'Fargo' recap: An act of cruelty

Peggy and Ed Blumquist on 'Fargo'
The Blumquists decide to take a stand in the supermarket 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 is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota, North and South Dakota in 1979. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

Every episode of "Fargo" has kicked off with this same introduction, promising "truth" where there isn't much. There was no 1979 massacre at the Motor Motel. Fargo is not a hot bed of organized crime. Luverne, Minn., never had a Waffle Hut. Surprisingly, the alien encounters are the truest part of this season, which has now been wrapped up, read a story and put to bed.

This season's sprawling spree of murderous mayhem all began when the mustachioed Rye Gerhardt disobeyed a cardinal rule: He didn't look both ways before crossing the street. He stepped onto the snowy country highway, entranced by mysterious lights in the distance, and right into the path of Peggy Blumquist's blue Corvair.

Rye's subsequent death by gardening trowel at the hands of Peggy's hapless husband Ed triggered the chaos that engulfed his entire family. Last night's episode walked us down a morbid memory lane with a montage of the fallen Gerhardt crime family: Rye in the freezer. Otto at the table. Dodd in the cabin. Simone in the woods. Floyd, then Bear, at the Motor Motel. The mysterious lights returned, hovering over Bear's body in the parking lot, to see what they had wrought.

But last night was about the living, a category that still includes Betsy Solverson, despite all hints that cancer might claim her before the final credits. She's recuperating at home with little Molly and Camus-obsessed Noreen, and she treats us to a dream sequence right out of the Coen brothers' "Raising Arizona."

A view of the future on 'Fargo'
Betsy Solverson dreams of the future on "Fargo," where her grown daughter Molly celebrates her son's birthday. Keith Carradine, Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman and Joey King all reprise their roles from season one for this cameo.
Courtesy of FX

Betsy dreams of a future filled with digital gadgets and big box stores — she seems to predict the rise of Costco — and she dreams of Molly, grown up with a family. The stars of season one, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks and Keith Carradine, return in a cameo as Molly, Gus and old Lou, respectively.

But that's only half the dream: She also dreams of a dangerous force, symbolized by Hanzee Dent peering through the flames, threatening the happy future she's imagined for her family.

She could be psychic — or it could be those pills.

Back in Sioux Falls, having managed to escape a double-digit massacre at the motel, Ed and Peggy are on the run again from Hanzee, the Gerhardts' trusted man gone rogue. He's sporting a severe burn on half his face now, thanks to Peggy's aim with the motel coffee pot.

On foot, Hanzee is one of those horror movie villains where it doesn't matter how fast you run — he will catch you by simply walking. He shoots Ed through the shoulder, forcing the panicked Blumquists to take refuge in the least hospitable place possible: the walk-in freezer of a supermarket. Locking yourself into subzero temps with a bloody side of beef is never Plan A.

The Blumquists in the freezer on "Fargo"
The Blumquists hide out in the freezer in "Fargo."
Courtesy of FX

In the frosty walk-in, mortally wounded, Ed breaks it to Peggy that their marriage just isn't going to work — even if they do make it out alive. A blindsided Peggy insists that all this adversity has only made them stronger, but Ed's done living with someone who always tries to fix what doesn't need fixing. (And who got them into this whole mess, to be fair. Way to finally speak up, Ed.)

Peggy's panic increases when she sees smoke pouring through the freezer vent: It must be Hanzee, she reasons, trying to smoke them out. It's just like that movie, she starts telling Ed — "The Eagle's Nest," which we've seen pop up throughout the season, featured a trapped couple who make a triumphant escape from certain death.

But life is not like the movies. Ed goes quiet in the cold. Peggy starts to choke on the smoke. She has no other choice but to open the freezer door and face Hanzee down. But he's not there — he never was. And there's no smoke. It's only Lou and the reluctant Fargo cop Ben Schmidt, who followed the blood trail to the freezer.

Peggy imagined the whole thing — and Ed, who survived about six episodes longer than anyone thought he would, is finally dead.

"I don't even know how to write this thing up," Schmidt tells Lou after Peggy is put in the car for her return trip to Minnesota. How do you sum up the mayhem that had happened?

"Start at the start and work your way to the end," Lou tells him. Sound advice, but the title of this episode is "Palindrome" — a word whose end is also its beginning.

Back in Fargo, Mike Milligan strolls right in the front door of the Gerhardt compound. Nobody's home but some taxidermy and the faithful housekeeper, Wilma.

Milligan declares himself king — after all, there's nobody left to challenge him. "No more schnitzel or strudel," he tells Wilma, putting a stamp on the end of the German Gerhardts' control. "Let's get some American food."

But it turns out one last Gerhardt lackey managed to survive the Motor Motel shoot-out: Ricky from Buffalo. Still sporting his turtleneck and gold chain, he's come to pillage the family silver and take what he can from the compound.

Milligan and the remaining Kitchen brother catch him in the act, and Milligan gives him a crash course in sovereignty. He announces that he's decided to begin his reign as king with an act of kindness — and an act of cruelty. Wilma gets the kindness: a new car and a pile of cash. For Buffalo Ricky, there's nothing left but the shot gun.

All that bleeding and dying and pontificating leaves Milligan in need of a nap. When he wakes, he plans to sweep back down to Kansas City and declare "Mission Accomplished." All the Gerhardts are dead. The Northern Expansion was a success.

"Who knows," Milligan tells the remaining twin. "Maybe they'll even throw us a parade."

Betsy and Molly Solverson on "Fargo"
Betsy Solverson dreams of her future on "Fargo."
Courtesy of FX

At the Solverson house, Noreen is waxing philosophical herself. She's sharing her newly acquired views on death from the book she's been reading all season, Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus."

Betsy's not in the mood for a Frenchman's dismissal of life as absurd.

"I'm guessing he doesn't have a 6-year-old girl," Betsy says, destroying the existentialist philosopher in one emotional sentence, with a sleeping Molly tucked in bed beside her.

Peggy Blumquist and Lou Solverson on "Fargo"
Peggy Blumquist and Lou Solverson have a clash of worldviews on "Fargo."
Courtesy of FX

On the final drive back home, Peggy asks Lou from the backseat if she could get tried for a federal crime. After all, there's a nice prison she saw on the news that had views of the San Francisco Bay — maybe she could get to California after all.

Lou pierces Peggy's dreams with his story of the fall of Saigon. He was on a ship off the coast as South Vietnamese refugees tried anything they could to get aboard, to leave with the retreating Americans. One helicopter pilot managed to deliver his entire family, and then crash his 6,000-pound Chinook into the waters — and still swim free. That man, Lou says, reminds him of Ed, doing anything it took to save his family.

But Peggy has her own war story: The war of being a woman, of fighting to have it all, of being called faulty when you couldn't balance family and work and home. "I was a victim too," Peggy says. "I was a victim first."

Lou has spent the entire season trying to make Peggy understand, to realize what she's done, to realize that she was in danger. When it's just the two of them in the car together, it's clear they'll never reach an understanding.

Hanzee Dent on "Fargo"
Hanzee Dent sports new scars, courtesy of Peggy Blumquist, on "Fargo."
Courtesy of FX

Hanzee, having bagged one Blumquist, has now retreated into the American dream: He's sitting at the ball field on a sunny day, watching kids play catch — and speaking to each other in sign language. Half his face is bandaged, and his contact shows up with a new life for him, beginning with a new name: Moses Tripoli.

Mr. Tripoli on 'Fargo' season one
Mr. Tripoli on "Fargo" season one
Courtesy of FX

He'll need a new face too — a complete, structural change, the contact says.

The face he will get is one we've seen before. Tripoli was the head of the Fargo crime family in the show's first season. It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-him role, with just a few minutes of screen time, but it's another way that Hawley ties his wild Midwestern universe together.

Hanzee Dent will become Tripoli, and the small boys playing baseball will grow up to be Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, the Fargo henchmen pair from season one. (Presumably Hanzee earns their loyalty after he guts the bullies beating them up.)

In Kansas City, Milligan doesn't get the parade he's hoping for. Instead, he's welcomed into the mob's corporate family, complete with an HR department, a 401k, a tiny office and — in a lovely moment of remembrance for typewriter salesman Skip Spring — an IBM Selectric.

Moving up in the world of the mob doesn't mean busting heads or wild shoot-outs, Milligan learns. In Kansas City, it means profit and loss statements, revenue reports and staplers. It also means he needs to cut his hair and get a real tie. (Bye bye, bolo.) After all, "the '70s are over," his corporate overlord tells him.

Mike Milligan in 'Fargo'
Mike Milligan contemplates his new corporate purgatory on "Fargo."
Courtesy of FX

Back at the Solverson house, Lou has finally made it home. Hank, who we last saw bleeding out on the floor of the Motor Motel, has recuperated enough to make it over for Sunday dinner.

All has been resolved — except for that whole alien thing.

Lou and Hank agree that writing "gun fight interrupted by spacecraft" in their reports may not be the best idea. Better just leave out those strange lights.

And as for Hank's symbol obsession, which Betsy discovered when feeding his cats — it turns out Hank hasn't been decoding any alien messages. He's simply been trying to create a universal language — a set of symbols that could eliminate misunderstandings and bring about world peace.

It's a lofty hobby.

After all the chaos, the death and the betrayal, Lou finally gets to finish reading his daughter Molly a bedtime story. (Their story time in episode one was interrupted by the Waffle Hut murders, and he hasn't had much time since.)

Then, it's lights out in the Solverson house.

Goodnight to Mr. Solverson, Mrs. Solverson, and all the ships at sea.

This week, we have an interview on the podcast with Adam Arkin, who directed the last two episodes of "Fargo," and played the role of Hamish Broker, the Kansas City mob leader. Download the podcast or use the audio player above to get the scoop on directing the "Fargo" finale.