Season Two, Episode Four — “Fear and Trembling”
By Jarrod Jones. Gustav Mahler wrote Das Lied von der Erde at a point in his life when he was at his lowest. His daugher has just died from scarlet fever, due to anti- Semitism he had lost his position as the Director of the Vienna Opera, and just to add insult to injury, he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. In one short year, Mahler’s family, everything he had ever built, was nearly stolen from him. From that despair he wrote one of the more ponderous and haunting compositions we have ever heard.
So it’s fitting that The Song of the Earth flows throughout this episode; with the Gerhardt Family tied underneath the guillotine that is the Kansas City mob, the Solversons hanging on to the hope that Betsy’s gonna be just fine, and the Blomquists falling apart even when Ed thinks they’re closer than ever, this episode’s primary theme is unmistakably the fall of houses. And it’s equally appropriate that Mahler’s moody piece provides everyone a moment of quiet introspection, as there’s quite a bit of the “abyss gazes also” we enjoyed in the first season of Fargo here. You’ll find fleeting glimmers of escape, hope, and even despair in these moments, and they’re all elicited by objects that would otherwise be considered perfectly innocuous. For a show about a little world, it certainly knows how to summon eternity.
WHAT WORKED: It continues to intrigue me how Fargo continues to deconstruct the concept of family this season. Be it a source of continual strength, a crumbling empire, or the outright bane of someone’s existence, family is the linchpin that holds this show together.
Take the opening murder spree sequence, where Michael Hogan’s Otto Gerhardt takes his young boy Dodd to the movies to spend an afternoon with destiny: just seconds after we witness Dodd claim his first life, we jump to the series’ present of 1979, where Dodd has grown into a man beset with disappointments. He understands the importance of legacy, but can’t see it in his own daughter, Simone, or even his mother, Floyd. (The rate of which he forces Floyd to raise her voice is staggering, and if I had to guess, it will likely cause our lantern-jawed friend to bite it at some point in the near future.) So he places his affections — what little he has to offer, anyway — in Bear’s son, Charlie. There are tremendous swells of emotion to be found in these sequences, even if the hard-ass lifestyle employed by the Gerhardt Clan keeps the obvious at bay. It is love, not power (though, that helps too), that keeps this family alive.
As for Ed and Peggy, it’s hope that keeps these two moving. Everything Ed’s ever hoped for — raising a family, taking over the butcher shop he’s dutifully manned for years — has been taken away from him by his wife’s callous selfishness. And it’s his tremendous heart that keeps him so blinded from the truth that he’s willing to participate in unspeakable horror just to be able to hold onto the hope that he may one day sire a child. (By the way, did Rye end up back in Ed’s garage freezer?) Peggy’s hope to ditch the lunk — for what, that’s still not exactly clear — keeps Ed tied fast to her salon apron strings: if she’s to have any chance of getting the heck outta Luverne, she’s going to have to keep stringing poor Ed along for a little while longer, though even a dummy like him is gonna start wondering why his corn-fed semen ain’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing before long.
WHAT DIDN’T: While this episode definitely gives most of its leads plenty of time to breathe, “Fear and Trembling” has easily been the most meandering installment of the Second Season so far. It’s been firmly established that Peggy wants out of her ill-advised marriage to Ed, and we know Betsy’s time on this mortal coil is going to be extremely limited, but the small plot developments that occur on these two fronts could have easily been shuffled into the events of last week.
What made this episode seem even more like a slog was Mike Milligan’s post-coital scheming with Simone, Dodd’s hippy-dippy daughter. (The constant talk about her thumb up his ass, coupled with several loving shots of her derriere, are two perfect examples of Fargo dabbling in unnecessary decadence.) When Fargo loses focus, things can unravel really fast. I hope the ship is righted before long.
“Dodd? Like the heads of Easter Island. Not a sound.” – Otto.
“It’s on them.” – Dodd.
“The Seventies were always comin’. Like a hangover.” – Mike.
“It’s war.” – Floyd.
BEST MOMENT: Dodd loves Mother. With Otto as vulnerable as he’s ever been, The House of Gerhardt is crumbling fast. Dodd watched his monolithic father take back what rightfully belonged to his family and has defended it with a zeal that would rightfully frighten anyone (unless you’re the top cop from Luverne, Minnesota, that is). Now, with the Kansas City wolves at their gate, Dodd attempts to find solace on the shoulder of his hardened mother, Floyd. And though now is not the time for grief (Floyd keeps trying to shrug off Dodd’s nuzzles), the matriarch of the Gerhardt clan finally relents and shares her grief with her eldest son. It’s equal parts adorable and devastating.
EPISODE’S MVP: Dodd Gerhardt. While his younger brother, Bear, still makes me chortle the most out of everyone on Fargo (what is up with all that stress eating?), it’s Jeffrey Donovan’s turn as the venomous Gerhardt that continuously makes me stare at my television from under a furrowed brow. With his iron jaw and mushy heart, Dodd is the one character this season I have to problem rooting for. (Dodd makes Lester Nygaard look like a demon spawned from the asscrack of Hell, you can bet on that.)
OK THEN, YOU BETCHA:
– Moonbase Freedom, another fake Reagan movie. Maybe the significance will make itself apparent before I give up on it entirely?
– I have a friend who honestly believes that smacking your food makes you inherently evil. I’m inclined to agree with him, and watching that pencil-mustachioed wanna-be gangster smack on his popcorn made me want to stick him right in the ground. Telling you. Evil.
– Ed keeps his socks on during sex. That’s both pathetic and sweet. How is that both pathetic and sweet.
– Maybe it’s just me, but Nick Offerman always looks like he’s currently digesting about three pounds of beef.
– It’s always a risky proposition to let your enemies’ daughter stick her thumb up your ass.
– Jeffrey Donovan has come a looong way from Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.
– The pregnant pause Jesse Plemons’ gives Ed just before he spits out the word ‘screwed’ was priceless. Plemons is really impressing me this season.
– Ed’s using that ol’ “slipped on some ding-dang ice” excuse. So now we know he’s fucked.