Season Two, Episode Six — “Rhinoceros“
By Jarrod Jones. Well, now. It’s finally come to this. “Cards on the table”, and other such utterances. No matter how much Peggy fumbles over stovetop coffee, Sheriff Hank’s hawk-eyes are fixed on her ceaseless fidgeting underneath a heavy brow. All poppycock and artful dodges aside, the reckoning that’s been brewing all season long has finally been brought to a mild simmer. And yet Peggy thinks her ruse still has a shot.
Fargo‘s second season has tipped into its final stretch towards Episode Ten, but “Rhinoceros” feels as though it’s already at a Third Act showdown. The Gerhardts, in their frantic scramble to exact revenge against “The Butcher of Luverne”, have clumsily allowed the Kansas City Mob to pay Otto and Floyd a house call. While Dodd and Bear go to tie up loose ends, Mike and the remaining Kitchen Brother look to singe some fraying threads of their own, while appeasing their bosses out East in one fell stroke. The Gerhardts, against better judgment, are at Lou’s door (and Ed’s too, but there’s Peggy home to hold the fort). Like Karl would probably say, “remember the Alamo.”
WHAT WORKED: It’s probably not an accident that “Rhinoceros” is the single best written episode since “Waiting for Dutch” aired six weeks ago: showrunner Noah Hawley takes the helm of his ship and scripts it towards the Gerhardt’s certain doom. With at least four “certain dooms” hovering in place at the moment — between Floyd and Simone hitting the deck under a hail of bullets (and Otto presumably being nowhere near as fortunate), Bear calling out the law, Charlie cooling his heels in a cell, and Dodd at the mercy of Peggy — that’s a lot to keep in place. And yet “Rhinoceros” charges ahead with nary a single narrative hiccup. (See WHAT DIDN’T for my sole complaint this week, though really, you could skip it and it wouldn’t make one damn difference.)
While we’re on the subject of Bear’s Western-style showdown between Karl, Lou, and the Luverne P.D., ain’t it a hell of a thing that it worked out as neat as it did? (Though one has to wonder what would have happened if the more hotheaded Gerhardt brother had been at the precinct house instead of the Blomquist homestead.)
We can get into how brilliant Karl was in a bit (again, see below), but I was pleased to see the generally unnecessary split-screen device employed during this season work far more ably than it had in previous episodes. Karl confronts the Gerhardt clan on one side, Lou absconds with dumb ol’ Ed on the other, all while Hanzee quietly lurks in the shadows. I haven’t felt this level of dread in Fargo since the days of Billy Bob Thornton, and go figure it was Hawley’s shrewd deployment of the split-screen that ultimately made me clutch at my blankey once again. (I don’t really have a blankey.)
WHAT DIDN’T: It appears that I’ve grown spoiled over my overall enjoyment of the first season. Because Molly and Lou have cast such long shadows in my mind, I keep thinking that the Lou and Betsy of 1979 should loom larger during Fargo‘s stroll down memory lane. It’s perfectly fine that it was Hank instead of Lou staring down the brick wall that is Dodd this week. Both men stand for the exact same thing in the exact same way. But as the show takes a turn towards darker, more perilous roads, Betsy’s ever-deteriorating condition keeps getting lost in the shuffle. This week, Hawley delegates Betsy as Noreen’s caretaker, someone who can pop in to conveniently remove one of the show’s many thematic devices. Holding out hope that Fargo can stick that particular landing.
“There’s more to life than Minnesota.” – Peggy.
“You’re a little touched, aren’tcha.” – Hank.
BEST MOMENT: Karl vs. Bear. Reading as many superhero comics as I do, I can’t help but face certain characters against each other in my head, even if those battles would never once occur during a sensible season of Fargo. (Maybe Grant Gustin’s Flash will run fast enough that we’ll one day see a Floyd vs. 2006 Lou in a battle of searching gazes?) But conspiracist Karl vs. Brother Bear might have been at the bottom of my “What If–?” list even if I remained perfectly unaware that Karl was an actual lawyer. (Seriously. Did anyone else miss that?) But watching Bear constantly bristle as he attempts to keep up with the Luverne Police Department’s last hope was the chattiest white-knuckler I’ve seen since Michael Mann’s The Insider. The fallout gives me more respect for dopey Bear (who, we all should recall, almost suffered Dodd’s belt earlier in the episode), and so much more respect for Karl. Speaking of which…
EPISODE’S MVP: Karl Weathers. Yes, that’s his actual name. Isn’t it funny there was that Rocky shout last week, and yet no one has once brought up that tasty little pop culture connection? (Apollo Creed won over Rocky Balboa by split decision three years prior to the events in Fargo.) Doesn’t matter. Karl’s loquaciousness may have irked me some early in the season, but I’ve come to fully appreciate the “only defense attorney in Luverne” (who’da thunk it?). Staring down a rather well-used shotgun, Nick Offerman’s trembling lower lip never once betrayed his steel-gray eyes; Karl’s gift of gab saved Fargo from yet another bout of bloodshed, which means he effectively became this week’s most valuable player on so many levels.
OK THEN, YOU BETCHA:
– “Kiss my grits.” Those are the last words you want your father to hear before your would-be boyfriend puts a bullet between his eyes, huh? I don’t know if Simone was intending for Dodd to consider a perplexing enigma seconds before greeting the Great Beyond, or if that was just the first thing that came to her mind. Maybe it’s better that way.
– No UFO sightings this week. Perhaps the aliens are patiently sitting on the sidelines while us meatsacks have at it with each other? Maybe it’s time to consider the Fermi Paradox.
– Ed and Peggy will likely have one interesting “rest of their evening” next week, what with Dodd presumably left alive in their basement. (We’re all aware of how the Blomquists like to dispatch Gerhardts, don’tcha know.) But with Hanzee stalking his way towards the happy couple’s residence, who can rightfully say.
– Pretty irritated that the “next time on Fargo” preview spoiled not one, not two, but three lingering questions this week. (If you caught it, you know what I’m talking about.)