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Communication Breakdown/Premonitions of War

This week’s episode of Fargo, titled “Fear and Trembling,” reinforces the second season’s focus on family. The Gerhardts, the Blomquists, and the Solversons have been knotted together by circumstance, and, despite internecine struggles, are forming battle lines for the coming war. The Gerhardts are the largest and most complex of these organizations, with three generations vying for control over the crime family’s legacy: Dodd and Floyd butt heads at nearly every opportunity, but when the going gets tough, they draw together for comfort and support; Dodd has spurned his own daughter in favor of his nephew Charlie, who has his heart set on walking his uncle’s thuggish path despite his father’s objections and his own physical handicap (it’s no coincidence that Bear, Charlie’s father, sports a cast on his left hand, mirroring his son's crippled right); and Simone, Dodd’s wayward daughter, takes her rebellion up a notch by betraying her ailing grandfather to Mike Milligan. This web of relationships drives the plot while painting a compelling portrait of a family comprised of strong-willed individuals struggling to coexist with their kin in a world where they need one another to survive.

Dodd is at the heart of this episode. In the opening scene, we get a peek into his relationship with his father, who puts his life in his young son’s hands and benefits greatly from that granting of trust. Not only do we see the intergenerational transfer of values (violence as progressive force), but we also get a sense of Otto’s parenting style: throw his sons into dangerous situations and let them fight their way out. In the next scene, Dodd teaches Charlie, his surrogate son, a similar lesson, although his meothods are lighter than his father’s. In two surprisingly touching moments, Dodd is equally impressed by Charlie’s ability to reload a pistol and the boy’s choice of doughnut. Later in the episode, Dodd receives a similar moment of familial warmth from his mother on the car ride back from the final negotiation with Joe Bulo. After being cast as an unremitting sociopath for the first three episodes, Dodd is now shown to be an avuncular and vulnerable skull-cracker. His loyalty is firmly with the Gerhardt clan, and he will seemingly go to any length to keep the family as powerful, violent, and uncompromising as Otto would have wanted it to be. He might not be the world’s best father (a flaw that is already having consequences), but he certainly is his father’s son.

Now that Rye’s body is gone, the Blomquist marriage is breaking back apart. The conflict between Ed and Peggy over the seminar is just one point of pressure: while Ed verbalizes his dreams of fatherhood, Peggy is popping birth control pills on the other side of the bathroom door. What brought them together was the immediate need for survival, but now that their problems are more abstract, they can’t even communicate. When Ed says that they talked about the seminar, Peggy replies, “Well, if you mean you talked, and then I also talked, then I guess.” Cracks are also appearing in the Solverson’s marriage, although their source of stress, Betsy’s growing tumor, is more acute than the general incompatibility that is fracturing the Blomquists. Lou asking Betsy if he should treat her any different is heartbreaking, as is the conversation at the episode’s end in which they talk across one another about the real pill versus the placebo and Lou’s comment about being “out of balance.” Though he believes that he’s speaking about the world, Betsy knows that he’s talking about the two of them.

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The specter of wars both past and future haunt “Fear and Trembling.” The oncologist declares war on Betsy’s disease, Hanzee and Lou use stories from Vietnam to scare people, and the episode ends with Floyd’s decision that the Gerhardts will take up arms against Kansas City. In the case of the war on cancer, the edict comes from on high, and the locus is not a town but Betsy’s body, the combatants not men but chemicals within her. It’s a very private conflict, one in which she is the sole participant, and it creates a barrier between her and Lou very much like those between soldiers returning from war and their spouses. Lou, himself a Navy veteran, is powerless in the face of the opposing armies inside his wife, and it keeps him up at night.

Hanzee’s story about tunnels in Vietnam serves a slightly different purpose from Lou’s about the last efforts of dying men (intimidation versus collaboration), but both are meant to frighten. For noncombatants such as Ed or vets like Sonny (who inflates or fabulates his own wartime experiences), the realities of The Vietnam War are understandably shocking, especially when juxtaposed against mundane midwestern settings. There is a stark separation between those who know the horrors of war firsthand and those who do not, and as the Gerhardt war heats up, the gap will only widen.

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The UFO references were front-loaded this week. The opening scene in the movie theater had two, one being the movie that the doomed mafioso was watching, the other being Otto’s comment to his son to be like “the heads of Easter Island.” That second one is more interesting, as those gigantic stones have long been a fascination of alien conspiracy aficionados, yet, like Rye’s UFO being explained as a possible balloon, do have a more down-to-Earth origin. Hanzee losing two hours in the same spot that Rye spotted his flying saucer is harder to explain away, and is the first diegetic evidence of the involvement of aliens in the affairs of Luverne since the youngest Gerhardt’s fatal encounter. That the Indian assassin takes the occurrence in stride is even more confusing; he doesn’t seem to miss a beat as he continues to methodically track down Rye’s murderer(s) and gather the evidence he needs to be sure that the Blomquists are indeed guilty.

The continued extraterrestrial involvement in the characters’ affairs lends this season the surreal tone that Malvo’s Biblical pranks gave the last go-around, and is really the season’s only mystery. If and when these beings will make their presence known is anyone’s guess, but Noah Hawley seems intent on maintaining a background level of alien involvement throughout.

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