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'Fargo' recap: A rendezvous with destiny

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Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan on Fargo
Hail to the (future) chief: Bruce Campbell channels Ronald Reagan on 'Fargo.'
Courtesy of FX

Every week on "Aw Jeez: A 'Fargo' podcast," hosts Tracy Mumford and Jay Gabler recap the latest episode, and interview experts about the mayhem, the mob and the Minnesota moments in season two of "Fargo." Listen to the audio for more analysis and speculation on last night's goings on.

This week on "Aw Jeez," we interview Maggie Phillips, the "Fargo" music supervisor. She spills all the details about the '70s soundtrack, the song covers from Coen Brothers movies and character anthems.

But before the music, we have murder and mayhem. 

"It's war," as Floyd Gerhardt said at the end of last week's episode.

And this week, wartime is certainly upon us — though most of the casualties, so far, are red shirts.

The episode opens with Ronald Reagan's campaign bus rolling across the prairie. It's still a little unclear precisely when in 1979 this is meant to be, but on multiple occasions this episode, we hear Reagan — played by the legendary Bruce Campbell — delivering a stump speech derived from his November 1979 speech announcing his presidential candidacy, with references to a "rendezvous with destiny" (as Miss Scarlet might say, "You ain't just whistlin' Dixie!") and citing John Winthrop's vision of America as "a city on a hill."

Anyhoo, while the Gipper is talking about his humble working-class origins, the Kansas City mobsters are arming up — for what? For a deer-hunting expedition, it turns out, with Fargo's bow-hunting zoning commissioner as their expert guide. 

While they pace through the woods, the commissioner and Joe Bulo talk shop: Bulo wants to bring big business (an asphalt and concrete conglomerate?) to Fargo, and that sounds good to the commissioner, who suggests that he has plenty of political influence to wield. We get the sense that Kansas City is shoring up its local position.

Deer hunting in 'Fargo'
It's deer hunting season in 'Fargo,' but the hunters quickly become the hunted.
Courtesy of FX

Meanwhile, at the Gerhardt compound, Dent produces Rye's belt buckle and gives Floyd and Bear an essentially accurate account of how the family's youngest son met his maker. Where Dent starts to diverge from the truth — with Dodd's anxious encouragement — is regarding the identity of Ed Blumquist, the bumbling butcher. 

In the version of events presented by Dodd and Dent, Ed is the infamous "Butcher of Luverne," a hired hit man for Kansas City who specifically targeted Rye. This suggests that Kansas City has fired the first shot in the Gerhardts' "war."

Thus it is that the actual Kansas City mobsters are ambushed in the woods by a Dent-led posse. The first fatality is the commissioner (who is later described as having "half his face in the bushes"), and the body count mounts from there. Several supporting mobsters on both sides lose their lives, including — seemingly — both Kitchen Brothers. The scene ends with a quiet confrontation between Bulo and Dent. Ominous.

Back in town, Reagan wraps up his speech, which has moved Karl Weathers to tears. As Reagan gets ready to mount up in his campaign bus, Karl vows he'll never shake the hand of a man who made a movie with a monkey — then immediately goes back on his word. ("I loved you in 'Cattle Queen of Montana.'") Lou Solverson climbs into his cruiser, having been assigned to escort the candidate to his next stop; Lou declines Karl's suggestion that he ask whether Joan Crawford really had crabs.

At the Gerhardt Haus, Dodd is jubilant at the family's seeming coup. Floyd isn't wearing a party hat, though: she's still mourning Rye, and tells Dodd to have the Butcher of Luverne killed. ("No mercy.") Eager young Charlie wants a piece of that action, and a cigar-chomping Dodd puts his new protegé in the passenger seat as he sends a family hitman across the border — though not before telling the hitman he'll need to "deal with it" if anything goes wrong.

As the heat rolls their way, Ed and Peggy are having an impromptu family meeting in their oddly cavernous and well-lit basement, which is filled with magazines that Peggy has hoarded. After Lou's warning in the last episode, she's been assuming the couple would high-tail it to California — but Ed insists that they stay, buy the butcher shop and start a family. Peggy lets on that there may be a further complication: her coworker Constance saw their car with its windshield bashed in (that is, after the first crash but before the second and third).

Charlie's not the only Gerhardt making moves: Simone jumps into her car, despite Dodd's protestations that it's not safe out there ("I can run my own errands!"). She flips on the radio, where the Dramatics are singing "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get," and hotboxes herself en route to Mike Milligan's hotel.

Simone tries to romance Milligan on 'Fargo'
Simone Gerhardt's allegiances remain in question as she tries to romance Mike Milligan on 'Fargo.' Just don't ask what's in the box on the desk.
Courtesy of FX

The door is opened by a single surviving Kitchen Brother, and Mike is in an understandably pensive mood — with Joe Bulo's head, sans body, tucked neatly into a box on his desk. Simone by this point seems to have genuine affection for Milligan, but this is no "Romeo and Juliet," he clarifies: If she wants to be exempted from the rain of doom about to be unleashed upon her family, she'll need to tell Milligan exactly what her family is planning.

While Reagan's bus is pulled over at the side of the road, Lou gets on the horn and catches up with his Fargo colleague Ben Schmidt. They trade information, with Ben telling Lou about the massacre in the woods, and Lou sharing what he's discovered about Ed's role in Rye's killing. They agree that Lou will head up to Fargo the following day, "if we survive the night."

At the butcher shop, Ed unknowingly awaits his doom. He's trying to raise the money to buy the shop, despite his young coworker Noreen's bleak pronouncement that everyone's going to die, and hence life is a joke. (She's still reading Camus.) Noreen perks up, though, when the boyishly handsome Charlie walks in and makes small talk about philosophy while he waits to kill the butcher. (The assistant butcher, technically, as Noreen points out.) When Ed actually emerges, Charlie loses his nerve and returns to the getaway car with only a package of Luverne's best meat.

Meanwhile, Peggy's powder-blue sedan is now ready and waiting to be picked up at the shop. Peggy pays for the repairs, then suddenly changes her mind and sells her car to the shop owner for $700. Why?

Charlie Gerhardt on 'Fargo'
Second time is not the charm: Charlie Gerhart musters up the courage to go after Ed Blumquist -- but things don't go as planned.
Courtesy of FX

We'll find out later, but first we have to find out what happens at the butcher shop. After calling his dad to say he's ready to go back to school whenever, Charlie makes a second attempt on Ed's life. This time he actually manages to get a shot off, but it misses Ed and sparks a fire in the back of the butcher shop. The Gerhardts' hitman, having correctly guessed that Charlie was going to screw this up, bursts in the door and fires a shot that also misses Ed — hitting Charlie instead. Ed and the hitman struggle, and Ed prevails with a one-two punch from a tenderizer and a cleaver. He and Noreen escape, dragging the wounded Charlie out of the growing blaze at Noreen's behest.

Back in Fargo, Bear is having a moment with Dent. Bear correctly senses there's something fishy about this "Butcher of Luverne" story, and says as much to Dent. Dodd appears to defend Dent, and the brothers bristle. "There's going to be a reckoning one day," declares Bear.

Lou's having his own moment, in a bathroom on the campaign trail with Ronald Reagan. As the two men stand at adjoining urinals, Lou confesses that "the sickness of this world" has somehow infected his wife. "Son," booms Reagan, "there's not a challenge in this world that can't be overcome by America. I truly believe that." Clapping Lou on the back, the soon-to-be 40th President of the United States declines to offer any further details.

At the Solverson home, Betsy's feeling bad — as in nauseous, which she takes to be a positive sign that her experimental drug wasn't actually a placebo. Hank, her kind-hearted dad, agrees to watch little Molly while Betsy lies down: "We'll just be here eating sugar cereal and playing with my service weapon."

Things aren't quite as cute at the Gerhardt compound, where Simone's sexy getup, having failed to woo Milligan, is noticed — and creepily remarked upon — by her dad Dodd, who gets up in her face to implicitly threaten her with a beating or worse. Floyd has to intervene to protect her granddaughter, and we suspect this isn't the first time she's done so.

Ed Blumquist feeling the heat on 'Fargo'
Feel the heat: Ed Blumquist's dreams of owning the butcher shop are about to go up in smoke.
Courtesy of FX

The episode's final scene involves Ed and Peggy, who could buy the butcher shop with the $700 Peggy proudly presents, except that the shop has burned down, and Ed's just killed another fella ("maybe two"), so it will be California after all. At least, that's the plan — until the two see flashing lights outside their front door.

In the end, the name of the episode becomes clear: It's "The Gift of the Magi" in that Ed's given Peggy her chance to bolt, and Peggy's given Ed a chance to buy the butcher shop, but neither is an option anymore. (You can read the original "Gift of the Magi" story online.) Minnesota: You can't live with it, you can't live without it.