The first few episodes of this season of Fargo had a lot of characters to introduce, and a tangle of narrative threads to lay out. Things have progressed slowly, but in episode four, things are happening. Or least, they’re about to start happening. We think.
The Gerhardt family’s war against the Kansas City family has always been inevitable, and most signs so far have pointed to eldest surviving son Dodd as the catalyst. At first he seems the archetypal attack dog, who only knows how to bark and bite, but with the 1951 flashback that opens this week’s episode, we finally get a clearer picture of the foundations upon which the Gerhardt family was built. When a pre-teen Dodd murders the sitting boss of North Dakota in a movie theater (able to slip the knife past security on account of his youth), it becomes clear just how Otto was able to take power, and why Dodd is so convinced that such violence is the key to success. It’s that twisted relationship he had with his own father that makes him long for a son, and curse the fact that he was given daughters. And it’s one of those daughters, Simone—one he constantly belittles, beats, and exerts control over—that is ultimately what guarantees their entry into war.
Mike Milligan, the deadpan hitter in the employ of the Kansas City family, has discovered this weakness, and uses Simone’s promiscuity and proclivity for drug use to ply her for information. Simone’s cynicism belies that she thinks the Gerhardt’s reign is over, and she couldn’t care less about what happens to her father or grandfather. Which is why she gives up the location of Grandpa’s doctor, a vulnerability to be exploited at the negotiating table by Kansas City emissary Joe Bulo.
The Solversons are stoically trudging along, taking each setback with a skeptical optimism; they’re pretty sure that Betsy is going to die soon, but they don’t really want to admit it. They endure the wooden bedside manner of their new doctor, and the absurdity of clinical trials from a patient’s perspective; far from a new lease on life, participation in the trial is a game of russian roulette with better odds. Betsy has a 50/50 chance that she gets the new drug, and not a placebo, and even that isn’t guaranteed to work. It’s why she says brutally honest things like “you’re gonna have to learn this stuff” to Lou, when giving him advice about raising their daughter. She knows the time she has left is limited.
When Lou returns to work, it’s to the garage where Ed and Peggy Blumquist’s car is being repaired. Sonny, the dopey garage employee, has just had a run-in with a razor-wielding Hanzee, Dodd’s “half-breed” Indian button man. Lou finds blood on the seat of the car (Rye Gerhardt’s), and Sonny tells him he found wood on the back bumper, which doesn’t jibe with Peggy’s story about backing into the garage (“I’m not sayin’ she’s lyin’…”). By the time he flashes back to Ed’s late-night weirdness at the butcher shop, he already knows what happened. And he knows Ed & Peggy are in trouble. They’re already dead, they just don’t realize it. He tries to warn them, going to their house and inadvertently scaring off a lurking Hanzee in the process, but they’re still convinced they can get away with it.
Mostly, Ed & Peggy are too caught up in their domestic strife to see death closing in on them. Peggy used their savings earmarked for the down payment on the butcher shop to pay for her Lifespring seminar, and Ed is kinda pissed (it’s hard to imagine what he would say if she knew she was taking birth control). And when Peggy’s boss Constance reminds us that the seminar is in Sioux Falls, the site of the tragedy that still shakes Lou Solverson decades later (in Season 1), we get a hint at what awaits the fated couple.
Hanzee is gifted this episode’s evidence of visitors; on the trail of Rye Gerhardt’s murder, he sees a strange light while picking up a piece of headlight glass from the Blumquist’s car. It doesn’t tell us much, other than appearing at the same site as Rye’s visitation; it almost feels like an echo. But mostly, we get the feeling that Hanzee is tracking Rye’s killers like he would an animal in the woods. Peggy and Ed’s demise has never felt so certain.