Let’s get the weird analysis of “The Castle” out of the way first. What was up with the UFO? I could spend an entire hour unpacking this. After all, it’s the only thing that I said could directly derail this season’s greatness. At first glance, it would appear to be nothing more than a deus ex machina. Lou is saved by the distraction it creates, as the spaceship lights him and Bear up. It would seem the whole season was hinting at UFO’s specifically for this reason
But to use this device specifically for that purpose would be downright dumb. Instead, it effectively highlights the larger absurdity at play in the events that lead to the Sioux Falls massacre. Of course there was a flying saucer. The rest of the world had gone to shit, why not have aliens show up? The more I think about it, the more I think the device works. Nothing makes sense in this episode. Character actions, especially, lead directly to needless deaths. That’s been the case all season, but everything is compressed nicely in “The Castle.”
Let’s shelve that for a moment before getting too deep into it. There’s still one more episode to go which might fill in some UFO gaps, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Instead, let’s flip to the other new aspect of the episode: the narrator (voiced by series veteran Martin Freeman himself!). Previously only heard in episode two’s “Beyond the Law” with a snippet from War of the Worlds, the much, er, anticipated(?) Sioux Falls massacre is framed as a reading from “A History of True Crime in the Midwest.” It’s an interesting device, and I’m not entirely sold on it with some of the jarring overt readings in the middle of the episode, but they do fill in some blanks and highlight the absurdities the audience can’t seem to get their head around. Namely, Hanzee.
Why he would choose to betray the Gerhardts is, as the narrator admits, anyone’s guess. He’s an agent of chaos, throwing everything off balance. What we knew – reason, order, logical thinking – is completely useless in “The Castle,” highlighted by the UFO itself. Characters make frustrating irrational decisions, such as turning off the radio and not listening to clear evidence being given to them, but this somehow works for the narrative. Lou is out of his element. The chaos that swept his hometown has moved somewhere else, and seeing how other groups react to it is both fascinating and sad.
There’s no getting around the rightful brutality of the Sioux Falls massacre. We knew this was a long time coming, but the specifics were where things got interesting. Hanzee, having betrayed the Gerhardts, lures them into the motel under the impression that Kansas City are holed up with Dodd, when in fact it’s the police who have Peggy and Ed. Watching the pieces fall into place for one of the most horrific shootouts all season was tense, heart wrenching, and entirely unpredictable thanks to the bizarre nature of this season. There were many actions characters could have taken that would have prevented the massacre, but they didn’t. That’s the point.
It’s difficult to say a scene like that was “satisfying,” but it fully delivered what the show had been promising since season one. With most of the Gerhardt family literally biting the bullet, we’re set up for an intimate finale that focuses on a much smaller group of characters.
In fact, “The Castle” is successful not just because it delivered on a long-awaited scene, but because it served as an effective penultimate episode. Everything was compressed properly, bringing ideas and characters together for the finale. The Sioux falls massacre acts more as a cleanser than anything else. Many characters were stripped away, which gives room for the major players to resolve themselves during the finale.
But think about who’s left. Each one of them is an agent of absurdity and chaos in their own right, with only Lou to set them straight. Peggy and Ed are a bizarre pair who will do whatever they need to survive. Hanzee is proven to be completely off the rails, murdering everyone in his path. Mike Milligan is an unpredictable loose canon who appears not to have a next move. Watching how these factors resolve themselves is something I am very much looking forward to.
Odds and Ends:
- If Simone is indeed not dead (the flashback specifically included the part where Bear explained that she “ran away”) she could be the only surviving Gerhardt, which could play into next episode. Unless I’m overlooking something.
- We knew Betsy was most likely going to die this season, and this episode just about confirms it. Waiting for the moment Lou finds out is going to be hanging over the entire next episode.
- It was refreshing to see a guy-gets-shot-in-the-stomach scene not be overly dramatic. I’m really pulling for Hank, but he seemed to be okay, especially with sirens arriving on the scene.
- “It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed!”
Steve tweets on Twitter.