This season of Fargo has been riding on an exponential scale. It started at a lethargic, but captivating pace, using the slow boil to great effect. It shifted characters around in their own bubbles, before gradually allowing them to enter each other’s worlds, with results that we knew would be catastrophic.
The success of “Rhinoceros” is that it ramps up the tension so effectively after last week’s “The Gift of the Magi.” We’re left with the impression that things could turn really ugly at any moment. It could have been when Hank was facing down Dodd at Peggy’s house. It could have happened at the police station standoff. It could have happened in the woods immediately after. The bubble around each of these groups and individuals has been stretched so thin that it’s ready to pop at any moment.
The conceit from this episode comes from seeing all of these characters react to this inevitability. “You say it like these things happen in a vacuum,” Peggy tells Hank about Rye’s death. She even plans on attending her seminar tomorrow, despite five dead, dozens more in the next town over, and her husband held on account of him killing a mobster.
The Gerhardts are also collapsing in on themselves, with Bear attacking Dodd for getting his son arrested. All the while, Simone contacts Mike Milligan and tells her she wants her father dead. You can hear the cables snapping, everything that held these characters and the world together up until this episode are being strained to their breaking point, set off by an absurd chain of events.
That absurdity is highlighted this time around by Mike Milligan reciting a nonsense poem about the Jabberwocky. It’s entirely out of place here in Fargo, yet entirely in line with the rest of the show. Hell, the Jabberwocky poem is out of place for our own reality. There is never an appropriate time to begin reciting it or to quote it, yet here it fits comfortably. Perhaps it is Alice’s reflection itself that tells us what we are to make of it. “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”
“Somebody killed something” is really the kickoff that starts every iteration of Fargo we’ve seen so far, and what unravels and surrounds that event is as nonsensical as the poem itself. Yet we find meaning and stability in these tales, reflections on our own bizarre world. Karl Weathers, the liberty loving lawyer who was given the worst job on the planet this evening, reflects on the camaraderie of war in the post credits sequence. He laments that civilian life will never match the same level of bond within relationships as wartime.
Perhaps that’s what the takeaway of the episode and absurd nature of Fargo is. These people lived isolated and content before bodies started piling. Then they were thrown into chaos and confusion that disrupted their apparent harmony, and now the war has come home. We’re seeing people band together and stretch apart in unique ways that only war can bring. We’re searching for a sense of purpose and direction among chaos, which involves reaching out to other people, for good or bad.
The direction this season, particularly the use of the split screen, backs this all up. Character are being forced onto the frame, cut in half, and paired with themselves and each other. Worlds are being turned upside down and mirrored. It also effectively builds the tension that “Rhinoceros” strives to create. Fargo keeps ratcheting the plot at a taught pace, episode after episode, and it’s going to snap sometime within the remaining four episodes.
If you’ve been following my reviews, I tend to focus on the more philosophical nature of the show, partly because it’s an easy target and partly because that’s what the show wants us to get out of it. However, I would be remiss not to mention how damn funny the show can be. It cuts the tension with the right amount of humor, without sacrificing one quality over the other. Karl coming back into the station and barricading the “pull” door with a bench was a highlight, as was Hank’s brave jab at Dodd’s stupidity.
The pacing, the performances, the humor, and the tension gave us a show that was firing on all cylinders. I said something similar last week, but damn, this show has been about perfect from the start. The slow boil has already paid off, even though we don’t have the kind of carnage we were expecting so far, and stretching the tension to the level it has is beyond absurd. It’s delightful when a show makes you look forward to a Monday, even without the use of cliffhangers.
Odds and Ends:
- The show has rotating moments of greatness for each of its cast members, but this episode belongs to Nick Offerman. The look in his eyes with Bear’s shotgun to his head spoke more than his many, many words.
- No UFO connections this week, as far as I can tell. Did I miss something?
- I’m also at a loss for this week’s title. “Rhinoceros” is as absurd as the Jabberwocky poem to me. Maybe that’s the point. Any ideas?
- “This kind of thing didn’t work in Westerns, and it’s not gonna work tonight.”
- What a tautly paced episode. I believe it was the shortest one to date, running only three minutes over the top of the hour.
- “I’ve seen the TV shows.” Ed then cites Ironsides.
Steve knows it’s getting colder outside. Follow him on Twitter.