Fargo, “Rhinoceros” (2.06) - TV Review


Fargo Beard

11/16/15, 10 PM, FX

When Hank asked the 6 year old Molly if she drew a rhinoceros, that wasn’t just a grandpa playing around with his granddaughter. That was actually a nod to the title of this week’s episode title. Written by Hawley and directed by Jeffery Reiner, the title refers to a French absurdist play of the same name, written by Eugene Ionesco. In it, a good-natured, shy and simplistic man named Berenger watches as everyone around him in the small town in France transforms into rhinoceroses. Written when Communism, Fascism and the Nazi movement was on the rise in Europe before WWII, the play explored themes of conformity, culture, mass movements, mob mentality, philosophy and morality. So it’s rather fitting that a series and the film and filmmakers its based off of should reference a similar work. We have at least two Berenger’s at play here (Lou and Ed) and seemingly everyone in Luverne transforming into something else thanks to the influence of the Gerhardt’s and Kansas City. And given the macrocosmic time and place this season is happening in, will our Berenger’s succumb to the wave of transformations going on around them? Let’s find out.

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Rather than opening on a flashback or split screen montage, we begin nearly where we left off as Lou arrests Ed and Hank holds Peggy back as Ed is taken to the station. When they arrive, they discover Betsy and Noreen waiting for them. Betsy and Ed exchange words of support and then Lou takes Ed to an interrogation room. Meanwhile, Charlie is being given his one phone call, which he makes to home base. Back at the Gerhardt’s, Bear sits with Otto and talks about Elron and when the soldiers came to break the news to him about his death in Korea, as well as old family pictures. As Dodd pulls up, Simone tells Bear that Charlie is on the phone. And after Dodd puts his arm around Simone and tells her about the life of a whore, Bear attacks Dodd and starts fighting him after finding out about what happened in last week’s episode. Ohanzee eventually points his shotgun at Bear and Dodd tells him that Charlie has shown more Gerhardt spirit than either of them before asking if he wants either the strap or the buckle. Bear chooses buckle, but Floyd interrupts before Dodd can start beating on him. She sends the two as well as the majority of the men to Luverne to get Charlie and take care of Ed once and for all. Later, Simone calls Mike Milligan and tells him about them going to Luverne. She also asks Mike to kill Dodd for her and for him to say “Kiss my grits.” for her when he does so. When he hangs up, he starts quoting Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” as he and the remaining Kitchen leave with their guns and a split screen montage of everyone building tension as everyone heads to war.

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Back at the Blomquist’s, Hank is keeping Peggy company as she warms up some coffee. When he goes to move the stack of magazines on one of the chairs, Peggy tells him to drop it. When he asks if she’s a collector (clearly he hasn’t seen the basement yet), Peggy says that the beauty magazines are for her work to keep up with the latest trends. And as for the travel magazines, “There’s more to life than Minnesota.” But when Hank tells her that she can’t be going to the Life Springs seminar tomorrow on account of everything going on, it’s here where Peggy finally lets loose all her pent up frustration as she makes subtext finally text while still being in denial. Hank then tells her that a forensics team is coming in to look at the car to find blood on a microscopic level. And since Sonny now owns the car, she can’t do a damn thing about it. Hank then asks Peggy to finally confess. And we cut from one spouse in denial to another as Ed sits in shocked denial about what’s going on, focusing instead on Noreen’s book and realizing that he has indeed become Sisyphus. He then asks Lou for a lawyer. And if he can get a good one, he’s willing to talk. Cut to Karl Weathers at the Veteran’s Hall telling Sonny about the Plumbers (Nixon’s Watergate team) and being informed by Percy, one of the deputies, that his services are needed. Karl loquaciously gets up, stumbles, tells Sonny to shut up and then to drive him to the station.

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After another split screen montage of everyone as the tension builds, Hank asks Peggy why she didn’t go to a hospital or flag someone down to get them to call for help. After thinking about it, Peggy says that her decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. “It’s like decisions you make in a dream.” This leads to her talking about how this was Ed’s house growing up and that she buys the magazines to counteract the museum of the past she’s living in. Hank hears vehicles pull up. When he steps out, he sees that it’s the Gerhardt’s and tells Peggy to hide. And he and Dodd talk, Ohanzee sneaks in through the garage and into the house. And as Hank pulls his gun, ready to fight, the door opens, he turns around thinking it’s Peggy and Ohanzee knocks Hank out using the butt of the shotgun. Dodd sends him and two men to the station as he and two others look for Peggy. After clearing the upstairs, they head into the basement where one of them men gets knocked out by a loose sink, Dodd shoots the other guy by accident and Peggy uses Dodd’s cattle prod against him and zaps him in the chest a couple of times. Back at the Gerhardt Ranch, Floyd feeds Otto soup and asks Simone which side she’s on. She then tells her that this is their time. There’s no such thing as men’s work or women’s work anymore and that she needs to be a leader. But Floyd’s pep talk is interrupted by sudden barking of dogs and she ducks with Simone just as the remaining Kansas City men, lead by Mike and the remaining Kitchen, mow the house down.

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Back in Luverne, Karl arrives at the station and tells Sonny to keep the motor running. Karl loquaciously enters the station in a brilliant bit of drunken flowery pontificating that recalls Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces as he’s lead to Ed. Karl asks Ed to shake his head yes if he’s G or NG. Ed remains nonresponsive and Karl agrees to be his lawyer whether he’s innocent or not. As he stumbles back out of the station, he comes face to face with Bear and his men ready to storm the place as Sonny hides in his van. Karl goes back in and hilariously tries to barricade the door with a bench. When Lou realizes what Karl means when he says the jackboots are upon them, Lou snaps into action and tells the staff to lock the doors and turn off the lights. As Lou and Bear standoff, Ohanzee sneaks behind the station, hoping to take out Ed. After Lou goes back inside, he enlists Karl, the only other person in the station with actual combat experience, to be Charlie’s lawyer as well. And as Karl appears in front of Charlie’s cell, Lou informs Ed of the lynch mob out for him and that they need to get out of there.

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Back at the Blomquist’s, Hank finally comes to as Denise radios for him, appraises him of the situation and to not come until reinforcements are there. Hank tells her that he’s coming anyways. “Can’t have him killed without me. I’ll never hear the end of it at dinner.” As Bear and his men are about to go in, Karl steps out. As Karl keeps Bear occupied, Lou and Ed escape out an upstairs window as Ohanzee follows. Karl uses his legal acumen and silver tongue to tell Bear that as a minor who missed when he shot at Ed, Charlie has a chance to get out of this with a reduced sentence. 10 years in prison, 5 for good behaviour. All Bear has to do is stand down. If not, then he’ll be a fugitive who’ll be shot on sight for the rest of his life. After Bear contemplates his son’s future and Karl anticipates a violent death, Bear decides to stand down and him and his men drive away. As Lou and Ed make their way through the forest, they catch up with Hank who arrives in his squad car. As Lou stares at the bruise on Hank’s head, Ed makes a run for it. Lou pursues, but Hank tells him not to waste his energy. They know where he’s going and Lou should be the one to drive. As they drive off, Ohanzee emerges from the forest and follows Lou down the road. And in an interesting departure for the show (probably done to give Nick Offerman more screen time), the episode intercuts its end credits with Karl back at the Veteran’s Hall, rhapsodizing about male bonding in combat and slightly smiling as Sonny compliments him on his way with words.

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If “Fear and Trembling” was Jean Smart’s episode to shine and “The Gift of the Magi” was stolen by Bruce Campbell, then “Rhinoceros” is the episode that showcases Nick Offerman and his invaluable contribution to the ensemble. While it’s easy to see Offerman as a one trick pony by the name of Ron Swanson, Offerman is a much more gifted comedic actor than his roles and the masculine persona would indicate otherwise. He has a gift of playing blustery, full of themselves manly men who he then twists around with humor to show the hidden depth, nuance and sadness within them. And in the case of Karl Weathers, here you find a character that’s so far been used as comic relief as the paranoid Walter Sobcheck type with a silver tongue and see the hidden turmoil of a veteran home from war as well as the quiet heroism buried underneath his skills with the law and his integrity amidst the buffoonery from before. He’s clearly our Berenger here and he will not capitulate. And seeing him at the end saying that he is an esquire and a defender of the common man and the misaccused, you get the sense that at least one of our uncertain characters in an uncertain time has finally gotten a little peace of mind.

As for the rest of the episode, while we have a shoot out at the Gerhardt Ranch, the majority of the episode is all about building tension. From Joe Russo’s minimally percussion score to more split screen montages of everyone as they gear up for war to the near constant blacks and shadows, this hour is all about our characters preparing for the inevitable climax as everyone is more or less on the same page. While Peggy and Ed’s denial about the trouble they’re in could be seen as frustrating at this point, here we get a turning point for them as Peggy lets loose all the frustrations of her current life and yearning for a new one out to Hank and Ed finally considering that this is too big for him handle and is briefly ready to talk. With the Gerhardt’s, the fight between Bear and Dodd and Bear willing to step down for the sake of his son shows that the cracks in the family are becoming fissures and that while Kansas City might have the men and firepower, it’s only a matter of time before they completely self destruct. From a craft perspective, the use of freeze frame as Charlie makes his phone call is an interesting choice. Not sure if they’re going for the infamous Bigfoot footage or the Zapruder film or just a nod to the 70’s in general, but it was nonetheless a unique choice, as well as the static insert shots of the family pictures as Bear talks to Otto. And as a fan of Last Night, I’m a sucker for anytime an overhead shot that moves in a circular pan is used. We also got some amusing mise en scene as a flyer for Karl’s services with “Are You In Trouble?” in bold letters is taped to the glass door of the station, as well as an increased use of forest imagery. Also, I keep forgetting to mention Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan. While he’s been amazing so far, him quoting Carroll aloud is so far my favorite moment of Mike’s. Any other show would have fallen flat on its face with the clichĂ©d “hitman quoting literature” moment, but Woodbine not only makes it work, but also makes it one of the best moments of the season so far.

Overall, this episode (despite the tension) was a more low key episode of the series getting its ducks in order. But as last season (and this current one) proved, even when the show is table setting, it’s still able to create riveting television and continue its run as one of the best shows on air.

  • Stray Observations:
  • Coen Bros References of the Week: Aside from the machine gun mowing down the house ala Miller’s Crossing, the big nod was also the big use of source music in this episode with a Bob Dylan cover of “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow”, an obvious nod to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.
  • As it turns out, Noreen is an emancipated minor.
  • We have an update on the body count as there’s 5 dead within the city limits of Luverne and 15 bodies in Fargo after last week’s skirmish. While that’s a high body count, not sure if that’s enough to get you to the 2nd floor of a 2 story house if properly stacked.
  • Reagan is still stuck in Karl’s head, since at one point Karl uses Ronnie’s “city on a hill” metaphor and screws it up.
  • While we don’t have a lot of Coen references, we still got a lot of nods to mid-century pop culture. We got Simone mentioning Ozzie of Ozzie and Harriet fame and Mr. French (not sure where that’s from). Ed mentions Ironside when asking for a lawyer. And Karl mutters “Great Caesar’s Ghost” (a nod to Perry White in the George Reeves Superman series) as he gets up at the Veteran’s Hall. Given the time and place, it makes sense that these are the cultural touchstones for these characters.
  • 8.7 GREAT

    "Rhinoceros" is a more low key but still tense and riveting table setting episodes that allows for the ensemble's secret weapon (Nick Offerman) to finally be deployed with great results.

    • GREAT 8.7

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    Film geek, podcaster and newly minted IATSE member from Regina, Saskatchewan. I met Don McKellar once, and he told me that Quentin Tarantino is exactly like me.