If you felt exhausted at the end of Fargo’s sixth episode you are not alone. This one was about entertainment—the kind that grabs you and leaves you drained at hour’s end.
This was the first episode that didn’t have as much subtext going on in terms of theme and mystery. We didn’t have any references to aliens and outsiders, and we didn’t have the American Dream as a background for the story. Minus Ed realizing that he is Sisyphus, and the theatrical narration of “Jabberwocky” by Mike, this was straight up Old West style tension—bad guys with guns staring down good guys with guns. A clock tower and the sun at high noon outside of a saloon could have replaced the nighttime, snow-covered Upper Midwest and not much would have changed.
All of the mystery and meaning have made this season a really amazing and complex television show, but this episode didn’t suffer for putting all of that on the backburner. It was just excellent in its own way—that being a high stakes/realize you aren’t breathing experience. Like the animal this episode took its name from—”Rhinoceros”—it came charging hard.
A lot goes into making a show something special. To be better than just good you have to accomplish a lot, and Fargo does that consistently. However, at its core any story still has to entertain and enthrall you. You need action, you need tension, you need high stakes, and while Fargo has had that in every episode, taking one of the middle episodes and dedicating it entirely to that desire to entertain shows that this is still a television show meant to be enjoyed as much as it is intended to say something.
And it can’t be ignored that Nick Offerman turned in an especially incredible performances on a show that turns them out like a factory. His Karl Weathers—a man that has been presented as a kind of a clown at times—came out of that police station and stared down the barrel of the gun all while making sense and staying completely rational. No small feat, especially considering the fact that he he looked like a man who didn’t believe he was going to make it. (And frankly, neither did I while watching it. Though with multiple locations under siege—and the very real feeling that everyone was about to die—that was a common theme.)
I say it every week, but the actors on this show are so good it almost feels silly to point it out—but how can you ignore it in a moment like that? Just as good as the verbose Weathers was staring at that gun, the quietly distraught Bear Gerhardt holding the gun was just as good. Angus Sampson has been a huge presence in every scene he’s been in this year, and this was his best yet. For all of the acrimony we might have for Dodd, his younger brother Bear is the Gerhardt boy worth rooting for. For someone that hasn’t had that many actual lines or scenes, Sampson has created a fully formed character that has rightfully earned our rooting interests.
There are only four episodes left, but this felt like the beginning of the end—for everyone. I fully expect to see a return to some of the more thematic elements that populated the first five episodes, which is good, because they’ve made the show richer and better. But still, it was nice to just sit back and not have to worry about any of it, left to experience the joy of pure entertainment.
Even if I did have to worry about remembering to breathe.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.