One of the most impressive aspects of Fargo this season has been the show’s ability to digress without ever losing focus. Discussions of shampoo precede plans for violent criminal takeover, poignant monologues about war experience follow Ronald Reagan speeches about American exceptionalism, and hints of extraterrestrial life have been prevalent throughout the season, even if they may never be explained. Even as the asides have become less and less relevant to the increasingly complex plot, they’ve continued to enrich the story, serving in turn as hilarious, reflective, and simply unique elements which have made Fargo unlike anything else on TV.
By contrast, “Rhinoceros” mostly dispenses with the digressions, opening with a tense zoom in on the Blumquists’ house corresponding with the mounting pressures facing the couple, complemented by a foreboding, percussive musical cue to ratchet up the suspense. The law is the first threat to the Blumquists introduced in the episode, with Lou carrying Ed away while Hank restrains a furious Peggy. As she doesn’t want to accept, of course, Ed’s arrest very well may be the best thing for him, theoretically saving from the vengeance-seeking Gerhardts.
But back at their home, the biggest threat they pose seems to be to themselves, with intra-familial strife pitting Dodd, Simone, and Bear against one another. Dodd threatens his daughter by describing the perils of “a whore’s life” (as if he knows), only further encouraging her to turn against him. His relationship with Bear isn’t in a much better place, with Bear’s punches and beatings leading to a gun to his head from Hanzee and the threat of a whipping from Dodd. Only Floyd’s matriarchal authority can end the quibbling between the Gerhardt boys, reminding them of their shared goals and once again asserting women’s authority in the Fargo universe. In the film Fargo, Marge Gunderson functions as a powerful symbol of feminine strength, and Floyd, Simone, Peggy, and Betsy continue to do her proud.
The Gerhardts certainly could use Floyd’s leadership, as Mike and his cronies loom. In one of the episode’s few digressions, Mike recites Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in a voiceover, accompanying a montage of him and his men heading into combat. Partly due to the pairing of the speech with an overwhelmingly gripping story beat, partly due to Bokeem Woodbine’s musical delivery, and partly due to the sheer creativity of the sequence, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel awkward in the slightest. Instead, it comes across as something that could only happen in Fargo’s gloriously demented universe, affirming the originality that makes the show so great.
As the Gerhardts deals with Mike’s threat, they put a similar pressure to the one they face from him on Peggy, combining with Hank’s rapidly progressing investigation to put her under siege from multiple forces. He informs her of the impending forensic tests, even if she’s more concerned with “the latest trends” and the seminar Ed was determined to have her not take. “Life’s a journey, you know,” she tells Hank, horrifying him with her apparent obliviousness to the gruesome situation in which she’s implicated. He refuses to follow her nonchalance, pressing her and emphasizing the dire threats she faces.
He’s right to keep her from feeling too comfortable, as we soon find out, since Dodd shows up with his henchmen and a taser. Unintimidated by Hank’s badge, even as he says to Dodd, “I could fill a steamer trunk with the amount of stupid I think you are,” Hanzee gives the sheriff a nasty bump on the head to even out whatever disparity there may be between the characters’ wit. Of course, the Gerhardts are really after Peggy, and Dodd heads into the basement with a gun in the hopes of getting revenge on the “Butcher of Luverne.” Instead, he gets a vicious taser attack from Peggy, leaving their encounter on a gripping cliffhanger as to what she will do next.
Meanwhile, Bear leads a parallel attack on the prison holding Ed and Charlie, hoping to free the boy. Under the threat of a shotgun, Karl delivers a steely explanation of why Charlie’s freedom would not be in their best interest, maintaining his composure, at least for long enough for the Gerhards to leave. Once they do, Nick Offerman does a remarkable job of conveying the terror and sadness Karl feels without mocking him for macho posturing, giving the scene a pathos that doesn’t appear contrived in the slightest. Lou manages to get Ed out of the danger at the prison, even if he rewards his liberator by running away (although Hank seems confident in his and Lou’s ability to track Ed down).
As the Gerhardts unfold their vicious campaign, they face a comparable attack from Mike, as he storms their compound with his men and guns. The scene begins with Floyd’s affecting statement to Simone that “There’s no such thing as men’s work,” bringing back the motif of women upending patriarchal authority and making the attack seem all the more brutal. Noah Hawley makes us wait until next episode to see Floyd and Simone’s fate, furthering the forward momentum of the gripping season.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.