Damn, damn, damn good television. In its eighth installment, Fargo Season 5 fields a very early candidate for best episode of the year — an hour of television that alternately had me laughing so hard my family left the room, clapping so hard I actually hurt my hands, and wracked with dread and disgust strong enough to leave me wondering if I could stand to see Jon Hamm’s hateful face for one more second. Any hour of TV that can do all that is a good fucking hour of TV, that’s for sure.
Juno Temple’s Dot Lyon is the beating heart of the episode, of course. Actually, she’s the pounding heart of the episode, the heart on the verge of a major cardiac event. Forced into captivity by Roy right in plain view of hospital staff and Deputy Whit Farr, who is twice credibly threatened with murder when he tries to intervene, she fears Roy, yes. She’d be stupid not to, knowing what he’s capable of. (Or so she thinks.) But she also is convinced she’ll win for good this time, that she’ll escape, and that Roy will get his, likely at her own hands. She’s even prepared to extend some grace to Gator, for whom she still cares despite his hatefulness — eager to relay the good news that his mother is alive and loves him still. After all, if Linda could get away, can’t Dot? Can’t Gator, if he really wants to?
This blend of preternatural confidence and utter terror makes me exhausted even to think about acting out as a performer. I won’t say Juno Temple makes it easy, because that would defeat the purpose. Juno Temple makes it look like she’s trying on a person several sizes too small for herself; she appears on the verge of bursting through her taught carapace of skin in every frame she’s in. Fucking remarkable acting.
She’s not alone. Dot may be where the episode generates its pathos, but Jon Hamm’s Roy Tillman is where it generates everything else. This loathsome fascist, this serial killer with a badge, is no longer even vaguely comical. Indeed, the episode’s big laugh comes when he’s made to look comical by the Lyon family lawyer Danish Graves, who hires three of his company’s debtors to change their name to variations on “Roy Tillman” and appear in the televised sheriff’s debate against him. The moment I realized what was happening I started cackling so hard it was a borderline public nuisance complaint. To humiliate this guy, under these circumstances, after everything he thinks he’s gotten away with? Absolutely delicious, and it wouldn’t have worked if Hamm weren’t so convincing as the the world’s least able-to-take-a-joke man.
It’s a fantastic moment of triumph for Danish, a chance for him to actually do some good in the world briefly, even if the whole plan winds up being contingent on him being able to walk it all back. He even gets a cool guy slo mo walk shot. Dave Foley, you deserve it.
But you know Roy won’t take this well, and he doesn’t. In a long take accompanied by a goofy slowed-down cover version of Britney Spears “Toxic,” Roy strides from his car — where his beaten-down wife Karen tries to comfort him to the chagrin of her dad, militia leader Odin Little (Michael Copeman) — to the shack where he’s imprisoned Nadine. He beats her. She nearly chokes him out with the chain he’s used to lock her up. They’re interrupted when Danish arrives, grinning like the cat who ate the cream, convinced he can effect Dorothy’s rescue by offering to call off the dogs and help Roy win what is now an unwinnable election otherwise. (For god’s sake, he punched the woman hosting the debate. On camera!)
“Here’s a question,” Roy replies. “If you’re so smart” — he pauses here to shoot Danish in the stomach — “why are you so dead.” It’s only when she sees the invincible lawyer’s body getting dumped into the same hole where she now realizes Linda lies rotting that Dorothy cowers. In an earlier review, I wrote: “Danish is rich. Danish has political clout, both via Lorraine and likely some of his own. But in that moment, the man with the gun does not believe Danish has the power, and thus he does not. Will Roy and Lorraine come to learn similar lessons?” Apparently, yes.
But there are two more feel-good moments we haven’t even gotten to yet. In one, Deputy Olmstead returns home and catches her shiftless husband in flagrante. She dumps him then and there, closing her speech tearing him to pieces with a true bar: “You can leave the toilet seat up on someone else’s life from now on.”
The other, the one that had me clapping until my palms stung, comes when an angered Gator drives away from leaving Dorothy to her fate. Angered and probably a bit confused, actually: He’s mad at Dorothy for claiming to have been with his mother, because he knows what actually happened to her. In lashing out at her, he brought out some real contempt in her, too, leading her to tell him the story of how Roy chose to name him Gator because he was too big an embarrassment to be Roy the Second, despite a string of boys named Roy who’d died in the womb or in childbirth before him.
So the angry Gator drives off to wreak havoc whither he will, probably dropping some racism into the mix, as he does every time he interacts with Deputy Farr. What he doesn’t count on is that his black-and-white has acquired a ride-along: Ole Munch, who pops up from the back of the squad car like he’s Michael Myers. Talk about your crowd-pleasing moments, man.
And talk about your stomach-churning moments, too. Noah Hawley, co-writer Thomas Bezucha, and director Sylvain White put together something really wonderful here, an episode that yanks you back and forth without feeling inconsistent, because everything emerges naturally from who these people are and how they deal with one another. I had an absolute blast watching this episode, even when it made me feel like curling up and dying.