There’s nothing so volatile as a person who doesn’t know their own mind. It’s become increasingly obvious that Peggy Blumquist isn’t the most stable woman around. Her decision to drive home with a half-dead man on the trunk of her car is really only the tip of the iceberg. Everything she’s done since then has been a confused mixture of determination, regret, and some incomprehensible need to “self-actualize.” While “Loplop” doesn’t spell out the source of Peggy’s delusions—and I doubt the show ever will (or should)—it does clarify things with its opening sequence. Peggy, sitting on the stairs, talking to an imaginary therapist or guru, who tells her she needs to “understand the difference between thinking and being.” Then Ed gets home and we realize Peggy has been talking at a tied up Dodd this whole time, much to his chagrin.
It’s an eerie, darkly funny scene, crammed full of period-appropriate buzzwords and self-help book vagueness, but without any real meaning beyond a general dissatisfaction with the way things are right now. Which, essentially, is Peggy’s problem. She’s unhappy, in part because she’s living a go nowhere life with a loving, unimaginative husband, stuck in the house where he grew up, in a dead-end town with no hope of parole. But she’s too muddle headed to articulate this frustration precisely, and unable to demand Ed move someplace new, or else just leave him. So she latches onto seminars, to predatory bosses who pretend to offer her a way out, to the catchphrase philosophy of her whole addlepated era. When the world is on its ear, you look for any chance of escape, and sometimes, that way involves EST and worksheets and conversational bullshit.
All of which would be funny and a little sad if it weren’t for the fact that Peggy’s quest to be the best be she can be is racking up corpses by the minute. She hasn’t killed anyone directly herself, but she’s led to at least two deaths (Rye’s and Virgil’s), and taking Rye out so early in the negotiations between the Gerhardts and Kansas City surely didn’t help the discussion. The Blumquists keep throwing wrenches into an already unstable situation, and this week is no exception. Ed and Peggy hold Dodd hostage in a hunting cabin for two days, and in the end, Ed has a meeting with Mike in Sioux Falls, and Hanzee shoots Dodd dead. Oh, and Lou and Hank show up to arrest the Blumquists, and Hanzee escapes with a pair of scissors stuck in him, courtesy of Peggy.
Things get a bit crazy there, and it’s a mark in this show’s favor that I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s especially odd to see Ed and Peggy in police custody before the season ends, as I’d assumed they’d be part of whatever happens next. They aren’t dead, so the chances are good they aren’t going to completely disappear from the show, but to have them escape the cops again is going to take a lot of doing, especially seeing what happened the last time Lou and Hank left them to their own devices. While these episodes have been building towards some sort of catastrophic climax, “Loplop” ends on a note of semi-comical chaos. There’s no sense of rising action even as the noose tightens around various characters—and I don’t mean that as a criticism. Instead of going into next week braced for the worst, I’m eager to find out where all of this is headed because it’s not following any predictable line; and, just as importantly, I have faith that the show knows where it’s going, even if I don’t.
Before we get to that messy, perfect conclusion, the episode that mixes its tense confrontational moments alongside its flights of weirdness, with an effect that’s arguably more unexpected and engaging than a straightforward hostage entry would’ve been. At least this is more in keeping with what we know about Ed and Peggy, neither of whom are super criminals. Their decision making is sound enough: since neither of them are willing to turn themselves over to the police, they decide to use Dodd as a bargaining chip. If they can contact the Gerhardts, they can offer to return their hostage in exchange for free passage. This is naive, but it at least makes a certain amount of sense.
Unfortunately, things rarely work out the way we want them too. Ed struggles to talk to anyone at the Gerhardts (which explains the multiple calls Bear heard about last week; it was pretty clear who was calling, but still, nice to have that tied up), and Peggy is, well, Peggy. Left alone with Dodd and his rampant misogynist bullshit, she goes more mental than usual and stabs him a couple of times. The wounds aren’t fatal, but the ease with which she inflicts them, and the look of curious fascination on her face as the blade pierces the skin, is disturbing to say the least.
The Blumquists have been an important story factor because of their unpredictability, thrust into a world of nominally seasoned professionals. Ed is surprisingly competent at staying alive, and Peggy doesn’t seem to know what she’s going to do before she does it. That makes them useful narrative tools so long as the writers don’t push “unpredictability” into “just pure nonsense behavior.” So far, it’s been working well. The season has a good grasp on the motivations and intentions of all of its characters, which is a necessity when events fly off the rails. Chaos is only dramatically interesting if it develops organically; if we see a writer’s hand nudging folks this way and that, it loses its spark.
While Dodd is spending his last hours on Earth in various forms of discomfort, Hanzee is tracking him down, first heading to Sioux Falls, where he shoots up a bar and some cops, and then to torment Constance in her hotel room, where he finally gets the info he needs. While the Blumquists are up to their usual craziness, Hanzee’s the one who makes the episode’s most unexpected decision: shooting Dodd in the head when he finally finds the Blumquists’ cabin. Hanzee is arguably the show’s most opaque figure, even more so than Peggy. His brutal competence makes him entertaining to watch, but we only get glimpses of what’s going on in his head. Something about a magic trick performed by a white man that he didn’t find amusing, and this week, turning to borderline justifiable homicide after enduring the racist taunts of a bunch of asshole white dudes.
It’s a weird sequence, with Hanzee apparently stumbling into that part of town where everyone acts like they’re in a Twilight Zone episode, y’know, the one about how racism was bad. The most telling moment in the whole thing is the plaque commemorating the massacre of Native Americans with a pile of puke underneath. That hostile indifference makes more sense than the targeted rage which follows. But then, in a way, the scene is standing in for a whole lifetime of racist dismissals and taunts. For most of his time on the show, Hanzee has been an implacable force of nature, a relentless hunter and gifted tracker who acts according to his own internal code of ethics. In Sioux Falls, the code finally cracks (or else reaches a climax), and the change drives him to turn on his boss when Dodd, being an idiot, calls him a “mongrel” and a “half-breed.”
About Dodd: he was a bully who died by not learning from his mistakes. (Also the bullet.) He struggles against the Blumquists, even managing to get himself free and lay in a trap for Ed, but his refusal to see Peggy as a legitimate threat makes his efforts short-lived. And when Hanzee arrives offering possible salvation, Dodd can’t help himself from insulting the other man, taking his loyalty for granted and assuming control the only way he knows how: with endless, unflagging contempt. He was unable to change, and now he’s dead, and good riddance, really. As amusing as Jeffrey Donovan’s psychotic caveman routine has been, if anyone needed a bullet to the head, it was Dodd.
This all builds to one of the season’s most unexpected, lyrical scenes: Hanzee asking Peggy for a haircut. It’s at once hilarious, menacing, and somehow tragic, in a way I’m not sure I can articulate. Maybe it’s the feeling that Hanzee, after everything, wants to be something else, to escape the spiral he’s trapped in, a downward pitch built on centuries of cruelty, bigotry and greed. Or may it’s Peggy’s confusion at the request, and the way she hesitates with the scissors in her hand, even as Hanzee warns her off. Maybe it’s that brief instant right before the cops show up, the blades almost closing on a lock of hair, where it seems like things will be okay.
Maybe it’s none of that. It’s bad form as a critic, but there are some moments I prefer to simply enjoy, rather than analyze. This was one of them, and it’s the sort of moment that only ever seems to happen on this show; some specific combination of hilarity, melancholy, and grace you only ever find in Fargo.
- “Don’t think about the person you want to be, just be that person.” -imaginary man. (This is a subject for a longer, better researched essay, but I wonder if you could draw a line from the self-help tomfoolery of the ‘70s, with its Zen mantras reworked in the cadence of self-regard and egoism, and the arrogant shine of Reagan’s ‘80s. America, facing its long dark night of the soul, chooses to sleep through to the morning when everything’s just fine if you just believe.)
- The fake-out of having Dodd in the trunk of his car at the start of the episode, only for him to be back at the cabin when Ed finally gets ahold of Mike, was subtle but well-done.
- Adding further evidence to the “Hank wasn’t in his right mind” theory, Lou has him taken off to the hospital after the events of “Rhinoceros.”
- Less violent than the stabbing, but still very creepy: Peggy asks Dodd if he wants beans, he says no, and she goes ahead and feeds him anyway. It’s not a malicious act, and that somehow makes it worse.
- Dodd escapes while Peggy is caught up watching Operation Eagle’s Nest on TV. Once again, Reagan comes to the rescue on screen. I wonder if this specific sequence will come up again before the end. (Also, did that Nazi look a bit like Dodd?)
- “Yes. If I kissed you on the mouth when we met, would that be inappropriate.” -Mike, expressing relief
- I’ve been reading some criticism of the show for leaning too hard into the Coen references. This is a legitimate complaint, and one that I hope Hawley takes into account for future seasons. Right now, I tend to ignore the obvious nods (this week, we had a hostage in a cabin with shitty TV reception and a threatening man making a gas station attendant nervous, among other references) just because they don’t really have a purpose beyond cleverness, and there are more interesting things to think about. But it’s not something that’s necessary at all.