Fargo: The Castle Review

"The Castle" is the penultimate episode of Fargo's incredible second season, and listen to the narrator when he says its the bloodiest yet!

This Fargo review contains spoilers.

Fargo Season 2 Episode 9

I’m not really sure we needed a narrator to tell us that Fargo was about to get bloody in a hurry, though I welcomed a returning Martin Freeman, this time speaking in an elevated version of his native tongue, bluntly telling us that things were about to get violent. The penultimate episode sets the stage quickly and tells us what we’re about to see, immediately injecting some dramatic tension; we know to expect a body count, we just don’t know who’s going to end up lying in a pool of blood at the Motor Motel.

Before our narrator delivers the kill sheet, he lines up the players and explores their motives, cross-cutting footage of important events to highlight how things got so out of hand for our fugitives. The man with the most blood on his hands, Hanzee, is the first man on display, and we’re quickly shown how Hanzee could have been planning this all along. “He was a Gerhardt man,” but for how long?

Fargo has been stylish throughout this fantastic second season, and here it effectively uses its split-screen tricks to simultaneously show the vulnerabilities of its characters while catching us up to speed with their current whereabouts. Hanzee’s plan is to convince the Gerhardt’s that Dodd is alive, held captive at the Motor Motel by the Kansas City Crew. It’s a particularly nefarious move, considering that in reality, unsuspecting officers are holed up there with the Blumquists.

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These unsuspecting, and arrogant police, comprised of some new Midwest tough guys and the insufferable Ben Schimdt, pull rank on Lou and Hank, an ego driven move that the bozo summarizes succinctly, if not crudely, by saying “there’s a whole lot of swinging dicks around here.” The senior cops tell Lou that he’s out of his jurisdiction, and against his persistent warnings, they tell Lou that they’re going to make Ed wear a wire in a meeting with Mike Milligan, and if he doesn’t like it, he can leave. Lou is basically forced out of town, but Hank goes with these other hen to the slaughter, to the Motor Motel, only to try to look after the dimwits’ rights.

The fighting Lou does with the other cops before he exits the operation, combined with the pulsating score make for a nervy vibe, in ways echoing the late 70s cop dramas, the sort that would have been out in the time in which this season of Fargo takes place. The dread is palpable, watching Ben eat chips while watching C.H.I.P.S. or the other cops play cards just writes “GONER” all over their foreheads, like busy teenagers in a slasher flick. The episode really uses montage nicely to milk the tension for all that it’s worth; by the time that Floyd, Bear, and their faithful come heavily armed, I had my hands anxiously behind my head.

All while this is happening, Lou is unaware that Betsy has suffered a collapse at home. Her condition is unknown, but amongst the other stress mounting, it hit at just the right moment to make you feel even more fretful about what could come next. Unfortunately when the Gerhardt’s come to assault the motel, the one they believe houses their mortal enemies, they come with Hanzee amongst them. If that’s not bad enough, they foolishly leave him to protect Floyd. Finally, the moment that had been building comes in waves of shotgun blasts, with Hank among the wounded, and countless dead, before Bear realizes the mistake that he’s made, that he’s mistrusted Hanzee and now he’s murdering police officers. As soon as he realizes the betrayal, he instantaneously remembers his mother’s precarious position, but as he gets her in his sights, he sees that she’s been slayed with a knife by Hanzee.

Here’s where things get weird. I’ve said in earlier reviews that I acknowledged that extraterrestrials were being hinted at, but I hoped that the show didn’t go full on sci-fi. Tonight, with an extraterrestrial essentially helping a returning Lou distract and escape the murderous grief fueled rage of Bear,  I feel a little mixed. I did laugh at the way that Peggy, who was able to flee the massacre with Ed, and Hanzee in pursuit, acted like the appearance of aliens was no big deal, but it’s one tilt a little too far into fantasy for me.  Mike Milligan and his boys arrive on the scene immediately after the visit by the Third Kind, and like our friends from Outer Space, he’s wise enough not to stick around.

Or scared enough. Because Mike gets a little bit of analysis in this episode too, and it’s incredible on how just a suggestion that Mike may be more frightened and insecure, more in over his head than he lets on, makes him a more sympathetic character. One change of perspective turns him into the flashy anti-hero, a clever guy who just wanted the power and respect his mind deserved. It’s as easy as watching him take a moment to breathe and check his tie before coming out of the phone booth whistling, or maybe it’s just now I’m finally noticing the act. Now I know outmatched Mike really is.

This penultimate episode was a master class in building suspense. It may have taken on an unnecessary new framing device, but our major characters are clearly under inspection while we slow roast in the rising action, and its riveting, even if a UFO threw me for a loop I’m not quite sure I was ready for. Fargo has been knocking me out weekly, and here’s another winner. Our finale has some tidying up to do, but nothing tells me I shouldn’t have faith in creator Noah Hawley in company to deliver. 

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4.5 out of 5