Social justice separatism is having a moment. On Yellowjackets, purple-clad adherents to the self-help group founded by plane crash survivor Lottie help the addicted and outcast find peace on their compound. On Mrs. Davis, a convent of fun-loving nuns holes up in an abandoned motel in the Nevada desert. On Foundation, a commune of psychically powered “mentallics” live a life free from persecution by the galaxy’s normies in their home on a distant planet. On The Changeling, a group of women forced to kill the demonic creatures that took the place of their children take refuge on an island off Manhattan accessible only via magic. And now, on Fargo, a community of abuse survivors perform cathartic puppet shows and take on the name of their founder: Roy Tillman’s first wife, and Nadine Tillman/Dorothy Lyon’s groomer, Linda.
Only…not really. Camp Utopia and its gang of Lindas are a figment of Dot’s exhausted, traumatized imagination. Their welcoming community in the woods, full of friendly, grinning women; their therapeutic punch-and-judy shows, in which newcomers tell their horrible stories using puppets they themselves design and build; and most importantly, Linda herself (Kari Matchett), the woman who “fed” Dorothy to Roy in order to escape herself, the woman who atoned for the sin of abandoning Dorothy and the then-salvageable Gator to Roy by helping untold numbers of other women, the woman who offers an apology (though not an explanation) that Dorothy finds she can accept…none of these things, none of these people, actually exist.
I’m fine with that. As an abuse survivor I bristle at the notion that surviving abuse confers upon you some kind of innate decency or dignity, as if abuse were a sacrament as well as a crime. As such, the Hollywood concept of the commune where the wounded gather together to grow stronger in the broken places or whatever has never held any appeal for me. I think it’s begun to exhaust its appeal in Hollywood as well, judging from how many of the above examples either subvert the trope or treat it as a literal fairy tale or dream.
Creator Noah Hawley and co-writer April Shih offer us instead a look at a utopia by the standard old Greek definition, a “no-place” that does not and probably cannot exist. Everything Dot conjures up there is real in the sense that these are things she feels, things she wants, or things she feels she wants. A way to process her pain that involves putting her hands to practical use? You can see why the puppet idea occurs to a practical person like Dot. A bunch of women whose ostentatious niceness is not of the Minnesota variety — who are this friendly and smiley and chilled out because that’s genuinely who they are now? Also pure Dot bait. The ghastly predation and violence to which puppet Roy subjects puppet Linda and puppet Dot? All too real, somehow made more so rather than less by depicting the acts with toys rather than people. (We expect people to be cruel to each other.)
Most importantly, there’s Linda herself. Dorothy has a million questions for her, written out in her mind over the course of thousands of days and nights. What became of her? Did she make something of her life? Does she regret taking Dot/Nadine off the street only to leave her in an even worse situation? Why did she leave her only son behind? Does she think of him fondly, the way Dot herself clearly does even after everything that’s happened? Why did she leave Nadine behind too? Is there any way she couldn’t have known what was happening? Would she help me against Roy if I asked?
But just as importantly: What would I do if I saw her again? What do I want to say to her? Do I understand why she did what she did with me? Would I have done it if I were in her shoes? Do I have to resent this woman forever? Can I extend to her a grace I wish like hell someone had ever extended to me?
So I reject out of hand any suggestion that the episode’s “it was all a dream” structure means nothing that happened mattered. On the contrary, everything that happened, or didn’t happen, mattered a great deal.
Some things, of course, actually did happen. Wayne has achieved some kind of state of total decency thanks to his electric shock, giving away cars to people who can’t afford him and blowing off pretty much everything to spend quality time with Scotty. Nadine gets knocked across a parking lot by a car sent careening by a runaway truck and wakes up in a hospital to find Roy waiting for her.
Meanwhile, however, Dot’s erstwhile childhood friend Gator has messed up big time. In the course of attempting to assassinate the immortal Ole Munch, he succeeds only in shooting the corpse of Munch’s landlady’s shitbird son, whom Munch had killed for disrespecting the woman earlier in the episode and whose body he was using as a decoy. To make matters worse, he accidentally kills the old woman when she confronts him for breaking into Munch’s car to steal back his payment. Judging from Munch’s face when he sees what has transpired, I think Ole’s deal with Roy is off, and the grave he has dug is gonna wind up with a different body than Dot’s in it.
Or maybe not. The Coen Brothers can be unsparing as hell when they want to, and there are cases throughout their filmography where people who deserve to live don’t. That’s been mostly, though not entirely, untrue of Hawley’s version of things. I suppose both we and Dot are going to find out soon enough.