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Review: ‘Fargo’ Season 2 Episode 5 ‘The Gift of the Magi’ Watches the American Dream Go Up in Flames

Review: 'Fargo' Season 2 Episode 5 'The Gift of the Magi' Watches the American Dream Go Up in Flames

“This is a true story.”

And the first casualty of the great war of ’79 between the North and South was… a zoning commissioner? Joe Bulo’s (Brad Garrett) bow-and-arrow-wielding contact took a shot to the head with a good ol’ fashioned rifle before the rest of the hunting party met their maker — including Joe himself, who was later delivered in a gift box to Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). Things went quiet for a bit after that as both families plotted their next move, but the bloodshed wasn’t over. Ed “The Butcher” Blomquist (Jesse Plemons) was Charlie Gerhardt’s (Allan Dobrescu) first target; a fine choice for a gunshy kid unsure of what he himself is capable of, but one that went awry when the surprisingly spry big man killed one more of the Gerhardt clan before “saving” Charlie (who’s also wounded). 

Now the cops are coming for the indecisive Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and her more-than-capable husband, but did “Fargo” feel a bit dry this week even with all that bloodshed? Last week’s heavy foreshadowing came to pass, as Lou’s last chance offer to come clean is now off the table and the Blomquists undoubtedly regret their steadfast denials. Yet it took more than an hour (with commercials) for us to get there. Having Lou (Patrick Wilson) sidelined with the ominously narrating Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell) didn’t help, as the weighty political and historical overtones of the season have yet to prove as gripping as human stories. Do we feel any more for Ed as he watched the American dream go up in smoke than if we’d just known it was his dream dying in those flames? Not really, and the empty offers of Reagan himself did little to boost interest.

Relevance, meanwhile, is still undetermined. With a lethal first strike offensive from the endangered American family — and a semi-successful defense by family No. 2, the Blomquists — we’ll have to wait and see what messages await us when big business strikes back next week. Until then, here’s hoping this American series can overcome the challenges it’s set up for itself.

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Fargo’ Season 2 Episode 4 ‘Fear and Trembling’ Goes To War

The Lorne Malvo Award for MVC (Most Valuable Character)

There are only so many Gerhardts Ed can kill (or injure) before he has to deal with one of their unkillable assassins. So far I count two major missed opportunities by Ohanzee: The first came at the end of last week when he didn’t simply off the Blomquists after they escorted Lou out of their house. There’s no way Ed’s everyman defense skills could stand up to an assassin trained via suicide missions in Vietnam. The second mistake was when Ohanzee merely punched one of the Kitchen brothers instead of slitting his throat, as he did to his twin brother. Leaving him alive is an inexplicable oversight, as a vengeful brother is never something you want coming your way. Both choices seem destined to serve the story, as they’re almost wholly unbelievable decisions for the character. As such, they’re a little hard to stomach, but at least Ed’s survival adds an intriguing element to the narrative; one that better pay off in a big way for these sins to be forgiven.

The Alison Tolman Award for MVA (Most Valuable Actor)

We’ve been waiting for Bruce Campbell’s Ronald Reagn to show up ever since we first saw his campaign button, and he — Bruce Campbell — did not disappoint. Playing to the “Ash vs. Evil Dead” actor’s strengths rather than doing a straight impersonation of the actor-turned-president, Campbell played perfectly to the character being created for this show. Clearly this Reagan is one of false promise, as bluntly illustrated by his lack of response to Lou’s driving question. How can America overcome the challenges before it? Dutch doesn’t know, but he knows how to say the things people want to hear. Campbell’s energy matched well with Ronnie’s obliviousness, and his narration fit in nicely with the series’ tone. He may not be winning any Emmys for Guest Actor, but the performance is as solid as the casting was savvy.

“Aw, Heck”

(This section highlights the unexpected trouble “Fargo” regularly showcases, usually to tragic or comedic ends.)

Despite a successful first strike, the Gerhardt family has a lot working against it in the war on Kansas City. First and foremost is Dodd’s daughter, Simone (Rachel Keller), who’s ready to feed information to the other side. She was nearly scared straight after seeing Joe’s head in a box, but Dodd was stopped short of getting the truth out of her by a protective Grandma Floyd (Jean Smart). I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing, as putting a leash on Dodd usually is a good idea, but this was the one time he needed to finish the conversation he started. It’s wartime, and he’s a wartime consigliere. Time to let him loose…

…a bit. Dodd’s decision to send Charlie after “The Butcher” was the right one from an objective perspective, but he’s about to have hell to pay from his brother Bear (Angus Sampson). Dodd knew Ed was no real threat, and he provided Charlie a real hitman to help him out if need be. That wasn’t enough, though, and now he’ll have to explain to Bear and Floyd why he sent a physically-challenged kid in to assassinate a man he said was a cold-blooded killer. A divided family cannot stand, and the Gerhardts are in danger of breaking.

“Aces”

(This section highlights the unexpected glee “Fargo” regularly showcases, teased by tragedy or humorous beginnings.)

“Fargo” has reached the point that it automatically becomes a better show whenever Nick Offerman wiggles his way on screen. So far, Karl Weathers (a name that cannot be assigned as a coincidence, considering the other ’80s all-American man attached to it) hasn’t had an integral part to play in this story. His biggest accomplishment is keeping the friendly mechanic alive last week when Ohanzee threatened him with a knife. But as far as being a successful addition to the cast, Offerman is up there with the best of the Season 2 bunch. The tears rolling down his cheeks after Reagan’s opening speech combined with his faux-reproach of the “undignified” man was a hilarious combination and his request to Lou — to “ask if it’s true that Joan Crawford had crabs” — a perfect kicker. More Karl, please and thank you.

Quote of the Night

“Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it or it’ll deal with us.” – Ed

Oh, Ed. You stubborn fool. For once, Peggy had the right idea when it came to handling their current predicament. They needed to run, and she almost did. After packing her bags, taking the bus and picking up their car (with a few extensions on payment), Peggy was all set to drive off into the Californian sunset. She would’ve survived, too, as I doubt any of the Gerhardts would be hellbent on killing her after they got to Ed. Maybe the police pick her up eventually, but she’s likely not in the pickle presently facing her. 

Yet she couldn’t do it, and it’s her decisive moment in the car that has me somewhat turned around on Peggy in particular. Was it loyalty to her husband? Was it the responsibility of their situation? The latter seems most likely, considering it was when while driving the car for the first time since the accident that she had a change of heart. But Peggy’s backslide isn’t in line with her arc, at least from what we’ve seen. She’s been a complacent housewife for too long, and now she’s intent on paving her own way and making her own decisions. Ed’s speech about “making it work” because “that’s what people do” wasn’t all that inspiring, either. He was clearly grasping at straws, and Peggy clinging to one of those straws just doesn’t seem right. Selling her shot at freedom to reinvest in a dream that’s so clearly not hers felt like another convenient way to keep a character around. Peggy may not be a bad person (someone who would leave her husband to die), but she’s not a stupid one either. 

Grade: B-

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