See, we can’t leave because we’re the future. And they’re the past. The past can no more become the future than the future can become the past. – Mike Milligan
In addition to inevitability and the trappings of perceived freedom, another big theme of Fargo’s second season has been the fleeting nature of a basic life. Whether Peggy has wanted more for herself, destroying Ed’s desire to just own the butcher shop and be the breadwinner, or Lou’s family dealing with Betsy’s illness, the idea of The Waltons appears to be long gone. In Monday’s episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It,” the one thought that continually seemed to fit each scene, was again a pairing of simple, with complex.
Kansas City’s war with the Gerhardts continues to take casualties, in this case, KC losing some executives in an office building. War is not a complex idea at first. Think about it like a child. It’s actually very straightforward. This person did something to my family or me and this person needs to die. Floyd, in her conversation with the police, tells the officers that the Butcher of Luverne killed her son, Rye, on orders from the Kansas City mafia. While she’s completely wrong about it, Hank and Lou can’t get through to her. Still, she’s giving up information in exchange for a cloudy form of amnesty for her sons, but she has a plan and feels confident she’s using these simpletons. Nothing here sounds anything other than complex, though the arrest and interrogation of Floyd Gerhardt is the very definition of “cut and dry.”
Mike Milligan appears to be pretty good at his job. He’s a dangerous man and he’s a killer, but he’s also well read, well spoken, and well traveled. When Kansas City has been in trouble, Mike has been somewhere else. He’s the one whose decision to use Simone’s intel to murder Otto resulted in the biggest shot fired in the war. He makes complex choices every single day, between cocaine bumps or skank humps. He could be, and in many ways, he already is a leader. So, in 1979, when Kansas City puts some of the blame on him for failing and leading to the office building massacre, Mike seems prepared. However, through two brief conversations comes something that at no point this season has Noah Hawley and his team given us on this show.
If the goal is to kill those who oppress you, what does it matter who goes first? – Mike
With all of what Milligan is capable of and with his track record, both good and bad, he’s still a black man. Fargo has gone to amazing lengths to showcase Bokeem Woodbine’s character in a light where he’s perfectly quoting Lewis Carroll or various theologies or even pop culture. No one in Luverne ever alluded to Milligan in a derogatory fashion respective to his race. But, on Monday, Kansas City uses a racial epithet to express the organization’s disappointment. In the above quote, the word “oppress” stands out, because it generally brings with it thoughts of previous societal injustice, particularly against black Americans. Then, when the Undertaker shows up, his first line is “Where’s this eggplant that can’t stop shitting the bed?”
Are you good at what you do and do you work hard? These are simple ideas. Black and white and the racial history of America have been messy, but for many years, the sides were clear. But, in 1979, the Civil Rights Act had been passed, the Constitution had been amended, and the days of slavery were in the rear view mirror. It’s simple to ask for and earn respect in business, particularly within a criminal enterprise where roles and responsibilities are completely transparent. But, regardless of Mike Milligan’s stature or value, when things broke down, he was once again a black man, and that one fact could be used to speak down to him. When he rolled on the Undertaker and gunned him down in the hotel room, Mike seemingly shifted to hero status in certain ways. What was simple was all of a sudden extremely complex.
Our settings, be it Luverne, or Fargo, or roads in between, or even a non-descript office building in Missouri, are beautifully rendered while also looking rustic and the tail end of a bygone era. We’re on the precipice of the Yuppie generation in the United States, where so many skyscrapers are set to rise, so many mom-and-pops moving into their 1990’s downtown graveyards, and where greed, excess, and “more” became the order of the day. Ed Blumquist’s dream was going down, one way or the other. Hank Larsson and Lou Solverson had never seen a “deal” so ugly and so wrought with danger and bloodshed, at least not in Minnesota. Things were changing.
For Lou, his work is keeping him from Betsy, who looks worse by the episode. She knows her time is coming, asking Karl Weathers to watch over her family once she’s gone. She resigns herself to her fate. A marriage is never simple, but the love displayed between the Solversons has always been depicted as absolute. The arguments are minor, nothing even approaching a wandering eye makes an appearance, and the doting is reciprocal.
These are two simple people, whose lives became exceedingly complex. Cancer’s fate is easy, but the road is hard. The Big C means death, but it’s just not that paint-by-numbers, as the disease leads to a struggle for survival, a planning phase for the patient’s life and what will follow for those he or she leaves behind. As Lou is caught up in the Gerhardts-Kansas City war, his wife is nearing her end. His world is about to get even more complicated.
It’s hard to be simple in a world of complication. – Floyd
One other simple vs. complex relationship: Simone Gerhardt. In her mind, she deserves to be treated like an adult and when Dodd disrespects her, she ends up in Mike’s bed and also provides Kansas City with the information to kill her father. She’s entitled, and she’s not too concerned with the consequences. Here, the complex becomes simple, and then reverts back to complexity. Family strife can lead to 900 open strands of potential trouble or heartache, whether self-inflicted or the result of a misunderstanding, like the myth of the “Butcher of Luverne.”
But, when Bear catches Simone in the wrong part of town, all of it goes out the window. Simone has done the one thing she can’t do. She’s a traitor. She has betrayed the rest of the family. As such, she has to catch a bullet. Simone pleads for her life on the quiet drive into the desolate woods and still begs for a second chance when she’s on her knees looking into the barrel of Bear’s gun. He kills her, saying, “It’s already done.” We don’t hear the gunshot. We don’t see any blood. Technically, we don’t have any confirmation she’s dead. But, after this one simple act come twisting ramifications, including Bear’s tantrum as he pounds on the hood of his truck, conflicted and full of “why did I do that to my niece” emotion.
In the hotel room, Lou tells Mike that he owns two pairs of shoes. He has a summer pair and a winter pair, and that’s all he needs. He goes into a mild diatribe on greed and how no one should have more than they need, because of what it causes. In that moment, he shows his own naivetÃ©. Lou thinks it should be obvious, that it’s the right answer, and that it’s the way things are. He doesn’t recognize that it’s actually the way things WERE. Other than the style of dress and dÃ©cor, and the fantastic soundtrack (even if many of the songs are covers), Luverne in particular feels like a setting from the 1950s. That was a time of black and white television, of malt shops, and of very little decadence. It’s what Lou knows, what he never thought might disappear, even as we all know what’s on the horizon.
I think I want to live in a world where people leave the front door unlocked. – Hank
This wasn’t the strongest episode of the season, in fact it was the weakest, but it was still solid. It had to be this way in order to set the table for the home stretch, as we’re just three weeks from the season finale. It seems increasingly likely that Cristin Milioti is going to die of cancer for the second time in a television role, but how exactly the Gerhardt-Kansas City conflict ends is very much up in the air. Though he may be a scoundrel, I find myself continually rooting for Mike Milligan. It isn’t just because I love watching Woodbine’s sublime performance, it’s just that he’s a mesmerizing screen presence all the way around, and as virtually everybody else on the criminal side are pretty horrible, Mike is a refined, Boyd Crowder style of antagonist.
Offerman’s Karl Weathers again shined, even with far less camera time, as we learned who the Breakfast King was and also got an excellent back-and-forth about Karl’s back that explains why Sonny would be sleeping on the Solverson floor and not the couch.
What once was simple is now complex. Lou’s worldview has changed forever after watching the two crime syndicates battling to the death. He’s seen a good man in Ed Blumquist and an increasingly selfish one in Peggy Blumquist change right before his eyes. He’s about to witness the death of his lovely wife. His entire existence is morphing into something far less easy to quantify, with unequal portions. While other characters are evolving into something new, this story is about Lou Solverson’s one big case. The one that made him the man we got to know in Season 1.
While it was an awesome tribute to The Big Lebowski, using the White Denim cover of Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” was a stroke of brilliance. Conditions have changed. In many ways, as this past world collides into the future, as a pair of old crime families near their conclusions, no one knows where they fit into this world. Lou doesn’t need LSD or alcohol or anything else to get lost, because his life is now filled with unfamiliarity.
The only question is just HOW unfamiliar it’s going to get, before what’s recognizable completely fades away. In three weeks, we’ll be able to answer that question.
I’m @GuyNamedJason on Twitter. I have several pairs of shoes, but don’t adhere to seasonal rules on their usage.