12/7/15, 10 PM, FX
This week’s episode reference takes us back to one of our favorite authors for this season, Franz Kafka. “The Castle” was Kafka’s last book that he ever wrote. In fact, it was unfinished at the time of his death and there has been debate over whether he meant for his friend Max Brod to complete it or destroy it. The book follows a protagonist only known as K. as he arrives in a village and tries to gain access to the mysterious authorities who run the town from the aforementioned castle. Kafka’s original idea for the ending was that K. was to die. And on his death bed, the people from the castle would notify him that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there.” It is a dark and surreal novel that deals with alienation, unresponsive bureaucracy, the frustration of trying to do your job with opaque and seemingly arbitrary control systems and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal. And given what goes down in this episode, directed by Adam Arkin and written by Hawley and Shane Blackman, this is one of the more apt literary nods the season has done.
And speaking of literary references, we open on a bookcase as the camera zooms into a blue spine with the title “The History of True Crime in the Mid-West” by Brixby as “Gus’ Theme” from Season 1 plays over the soundtrack. A narrator (voiced by Special Guest Star Martin Freeman using his dulcet British accent) provides voice over for Chapter 14, which covers what we’ve seen this season. We then go into the book as we return to the convenience store we saw in last week’s episode and the owner who sees Ohanzee emerging from the woods with his automatic rifle. He goes to call the authorities and is shot in the head. Ohanzee enters into the store and grabs some hydrogen peroxide and super glue. He goes into the bathroom and cleans the wound in his shoulder from where Peggy stabbed him with the scissors. After some more narration, Ohanzee grabs the owners keys and takes off in his red El Dorado car. Back at the cabin, Ed and Peggy are handcuffed and seated as Lou, Hank, the Fargo chief and Captain Jeb Cheney (Wayne Duvall) of the South Dakota state troopers and his deputies are figuring out what happened and what to do with Ed and Peggy. Ed tells them about the meeting he has set up with Mike Milligan at the Motor Motel. Cheney take the discussion outside when Lou tells them that Ed and Peggy need to be in custody at the nearest precinct a.s.a.p. One of the deputies informs Lou that they’ve been dealing with graft in their jurisdiction and that the local cops might be in Kansas City’s pockets. Cheney then pulls rank and decides that the best plan is for Ed to wear a wire at the meeting so that they can arrest Mike and the Kansas City people. Lou, knowing that this is a terrible idea, tries to convince Ed and Peggy to turn themselves in, but they refuse and Lou is told to go back to Luverne. Hank stays behind as Lou tries to get his boss to do something on a bureaucratic level.
Cheney then pitches Ed and Peggy on Ed wearing a wire in exchange for reduced sentencing. Ed agrees to it and we transition over to Mike Milligan in a payphone at the crossroads on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. After the narrator recaps what Mike has been up to and his plans, we see Betsy and Molly at home with Betsy getting weaker as she makes orange juice as Lou pulls up at the same convenience store. After showing Noreen the drawing she made of a rainbow colored alien, Molly goes to show Betsy her drawing. She then discovers Betsy passed out on the floor with shattered glass around her. Back at the convenience store, Lou calls home from the payphone and then notices the single bullet hole in the glass. He goes inside and sees the dead owner, the medicine Ohanzee used in the bathroom, the empty key hook, the framed picture of the owner, his wife and the car and then the dry parking spot. But when the state trooper arrives and Lou informs him of the murder, the trooper tells him he’s there to make sure Lou crosses the state line.
As the other police escort takes Ed and Peggy to the motel, Lou radios Hank to let them know about Ohanzee coming and he has a bad feeling about all this. When they arrive at the motel, Ohanzee spies them atop an optometrists building. On the ground, Hank and Cheney exchange words on how they should proceed with Cheney figuratively pulling out his big swinging dick in front of Hank. Back at the Gerhardt’s, we get a replay of Bear and Floyd arriving back and Ricky telling them that Ohanzee is on the phone. We then see Floyd pick up the phone and Ohanzee lying to her that Dodd is alive and being held at the motel in Sioux Falls. When Floyd asks who has him, the narrator interjects and says that to this day, no local historian has figured out why Ohanzee said “Kansas City”. We then get a montage of Ohanzee over the season as the narrator wonders when exactly Ohanzee decided to betray the Gerhardts. Floyd then tells Ohanzee that she’ll send the men down to settle this and that after 3 failed attempts, she’s going to take care of this herself.
Back at the motel, the deputies get ready, with the sole female trooper telling the rest of them men they’re all going undercover for the night with Wranglers and white t-shirts. Up in Ed and Peggy’s room, Ben sits at the TV and watches C.H.I.P.S. (I believe?) as Ed asks him if they’re doing the right thing. Peggy motions over to Ed and tries to convey that when Ben’s asleep they should make a run for it. But Ben interrupts and separates them, which causes Peggy to cozy up to Ben. On the road, Mike Milligan remembers the last few weeks in letterboxed widescreen as he practices reloading his gun. And at the same Minnesota/South Dakota border, the state trooper leaves Lou as Lou gets out to use the payphone. But halfway there, the police scanner calls for him. The woman on the other end informs Lou that Constance’s strangled body has been found in her hotel room in Sioux Falls. “I mean, when’s all this madness goin’ to end?” ; “I surely don’t know.” Lou pauses for a moment and then defiantly turns his car around and heads back into South Dakota.
After we briefly see Lou looking over the crime scene of Constance’s hotel room, we cut back to the motel as Hank knocks on Ben’s door, hoping to talk to Ed and Peggy about their rights. But Ben pulls rank and acts like a dick to Hank before slamming the door in his face. Downstairs, Cheney pumps up his troopers with his plan (with the Fargo chief of police there a bit reluctant as he brings up the broken ice machine) and makes the fatal mistake of going radio silent. Back at the South Nik Hotel, Lou spots the fleet of Gerhardt vehicles with Floyd in Bear’s truck as he leaves. Lou radios the troopers to warn them about what’s coming, but with the radio turned off, then men in charge are asleep, the deputies are playing cards, Hank stares at the ceiling in silence and Peggy is watching TV as “Operation: Eagle’s Nest” plays again. As Bear and Floyd drive to the motel, Floyd has a moment of reflection and says “I miss them all.” And as the deputies talk about the various places they’ve transgressively pissed, the Gerhardt’s park in formation, Ohanzee lies to them about who they are and Bear orders him to stay and protect Floyd as the Gerhardt’s men head into the motel parking lot.
As the topic of conversation goes into pissing in the pool among the deputies, the Gerhardt men stab the sleeping deputy on watch and then take positions. During this, Hank gets up and Peggy notices the shadow outside the window. Bear then gives the signal and The Massacre at Sioux Falls occurs. Cheney and the Fargo police chief are shot along with two of the deputies at the table. Two men burst into Hanks room, but Hank is ready and shoots one of them dead. Bear calls out for Dodd as he loads his shotgun. Two men burst into Ed and Peggy’s room, but Ben finally proves himself temporarily competent and shoots both of them. He gives the all clear to Ed and Peggy and looks out the window. “It’s Rapid City all over again!” But Peggy then knocks out Ben with the butt of the shotgun. When he gets to the bathroom, Bear realizes that Dodd isn’t there. Ricky then realizes who they’re up against and yells “THEY’RE COPS!!!” as he flees. Floyd turns around to Ohanzee as he in turn stabs her in the gut. Bear emerges and sees Ohanzee and Floyd on the ground. Bear heads toward Ohanzee but is then shot by Lou. Lou shoots him again twice, but Bear just charges at Lou and tackles him onto the ground. It’s then that Ohanzee takes his automatic rifle and starts shooting both the troopers and the Gerhardt men as he makes his way up to Ed and Peggy’s room as Lou tries to get his gun. After Hank tries to shoot Ohanzee and Ohanzee in turn shoots Hank in the gut, the narrator interjects and speculates on why Ohanzee wanted to kill Ed and Peggy. Could it be to tie up the loose ends of Dodd’s murder? Or was it because he had shown his true self to them? In the moment it doesn’t really matter since as Bear strangles Lou, THE FUCKING UFO lights up above them, momentarily distracting everyone still alive. As Bear stares up in disbelief, Lou grabs his gun and shoots Bear in the head before staring up himself. Peggy and Ed get the drop on a temporarily dazed Ohanzee as Peggy throws hot coffee in his face and Ed punches him. The two make a break for it with Ed staring up. “Are you seein’ this?” ; “It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed. We gotta go.” Ohanzee then shoots at the couple and misses and then starts shooting at Lou below as the UFO takes off. Lou is about to follow them but then hears Hank shout “Office down.” As Lou finds Hank with a gunshot wound in his gut, Mike Milligan arrives, sees the carnage and hears the sirens, says “OK then.” and turns around. Lou tends to Hank and they have a moment before Lou heads off to find Ohanzee, Ed and Peggy. “Dinner Sunday?” ; “I’ll be…in a suit of armor.” And we end on a crane shot as Lou heads out in pursuit, the cops arrive and the UFO off in the distance flashes its lights one last time in the early dawn as an awesome acoustic guitar cover of CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle” plays over the soundtrack and takes us into the credits.
Oh my God. I actually yelled that out loud while watching this episode. After teasing us for almost two seasons with the mythic Sioux Falls, we finally get to see said massacre and it does not disappoint. And the payoff to the running UFO motif we’ve seen all season only adds to the legendary status of the incident and does not detract in the seasons overall quality. This whole thing could have easily derailed the show and undo everything Hawley and Co. have been building towards all season. But amazingly enough, in this thematic high wire act of juggling while riding a unicycle on a tight rope, not one ball is dropped in terms of theme, character, filmmaking craft and the world of the Coens that the series lives in. Since the aliens have been established as more observers than active participants, as well as a metaphor for God or a higher being at play, it makes total sense that when we do see the UFO again, it would be in this exact scenario. It also makes total sense that of all the characters there, Peggy is the only one who treats it as nonchalantly as Fry treated the UFO he saw in the “Spanish Fry” episode of Futurama. You half expect her to yell, “Uhh, excuse me. You can’t park here. Parking lot is over there.”
As for the rest of the episode and how it ties into the Kafka reference made in its title, the proceedings take a perfectly Kafka-esque turn by way of the Coen Bros. While some might dismiss Jeb Cheney (get it?) and the state troopers who all dress the same even when they’re undercover as typical idiot cops who act stupidly so as to further the plot, in the context of “The Castle” novel, the Vietnam War and the Coen Bros theme of everyday people suddenly in way over their heads when it comes to crime, Cheney attitude of near criminal negligence when it comes to what they’re up against (his one good quality is that he’s willing to put himself in the crosshairs with his men if only for the glory), as well as Lou being one of only two sane people in this scenario coming up against a severely flawed bureaucracy that thinks itself high above everyone else, fits perfectly in what Hawley and Co. are exploring this season. We also have a minor theme of characters defying authority. From Lou’s decision to head back to the deputies sharing stories of peeing where they’re not supposed to, to a story Hank tells Cheney of a lieutenant he fought alongside in WW2 who told Eisenhower to go to Hell on account of orders that would have gotten them all killed that Hank sends a Christmas card to every year just because he can. While it could be seen as commendable, they all prove pointless in the end, which again fits into Kafka. As for the episode overall, this is where the shit hits the fans for everyone involved. From the Gerhardt’s ignominious end, to Betsy on the floor to Ed and Peggy on the run as Ohanzee pursues them to what end even the narrator doesn’t know to Lou trying to keep everything from spiraling out of control even more, this is the narrative climax we’ve been waiting for and it is spectacular, with only one episode left to tie everything up.
"The Castle" pays off almost two seasons of anticipation in regards to the infamous Sioux Falls and the biggest narrative gambit of the season in a perfect blend of Kafka by way of Coens.