Fargo: 206 “Rhinoceros” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Fargo really kicked it up a notch last week with a brutal game-changer of an episode, fundamentally altering the status quo for the second half of the season. Did this week’s episode continue in the violent, snappy vein of last episode, or did it slow down a little to digest everything that just happened?
Surprisingly for Fargo, Rhinoceros took option one. This was a pretty atypical episode of Fargo, eschewing most of the usual extended dialogue scenes between characters for a near constant conveyor belt of close calls and stand-offs. Everything this episode was just an inch away from escalating into all-out chaos, giving scarce time for the instalment for philosophical musings or breathers to have a look at how the characters felt. I wouldn’t want Fargo to be like this every week – but as a one-off episode where things very nearly came to a head, this was exemplary, especially due to the ways the stand-offs often came to very different conclusions than expected.
For instance, when Dodd rocks up at Peggy’s house, you’d expect Peggy to either escape or get captured. What happened instead was far more interesting, underlining the fact that Peggy is a pretty formidable, resourceful opponent, unexpectedly turning the tables on Dodd and his men – in Dodd’s case, it’s even his own weapon he gets taken out with. There’s a whole bunch of intriguing material for Peggy this week, and Rhinoceros finally sees a little of the façade and manipulation stripped away to reveal what’s really going on beneath. We haven’t actually seen a great deal of Peggy away from Ed this season, so Rhinoceros took good advantage of the situation to present the character in the company of completely different people – it’s a more honest portrayal that allows the viewer to get a handle on the real version of Peggy. I’m not entirely sure what Fargo is going to do with Dodd now, considering he’s probably still alive, but giving Peggy the upper hand is a great inversion of expectations that shakes up both her plot and the Gerhardt drama.
Ah, the Gerhardts. Simone’s mole plotline hasn’t been the most compelling of season two aside from providing more screen-time for Bokeem Woodbine, but there’s a tangible pay-off to it in Rhinoceros. It’s a cruel twist of the knife to see Mike leading the gangsters’ attack on the house, finally showing Simone the consequences of her slightly ill-advised actions and adding a new dimension to the seemingly honourable, collected Mike. The only concern here, even though it’s a neat shock moment, is that moments like these are extremely easy for shows to squeeze out of – the scene is shot in a completely ambiguous way, cutting away from anyone inside the house early on without showing anyone actually getting shot. This, ultimately, is something that’ll rest on the resolution next week, because there’s not gonna be that much rewatch value in this scene if everyone inside the house survived because every Kansas City member suddenly missed. Right now, though, it’s a twist that considerably heightens the intrigue of the Kansas City-Gerhardt war, which genuinely feels like a volatile conflict that could go either way – there’s no true way to who will be hit hardest by the inevitable Sioux Falls Massacre.
Rhinoceros is at its absolute strongest in the scenes around the police precinct, however. There’s still considerable comedic value in how unaware Ed is of what’s going on, asking for a lawyer ‘because he saw it on television’ and refusing to talk to Lou – but he’s actually overshadowed by the arrival of his lawyer, Karl Weathers who promptly steals the show for the rest of the episode. Yep, the second half of Rhinoceros is for all intents and purposes the Nick Offerman Power Hour, letting the cult favourite finally take a substantial role in the story besides dry comedic relief.
Notably, Offerman displays considerable range here. He’s very funny when he needs to be, possessing a very Fargo brand of quirky, offbeat energy as he staggers about, delivering pompous and overly erudite speeches inflected with some of his conspiracy theorist ramblings about the establishment, but Offerman swiftly, cleverly changes tack as soon as Karl is staring down the barrel of Bear Gerhardt’s shotgun. There’s a clear shift in Offerman’s demeanour, suddenly shifting to sober law talk – but throughout this, he’s evidently terrified, shaking more and more every time Bear cocks his gun. There’s a really tangible feeling, thanks to Offerman’s performance, that Karl is petrified for his life, which Offerman often just conveys in body language and mannerisms. It really helps to contribute to the already considerable tension of the scene, and marks out Offerman as a standout member of a genuinely exceptional ensemble cast. If this is the only major thing he does all season, he’s certainly made his mark.
Rhinoceros, above all, is a complete nail-biter from start to finish. It’s a near miracle how the body count is so low considering how close just about every major character comes to dying – furthermore, these moments actually feel credible thanks to Fargo’s previous, brutal attitude towards major character deaths. Absolutely no-one feels safe anymore (okay, apart from Lou, who has the lucky advantage of being confirmed to be alive in 2006), and Rhinoceros exploits that uncertainty to create a live-wire hour that barely ever felt predictable. Despite all that, this was still a considerably funny episode, with moments of levity still making their mark in amidst the thick tension, showing just how damn adept Fargo is at balancing tones.
By the end of Rhinoceros, Ed’s run off into the night with Hanzee in pursuit, Dodd’s been lightly fried but probably not killed, and anyone of Floyd, Simone or Otto could be dead thanks to the Kansas attack. If the status quo was changed after The Gift of the Magi, then Rhinoceros takes a hammer to it in many respects with a surprising level of urgency for a mid-season episode, leaving things very much in flux as we head into the final four episodes of the season.
Rhinoceros is season two’s finest hour yet, combining a sizzling level of tension with a standout performance from Nick Offerman and a handful of huge, meaningful plot twists.