There’s a lot to unpack about “Fear and Trembling,” but let’s start backwards.
To go back to our watchful omniscient alien metaphor from a few episodes ago, the characters in Fargo are oblivious to the world around them. They live in isolation, taking care of the problems within their own bubble, fearful of the fact they may be caught, but simultaneously ignorant of the world around them.
Lou Solverson finally started popping bubbles. After connecting a string of leads that we’ve known about for a while, Lou finally confronts Peggy and Ed in their own home, where moments before Gerhardt hitman Hanzee had just discovered what happened to Rye. Lou tells them what we’ve known for a while by using a gruesome metaphor. When people had their legs blown off in Vietnam, they kept trying to stand up because their brain thinks everything is still there. Everyone else can see that it’s missing and that the person will surely bleed out, but they don’t register it themselves.
They’re already dead.
But the onlookers don’t want to break the poor amputee’s delusion. They tell him it’s okay, they’re going to be alright, and it’s not that bad. This is the metaphor that applies to almost every single character in the show. They’re bleeding out, everyone can see it, but they don’t know it themselves.
The theme of war and Vietnam pervaded the entire episode. Hanzee, when threatening the mechanic, simmers down when he hears the man is a veteran, before talking about his own horrid experiences (“You got to push their faces down into the dirt so they don’t scream and wake the others”). Ed is the only character so far who seemingly never served in Vietnam. Betsy’s body, ravaged by cancer, has become a metaphor for the war (but more on that later).
What is it about the backdrop of Vietnam that propels this show? Well, to put it simply, it was a confusing time for America. If you didn’t serve in the war, you certainly saw the atrocities committed on television. Many people realized this wasn’t a case of good vs. bad, like the World War II narrative. Things were messy, they weren’t black and white, and they certainly didn’t make any sense.
Fargo shows us people trying to make sense of their new world. What is justified and what is normal are mixed and distorted. Simone Gerhardt is hooking up with the likes of Mike Milligan, breaking down family loyalty for her own sense of direction. Peggy and Ed lack the communication of a functioning relationship, with Ed longing for a family and normalcy while Peggy wants to participate in a new age retreat. In the words of Mike Milligan, the 70’s are a hangover from the 60’s, a sobering awareness of the world around them, devoid of any fantasy that drugs or nostalgia might have induced.
Lastly let’s discuss Betsy’s cancer. It may be a tad obvious, but there’s a microcosm of themes and elements that help us understand the show better. Betsy is the epitome of midwestern kindness. She’s a hard worker, smart, incredibly caring, and sensible, both in what she expects of her relationships and her own health. That kindness, that purity of the midwest is being corrupted from the inside out by a disease that turns good cells into bad cells. It’s entirely unfair, but such is the world they live in.
There may be a pill, a cure, that has the potential of treating the disease, but it is in clinical trial. What’s more she may only receive a placebo, a fake pill that is meant to serve to provide legitimacy to the real pill, or trick her own body into feeling better.
What is the cure for everyone in Fargo? For Floyd Gerhardt, the answer is war against a superior organization. For Dodd, it’s the violence he was raised with. This action may very well prove to be a placebo of their own, a fake fix that they know has no chance at succeeding. But it’s something. It’s better than being sold out and succumbing to a rising tide. At least they put up a fight.
“I think you got the real pill,” Lou tells Betsy at the very end of the episode. It may be foolish hopefulness, but it’s enough to keep Lou fighting for both his wife and his town.
The bodies started climbing this week, and the insecure bubbles in which everyone was busying themselves have started to burst. “Fear and Trembling” continued to propel Fargo going forward, with just a taste of what’s to come.
Odds and Ends
- “Surprised me there at the end…your finger.” I could unpack this but I’ll just let your own imagination do the metaphor work.
- It’s so refreshing to see Lou put the pieces together by episode four. We’ve known since forever, and if the season wanted to play long ball with the connections, that could have gotten tiring.
- Peggy looking into the mirror is the most terrifying thing she could ever do to herself.
- The flashback that started the episode continues the trend of giving brief, but formative glimpses into character’s pasts.
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