Published on November 17th, 2015 | by Michael


Fargo Season Two Episode Five – The Gift of The Magi

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Let’s win one for the Gipper! Yes, Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell) has finally arrived on the scene to save America and therefore democracy and everything is going to be fine forever. Reagan’s success was largely built on his ability to disguise his poisonous brand of conservatism under a façade of folksy good humour and that’s on display here, as his Reagan ’80 campaign trail hits Minnesota. ‘The Gift of The Magi’ opens with the audio of Reagan’s speech, over a hunting trip that is about to turn bloody. More on that later. Even cynic/conspiracy theorist Karl has tears in his eyes listening to Dutch’s oration. He spoils it rather by asking Lou, on guard duty, to ask Reagan if it’s true that Joan Crawford had crabs. ‘Yeah, I’m not going to do that’ is Lou’s rather sensible reply.

The limits of Reagan’s power present themselves later in ‘The Gift of the Magi, when he runs into Lou in the bathroom. First off, he recounts a war story, taken from one of his films, as if it were action he saw himself. Then Lou confides in him that Betsy has cancer, rather ham-fistedly trying to explain that he thinks the world’s sickness got into his wife. Reagan tries to reassure Lou – ‘there’s no problem an American can’t solve’. Lou asks how. Reagan shrugs, smiles and walks off. It reminds me strongly of The West Wing when Jed Bartlett was on the campaign trail and had a sit down with his opponent, played by James Brolin. When Bartlett says a Secret Service agent was gunned down in a shop, all the GOP candidate can reply is ‘crime boy, I dunno’. Of course The West Wing being a limousine liberal fantasy has Bartlett crushing his opponent in a live debate. Alas in Fargo when know that lantern-jawed chump will become President, and a wildly popular one at that. The ‘Magi’ of the title might refer to the Zoroastrian magicians who were said to have great ‘knowledge’  – one chief invention of the magi was Astrology and Reagan famously based his decisions on this bunk

Reagan Magi

‘The Gift of The Magi’ isn’t about political theory though. Instead it is an episode built around two violent showdowns in the nascent war between The Gerhardts and the Kansas City interlopers. At the start of the episode, Joe Bulo and his men are ambushed while out on a hunting trip. As their companies are shot down by Gerhardt men, the Kitchen brothers spring into action, shotguns in hand, silently mowing down their attackers. They almost succeed in turning the tide of battle by themselves but meet their match when Hanzee, an even more capable henchman, arrives on the scene. One brother has his throat slit, the other merely laid out with a punch. Joe Bulo suffers a more ignominious fate – his head is sent to Mike Milligan.

The other set piece comes about as a result of Dodd’s manipulation of Hanzee’s testimony regarding Rye’s disappearance. When Hanzee tells Floyd he tracked down Rye’s killer, his assertion that the man responsible is a ‘Luverne Butcher’ is twisted by Dodd into meaning that the Butcher is a feared contract killer. Floyd puts out a hit on poor Ed and young Charlie insists on doing the job himself. The black comedy of the scene starts even before Ed’s would be killer arrive, after he gets into an argument with young Noreen about Albert Camus and the nature of death. The first time Charlie goes into the Butcher’s, he bottles the hit and emerges clutching some prime cuts. On his second pass, an errant shot starts a fire and when Virgil wades in an accidental shot wounds Charlie. Ed manage to lodge a cleaver in Virgil’s head and, after some prompting from Noreen, drag Charlie to safety before turning to watch his dreams go up in flames. On the plus side, smoky bacon for everyone!

Magi Fire

The bitter irony here is that Peggy has had a change of heart and having had the car fixed sells it to Sonny the mechanic so that Ed has the money to be the Butcher’s. This episode also shows that the Blomquists might have a hording problem – the basement is full of old magazines. Life with the Solversons seems cosier if also tinged with tragedy. We have Betsy hoping her nausea means she is taking the actual trial drug, and Hank admitting that he’s ‘all left thumbs’ when it comes to expressing emotion and sympathy. Meanwhile, taking a leaf out of Victor’s book, little Molly appears to have drawn a UFO. This week’s Coen Brothers reference is Fargo itself because Bruce Campbell has become the first actor, as far as I know, to appear in both the film and the TV series.

Going forward, it looks like there is no end in sight for the feud. The Gerhardts made their statement this week, massacring both a KC posse and decapitating its leadership, quite literally. Mike’s response is to send Simone back to her family as a spy, but since treated her very badly this week, practically sexually assaulting her, it’s unclear why he knows she’ll do what she’s told. He isn’t holding anything over her that we know of. It’s a typical Coen/Hawley touch that even taking into account that the KC lot and the Gerhardts are all criminals, both sides are particularly unlikable. The Gerhardts, Dodd in particular, are blood-thirsty thugs and the Kansas City outfit are basically carpet baggers, geographic quibbles aside. Only Bear seems like a voice of reason on either side of the conflict. More blood will be spilt before this is through.

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