Fargo: 207 “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
In the last two episodes, we’ve been served a very different kind of Fargo, as it’s transitioned from a compelling, slow-burning character drama to a punchy, violent prestige drama. As dictated by season one’s structure, this week’s episode returns to that original format – but it retained just enough urgency and power to keep the season’s considerable momentum up.
The real centrepiece scenes of Did You Do This? No, You Did It! (perhaps the weirdest title this year, which is saying something) were the scenes between Bear and Simone Gerhardt as they struggled with the explosive fallout of last week. Bear has gradually been fleshed out as a reasonable but mildly unstable counterpart to the outright psychotic Dodd in recent weeks, and Did You Do This takes a great leap forward by meaningfully progressing Bear’s character. Angus Sampson compellingly portrays Bear as he’s pushed to the edge in the war against Kansas City – he was mostly overshadowed by Nick Offerman in his big scene last week, but Sampson proves to be an intimidating presence, filling his mostly taciturn scenes with Simone with palpable, quiet fury. It’s also worth highlighting the superb direction and cinematography of these scenes – Fargo has always been a stylishly directed show, but there’s some shots here of the remote Minnesota wilderness that are straight out of a wildlife documentary in terms of their rugged beauty. Importantly, the direction imbues this scene between relatively ancillary characters with powerful emotion – Simone’s (seeming) execution and Bear’s reaction genuinely feels like a huge turning point for the family despite the fact that both characters are far from heavyweights, and that’s a credit to the way performances and excellent direction mix to make an important moment really fly.
And then there’s Mike Milligan, who’s also pushed pretty far in the war here. Mike has transformed from a fun, quipping henchman to a very distinct, eloquent guy with his own agenda, and Did You Do This takes notable steps to really help Mike come into his own as a character who is less tied up with the Kansas mafia than before. His confrontation with Lou is fun, but it’s his scene with the Undertaker that marks this week’s Mike highlight. It’s a clever scene that gradually ratchets up the tension, introducing a powerful figure from the mafia flanked by intimidating guards… and then utterly subverting it with a brutally abrupt climax. What’s interesting about this scene, other than the black comedy of the Undertaker’s abrupt death, is that it pushes Mike surprisingly far out of the Kansas mafia’s sphere of influence, turning him almost into a rogue character with his own agenda running contrary to the Kansas mafia’s wishes. It’s a sensible move, because a character as interesting and unique as Mike always felt like a slightly unusual guy to be a lackey of a mafia – as an independent character, Mike is more distinctive, and should hopefully be free to shine in his own plot thread that’s unconnected to the others.
Other than those two major moments of action, Did You Do This was a more sedate instalment, although the slower pace allowed Fargo to breathe and finally catch up with the impact of the past couple of episodes on the characters. Thanks to the exclusive focus on just a couple of sets of characters, this was an episode that recovered the steady focus on character that distinguished the early episode, with every plot point getting a chance to make an impact thanks to the relatively uncluttered state of the episode. Notably, Did You Do This spends a great deal of time simply exploring the family life of the Solversons while Lou’s away – and these sequences are actually some of the strongest parts of the episode.
The scenes back at the Solversons were a great reminder of the innate warmth this show can effectively convey – a set of scenes that simply featured a bunch of characters looking out for one another and affirming their loyalty. It’s a tone that sits surprisingly well with the darker, more cynical drama provided by the Gerhardts and Mike, demonstrating Fargo’s ability to mix gritty darkness and warmth without any sense of tonal whiplash. This dose of warmth also managed to take the edge off the slightly melodramatic, bleak nature of Simone’s (seeming) execution, ensuring that Fargo retains its humorous, quirky tone that distinguishes it from the growing pack of gritty prestige dramas.
One plot point, however, is a bit questionable at this point. The reveal of Hank’s alien symbols looks cool and is well directed, but it’s a revelation that doesn’t quite match with Hank’s past behaviour, which has shown no indication of a paranoid obsession with conspiracy theories. It’s a bit out of the blue; a rare example of slightly sloppy and inconsistent writing, and it’s heightened by the uncertainty behind the fact that Fargo appears to be putting the alien plot into a more central position than ever before. Still, the alien plot has gained focus in a way that doesn’t undermine the relatively realistic, if absurdist tone of Fargo, and this is a small enough moment that it doesn’t impact the episode’s quality much. Time will tell if this plot develops into something more impressive than expected, but it’s a lone question mark in an otherwise impeccable instalment.
Did You Do This is, in a sense, a breather episode for Fargo, but this is far from the show’s most sedate instalment, and there’s more than enough major, defining developments here to keep the pace up. Take the final scene, which completely flips expectations on their head. Dodd’s disappearance throughout the episode, consistently noted by Bear, would seem to point to his death at the hands of Peggy – but the final scene banishes this theory by revealing that Dodd’s somehow found his way into the trunk of Ed and Peggy’s car. Coupled with the mentions of Hanzee shooting up a bar in search of the Blomquists, and there’s a clever, intriguing sense that there’s a whole other parallel story going on throughout this episode involving the characters who are mostly absent. A parallel story, perhaps, that we’ll see next week…
Did You Do This? No, You Did It! slows down for a much-needed breather, renewing Fargo’s status as a superb character drama, but guns the accelerator in some regards with some huge, unexpected twists that push the plot into uncharted territory. It’s not the season’s strongest episode, but this was just the ticket after the craziness of the past two weeks.