Fargo season two, episode nine: "The Castle"
Finally, the massacre.
Normally, we’d shirk the opportunity to write those words, but we’ll make an exception this time; we’ve been anticipating this thing for more than a season. While most buildups like this would falter in their execution, Fargo’s creator Noah Hawley has outdone himself.
But first things first.
Hanzee has deserted the bumbling Blumquists’ cabin, trying to escape Lou and Hank after having killed Dodd. Peggy literally stabbed him in the back when she was about to give him a haircut, and to Hanzee flees to the rural gas station to fix himself up. He puts a well-aimed bullet through the attendants’ eyes, grabs some antiseptic, some super glue, and seals the wound before fleeing in the gas guy’s car.
No one would be any wiser if it wasn’t for Lou’s pitstop at the same gas station just minutes later. He’s on his way out of town, having been ousted from the cabin crime scene (more on that in a minute), but he tries to make a call home first. What Lou doesn’t know is that Betsy has collapsed at the Solversons’ home. Thankfully Molly and Noreen were around to find her, but things aren’t looking good.
Lou knows something’s up when no one answers the phone, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on that (or the game of “Sioux Falls” hangman on the telephone booth window that’s been slowly played out over the last few episodes). With his eagle eyes, Lou sees something amiss from all the way across the parking lot: a single bullet hole in the gas station hut window. He investigates the scene only to find the attendant dead with Hanzee’s bloody wound dressing scraps in the bathroom.
He doesn’t have time to do or see much else before an officer from Sioux Falls rolls up to escort Lou to the Minnesota state line, despite his protests.
Here’s where the episode title comes into play. Franz Kafka’s The Castle was one of the writer’s unfinished works — he died before he could complete the novel — but its messages about unresponsive bureaucracies and unattainable goals weren’t lost. The top brass in the Sioux Falls police department are taking this prime opportunity to do… well, not much of anything.
They’ve got Ed and Peggy Blumquist in their custody along with the chance to nab Mike Milligan the following morning. But instead of taking the Blumquists to safety and doing the right thing, they decide to do the opposite.
The Captain Cheney and Sioux Falls police (along with Fargo’s mostly ineffectual detective Ben Schmidt) basically strong-arm the Blumquists into doing some dirty work by meeting with Mike Milligan and donning wires. They say they can’t take Ed and Peggy back to the station because the Kansas City syndicate might find out, and they sure as hell don’t want to take any real responsibility here. What’s the point of them?
Lou can’t figure it out, and when he tries to take the valiant lead, the other cops swat him down and run him out of town. (Which brings us back to the gas station where Lou gets into his car and drives to the state line where the Sioux Falls cop leaves him, and Lou returns to Sioux Falls because chivalry’s in his damn blood.)
Meanwhile, Hank has stuck around with the Sioux Falls PD (and Ben Schmidt) to keep an eye on their hopeless shenanigans, which includes going to the motel where Ed planned to meet Mike. There, they assume disguises — which really just means jeans and starchy white T-shirts — and plan to wait overnight so they can ambush Mike Milligan in the morning.
Too bad Hanzee had some ambushing plans of his own.
See, he’s called up the Gerhardts and has rigged a trap for both them (and the Sioux Falls police) by telling them that the Kansas City mob has Dodd and is at the motel. Floyd rallies the troops (even though Hanzee says he can’t guarantee her safety at the motel — is this a warning?) and they head down from Fargo to Sioux Falls in a caravan of angry Gerhardts armed to the teeth.
Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls cops wait out the night by playing poker and turning off their radios (bad idea, duh!) until the morning. Ed and Peggy are under Ben Schmidt’s not-so-watchful eyes (he’s busy watching Operation Eagle’s Nest) in their own motel room, wondering what the next day will bring. Peggy’s still scheming, but her attempts go nowhere. That is, until she notices a shadow flickering in their window.
See, the Gerhardts have rolled up to the motel, armed to the teeth, and they’re ready to attack what they think is the Kansas City syndicate. (Lou sees them on their way to the motel, tries to call the radios, and then books it over there to sound the alarm.)
Warning: Here’s where chaos kicks in on the show (and in this recap).
With Bear leading the offense, what comes next is a balls-to-the-walls onslaught of bullets and blood. As all hell breaks loose, the suspense builds with the body count.
The massacre scene feels reminiscent of the Cary Fukunaga’s famed shootout scene from the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Sure, this isn’t a one-shot masterpiece, but it hits all the marks — even if the characters don’t quite hit theirs (with their guns, that is).
In the meantime, Floyd stays on a side street to keep a watchful eye on the assault from afar. Bear had told Hanzee to wait with the matriarch while he and his men go ape on KC, but little did he know that Hanzee sold all of them out.
No one’s the wiser until someone shouts: “They’re cops!”
Hanzee barely lets the horror of betrayal wash over Floyd’s face before he rams his blade into her gut. (Hey, at least he stabs her in the front!) Now, while everyone else is distracted by the bloodshed, it’s time for him to go after his next targets: the Blumquists. They saw him at his most vulnerable in the last episode (just tryin’ to get a new do, don’t ya know?!), and their betrayal hit him in the wrong way at the wrong time.
In an attempt to get the upper hand on the Blumquists, Mike Milligan and the remaining Kitchen brother roll up to the motel early. They see the Gerhardt-versus-Sioux-Falls-PD carnage and decide to promptly GTFO. No harm, no foul, dudes.
In the midst of the chaos, Lou takes aim at Bear and hits him, and like an actual bear, it fuels Gerhardt’s anger and he starts attacking Lou (even with a few more bullets in him). It’s sort of like that Game of Thrones scene with the Mountain and the Viper. And even though you already know Lou’s getting out alive, you’re still afraid for him.
But just when it seems like all hope is lost, the aliens show up. Yes, you read that correctly. Aliens.
The UFO beams its way over to the motel parking lot, stunning Bear just long enough for Lou to reach his gun and put a bullet into Bear’s head.
Peggy was cued off to the attack early enough to enlist Ben to protect them, but in the quagmire, they escape. The best moment of the episode comes when Ed stands transfixed by the aliens and Peggy tugs on his shirt saying in the most matter-of-fact way: “It’s just a flying saucer.” (Imagine that, Peggy, the craziest person on the show, doesn’t get fazed by aliens. It’s brilliant.)
And poor Hank, who suspected foul play from the beginning of the evening, has defended his outpost just long enough to get shot. He’s barely alive, but gives Lou his blessing to run after Hanzee, even though things aren’t looking good. Seriously, both Betsy and Hank are on their deathbeds. Worst of all, it seems that alien truther Hank totally missed out on the UFO sighting!
So where does that leave us before the finale? The Gerhardts have been neutralized (i.e. killed off), Mike Milligan is still around, Ed and Peggy are on the run with Hanzee in pursuit, and Lou’s bringing up the rear.
Finally let’s address the most pleasantly surprising part of the episode: The narrator.
Did’ya recognize that voice? Because you spent an entire season with him already, albeit a little differently. Fargo’s penultimate episode got an assist from the one-and-only Martin Freeman reading from the faux history book The History of True Crime in the Wild West.
In this episode, Freeman eschewed Lester Nygaard’s on-again-off-again Minnesotan accent from season one and reads with his native accent, giving insights into many of the characters’ motivations while pondering the actions of others. In fact, this narration device works rather well in this episode, lending a little more Coen-esque veracity to the statement at the beginning of every episode: "This is a true story. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."
Hawley was careful to say that Fargo's actors wouldn’t return to the show (a la American Horror Story), but this exception was actually a pretty exceptional choice. It was a sweet throwback to season one at the near-end of a triumphant sophomore season, and heck if we don’t like to listen to Freeman talking about anything.
Random notebook dump:
-Lou said maybe the most prescient statement of the season that applies to just about anybody (in this case, it was geared toward the Blumquists): “You’ve been lucky, but your luck’s gonna run out.” Lou’s been concurrently lucky and unlucky so far. He’s alive, but with his wife and father-in-law in danger, it looks like Lou’s luck is running dry.
-Will Mike Milligan take this opportunity to head up the northern part of the KC crime syndicate? Or will he make a clean break and go west (to where his wardrobe so badly wants him to go — seriously, come on with those bolo ties!).
-About those aliens: We’ve been collecting those alien plot coupons all throughout the season from the beginning of episode one! It’s high time that weird buildup paid off in true Coen brothers fashion: with abundant absurdity that adheres to the weird universe Fargo dwells in.
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