Fargo season 2 episode 9 review: The Castle

This week's gloriously absurd episode, The Castle, was sheer, unadulterated Fargo...

This review contains spoilers.

2.9 The Castle

The all-out massacre that provided the climax of this episode has been signalled since before this season had even started (an older Lou referred to it, with heavy understatement, as ‘bloody’ during season one) and was heralded by a steady increase in dread in the preceding few episodes. This palpable foreboding became almost unbearable in the first two thirds of the episode itself as a collective spirit of arrogance, manipulation and good old fashioned stupidity swirled into an inevitable orgy of violence. That final multiway outburst was simply a fantastic piece of action television; frantic, exciting, and utterly, utterly terrifying.

It was also gloriously absurd. Sheer, unadulterated Fargo. Indeed, there is a case to be made for The Castle being considered the exemplar episode of Fargo, every special component working at full pelt and contributing to a superbly entertaining whole, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

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The narration that opened the episode and continued at key points in the narrative worked surprisingly well. Martin Freeman’s calm and dispassionate voiceover made a pleasant counterpoint to the highly emotive, partial action that took place on screen and created a slight distancing effect, as though the chaos that unfolded was simply a story from another time and from which the viewer was entirely safe (which, gentle reader, we all are). It also helped to embed the growing Fargo mythos, in which the film and the several TV seasons form part of a wider tapestry of stories, each linked by a common mood unique to the area in which they are set. This has emerged in a largely unforced manner and here, in an explicit reference, it feels earned, like the confirmation of something we had all accepted anyway.

Which might also be a good description of the individual character development of the more sympathetic players in this ongoing tragedy. It’s best exemplified in the difference between Lou, increasingly the only sane man in any room he finds himself, and Hank, who is old enough now to recognise the futility of indignation. Lou, as we at home all know, is right. These are dangerous times and the bizarre fortune of the Blomquists will only carry them so far. He has, however, yet to accept the frustrating absurdities of his environment and the shortsighted stupidity of one Captain Cheney, who, as we at home all know, is completely wrong. Still, stupidity will have its day, even if that means a bloody and avoidable farce.

The attitude of the Cheney and his officers was also a good summary of many of the problems that Fargo sketches so brilliantly. First and foremost is a complete blindness to the reality of the situation (here again, Lou’s Cassandra moment helped to underline the point). Prattling on about radio silence and commendations, Cheney came across as little more than an armchair general who had found himself turfed out of his seat without realising that he was now standing up. When reality finally dawned it was too late. It always is.

Too late too for Floyd Gerhardt, who exhibited her own kind of blindness. The role of Hanzee has been deliberately underexplored and he remained such a mystery to the viewer that Freeman’s narration had to be drafted in to fill in some of the blanks. Hanzee was as much a mystery to the viewer as he was to his adoptive family and in particular, Floyd. The Gerhardt matriarch never quite managed to rule the family as she intended and flattered herself that she was in control as much as Cheney did, to her comparable cost. Like him, she couldn’t see the problem that lay right before her.

Not that it’s always better to see things directly. Like much else in Fargo, the flying saucer was an indulgence that had been entirely earned. It had been sighted before, but this lengthier arrival was still a bold move for the show. It worked primarily because of the confidence with which Noah Hawley and his team run their programme; this far in we’re enjoying the ride so much that they could get away with pretty much anything. That, and the perfectly timed nonchalance that their characters possess.

Oh, never mind the flying saucer, Ed. Let’s go. 

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Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Loplop, here.