This week opens with a sequence that is, strictly speaking, a prequel to the prequel we’re watching. This should annoy me, given my avowed aversion to prequels*, but then this season isn’t much of a prequel to the first, as the incident in Sioux Falls gets referenced there a few times, but is not directly tied to any of the events there. And similarly, the movie theater flashback offers color to Dodd’s characterization, but does not expressly connect it to any specific plot points. We have a better understanding of how Dodd grew up to think that violence is the hammer that fits every nail, but it’s not like the Kansas City syndicate is sending Milligan and Brad Garrett up specifically to avenge the asshole he knifed in back.
This is what separates a good flashback from a shitty prequel, if you ask me. A proper flashback feeds us added character context, that we didn’t necessarily need when the character was first introduced. A bad prequel focuses on plot mechanics and physical minutia, setting up story elements for “future” installments that presumably worked fine with the set up they originally had, or tying itself in knots rushing to establish that Indiana Jones got his whip, hat and chin scar all on one wacky afternoon. Luckily, characters like Dodd and Lou aren’t brimming with iconography that these looks at their younger selves feel necessary to “explain”. Not that I don’t think Noah Hawley is smart enough to avoid that pitfall anyway; for example, older Lou had a quirk of tying and untying knots when he was nervous. Rather than the second season showing us how he picked up this habit, we instead find that he was already doing it as a younger man. Not every detail needs a justification.
Speaking of unraveling, and impeccable segues, things came apart shockingly fast for the Blomquists this week. Given that we’re less than half the way through the season, I thought that I had a vague understanding of the trajectory they were on. I figured that they would continue sweating out the Rye situation for a few more episodes until Peggy’s boss caused trouble by putting together Betsy’s musings with the damage to the car. Things would come to a violent head with her, and perhaps Mike Milligan, who is also looking for Rye but had less reason than any other party to act on that knowledge once he learned the specifics. As I presume(d) that at least Peggy is in the season for the long haul, I figured there could be some sort of alliance brokered there that could keep that plotline circling the gang war until the conclusion. And building up the argument over the seminar money seemed to confirm that the show was drumming up some fairly staid domestic drama to keep this storyline’s wheels spinning until the rest of the plot was ready for it.
So I was pretty blown away when this episode featured both the Gerhardts and Lou figuring out the truth in such short order. Lou, for his part, lacks the hard evidence to make immediate arrests, but he has a detailed theory that matches all the circumstantial bits available. And Hanzee could be offed before he’s able to relay his findings to Dodd, which if this were a 24-episode network season we were talking about then I’d be sure that precisely that would happen, but this show operates on its own level and timeframe, so I’m just not so sure what to expect anymore. I won’t be surprised if Peggy comes back from the Lifespring seminar as a fully-actualized, assertive widow, but beyond that I can only hazard a guess that things end very badly for them both.
With Hanzee hot on the trail, straight razor in hand, it seems like this storyline is headed for some immediate bloodshed, or at least a tense standoff like we’ve seen several other times recently. But instead, he quietly vacates the premises and we get something quite different, as Lou has an unsuccessful come-to-Jesus talk with the couple, where he details his wartime experience dealing with soldiers who have been mortally wounded but remain in enough shock to be coherent. It’s an apt metaphor for any number of Coen/Fargo characters – poor Skip last week didn’t even get the blithe reassurances Lou describes as he literally stood in his own grave. But Lou fails to convince the Blomquists to come clean, and while we knew they weren’t going to stop digging now anyway, the real power of the scene doesn’t come to fruition until he goes home to Betsy. He assures her with as much sincerity as he can muster that he’s sure she got the real medicine and she’s going to be fine. They both know that isn’t true, but it’s a lie they have to tell themselves in order to enjoy what time she has left on any level.
That’s going to be hard for Lou, however, since the KC/Gerhardt war seems to have passed a point of no return, spurred on by Dodd and his nephew’s assault on some goons in the procurement of donuts from John C. Reilly’s body double, and the possible murder of Otto by Milligan and the Kitchen Bros. I say possible because I watched the bedroom scene twice and couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be lying in state or not. The parking lot ambush ends with Milligan and co. lowering their weapons and walking away having only removed his hat (which is weird considering they have already committed an act of war), but when he’s lying there he seems to have some new head wounds and we don’t get a shot of Michael Hogan flexing the one-eye acting muscles he honed on Battlestar Galactica. It’s a weird, I’m sure unintentional, ambiguity, but I can’t figure out which way makes more sense. I’d be interested to hear what people’s assumptions were in the comments.
But backtracking a bit, the “negotiation” scene at the hotel is fantastic stuff for Jean Smart (and Brad Garret, who I have never given a single thought to as an actor, but is perfect here), and the bit in the car where hardcase Dodd seeks silent reassurance from his mommy is ready-made for her Emmy reel. Given the set-up of Kansas City as the Walmart of Crime, it doesn’t make any thematic sense for Mom n’ Pop to triumph in this conflict, but I can’t wait to see her as a wartime president. As she loses family members, I only see her becoming more dangerous, and I’m already kind of terrified of her.
But ultimately, while I think Milligan specifically will be taken down by a Gerhardy woman, I don’t think it will be Floyd. It will probably be Dodd’s wanna-be bohemian daughter, who is introduced in this episode by the ever-smooth Milligan** noting that she surprised him there “in the end”. They’re ostensibly talking about sticking a thumb in his butt, but it nonetheless lays the groundwork that this smooth operator is still capable of underestimating her. And while she may be sore enough at her dad at the moment to be nonchalant about his potential murder, she may see things differently once they start to make good on Garrett’s threat to wipe every member of her family off the map.
Okay then. On to Coen Bingo and other random shit:
COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT
– Dodd uses a cattle prod to assault the goons, while Anton Chigurgh uses, among other things, a bolt gun also designed for use on cattle to kill his victims.
– Hanzee’s largely silent, eerily efficient tracking of Rye’s final journey is also highly reminiscent of Chigurgh stalking Moss’s progress through Texas. Zahn McClarnon is absolutely killing it in those largely wordless scenes, though, becoming at least for the week the Nemesis I was blathering about last week. If he doesn’t at least get typecast as the heavy in another half dozen crime shows after this, it’s a goddamn travesty.
– Lou’s nighttime musing about the world being out of balance sounds an awful lot like Ed Tom Bell’s complaints to his uncle.
– The UFO is back! Sort of! This time it is checking out Hanzee in broad daylight. Maybe, since it’s still presented in a way that could just be a trick of the light – which may make more sense, since he sees it in the same place as Rye did, and it would be an odd place for a flying saucer to be camped out, but then the close ups on the diner clock and his watch suggest he lost two hours sitting there on the side of the road, so I don’t know anymore.
– The vagaries of Netflix’s long/short wait made me a liar, so I ended up rewatching The Man Who Wasn’t There over the weekend. Alas, I managed to glean no insights into its connection to the show from watching it again, or added appreciation for it. It remains a lifeless if beautiful outlier in the Coen filmography, at least whenever James Gandolfini or Tony Shaloub are not on screen.
– Lou’s pitch about being dead but not knowing it yet is pretty similar to the one Carson Wells gives to Moss in the hospital in No Country. It also failed to sway the other party to give up there.
– The closing song also appeared in Raising Arizona.
– The hotel Pearl is pretty close to the Hotel Earle, in name if not in layout. But those slow pushes down the hall did have that Barton Fink feeling.
*Which, I want to stress, is not just scarring from “The Prequels”. As bad as those movies are, most of their problems are unrelated to the timeframe in which they take place. And I’m still not saying that a prequel can’t be good, just that “untold origin story” has about the worst batting average of any sort of narrative subgenus, in my experience.
**I don’t think Bokeem Woodbine is even a person half the time. He feels and sounds more like a muppet designed to teach the concept of Smoothness to the more advanced kids on Sesame Street.