either. As Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) rush Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) around from one place to the next, under cover of night, all we know of the situation for sure is that there’s a massive hunt for the boy, an amber alert, everything. So if you had no better idea it’d seem like a truly distressing situation. But slowly, Nichols lets the information trickle down. What starts and continues as a human drama also takes on elements of a larger, more complicated, complex universe that Nichols has created.
We’re introduced to people from The Ranch, the men dressed in suit and ties, the women dressed like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They all seem to have a strange fascination, or rather obsession, with little Alton. And the gravity of everything is so evident. Not only are Roy and Lucas transporting Alton extremely secretively, to the point of gunning down a cop early on, it seems the father is dead set on protecting the boy. There are a ton of things happening, too. In a movie that’s just a little shy of two hours in length, Nichols packs a good punch. All the different aspects of the screenplay are pretty well fleshed out without having to be too full of exposition. Plus, things get real action oriented past the half hour mark, which then takes the pacing to another level. The first thirty minutes are a nice, effective slow burn that picks up steam quickly heading forward.
When we finally start to see more of Alton and his powers, the whole movie gets infinitely more interesting. More and more, scene after scene, Nichols reveals further bits of the boy’s abilities. Yet there’s a cryptic nature to them until late in the game. We’re never cheated, but Nichols definitely draws it out. Expertly. The suspension and tension as the plot moves on at a steady pace really will get your heart rate up, in the best kind of sense.
Alton: “What‘s Kryptonite?”
Lucas: “It‘s the only thing that‘ll kill Superman”
Roy: “It‘s made up”
There is never enough Michael Shannon. He’s a talented actor whose work is consistent. Even in movies that aren’t so great (i.e Man of Steel, The Iceman, Premium Rush), his talent makes things more interesting, more credible. He can really disappear into a lot of different roles, which is why he’s best deemed a character actor. His strength is that he’s got the handsome look, though there’s something odd about him, too. He has an affable quality, then there is a dangerous, strange side to him that can come out just as easily. Here, he plays a devoted, loving father pushed to the limit. He is a father under special circumstances. So there’s all this conflict in his character, but above all he is a father who wants to protect his son, no matter what the cost. And he’s forced into a blind faith, all out of love for his boy. A great performance, well written role.
The rest of the cast are equally as excellent. Edgerton is a fantastic talent (also a good writer) and he plays well off Shannon. They’re very believable together, which is honestly something I never predicted beforehand. What I like is that Edgerton has the same kind of qualities as Shannon, except in a different way. He is at once that manly, tough-looking kind of guy when he wants to be, at others he has a sensitive quality. In addition, Kirsten Dunst is good here as the mother of Alton, estranged from Roy. I’ve long said she is a solid actor, having recently given a complex performance in Season 2 of Fargo. She adds an extra, intriguing aspect to Alton and Roy, as a family. That brings us more of the family drama that makes Midnight Special a more interesting science fiction themed film than many others out there.
When the action gets pounding the film never lets up. There are moments where it’s a chase movie, others the guns start to fly. Sometimes we get wild expressions of Alton’s powers. All the while, the cinematography by Adam Stone captures everything so naturally, and in turn beautifully, even in the moments of pure speculative fiction that happen throughout. Add to that some really great synthesizer score from composer David Wingo, and those moments of tension where things are tight, the pulse is pumping, they become more intense. Sometimes it’s a semi-homage to the 1980s, but most of all it is simply an effective bit of electronic music that serves to augment a film; like any good score should.
This is all around an excellent film in terms of its visual components and its sound, not just the score but also the design. There are too many moments to list really. But Nichols, as director, crafts Midnight Special into a beautiful piece of work aided by these two artists.
Absolutely a 5-star film. There are so many derivative science fiction works out there, in movies and literature. It’s nice to see Jeff Nichols take the initiative and make something different. He lets everything flow out organically, never pushing the plot too much or too far, but rather just allowing it to unfold. The science fiction, though utterly central to the story, is not always the most interesting element. The family, the cult at The Ranch, the relationship between father and son, the relationship between best friends Lucas and Roy; so many things take precedence over the presence of a little boy with sort-of-super powers. Everything comes together here and Midnight Special takes its rightful place near the top of the best list of modern science fiction over the past couple decades. Nichols turns this into something completely unexpected. By the time it’s over, you won’t know what hit you.
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!