‘Fargo’ Season 5, Episode 8 Recap: Rude Awakenings

When Dot was kidnapped early in the season and then she simply returned home as if nothing had happened, it was absurd on its face. No one, other than Wayne, could believe that she had stepped out for a while and come back in time to whisk up some Bisquick for their daughter. And even though she knew that her abductors would lay siege to the house again, she was determined to enjoy Halloween with her family, even as she laid out booby traps like Dustin Hoffman in “Straw Dogs.” She’s the sort of determined fantasist who believes she can bend reality to her will.

That bubble is punctured in two lines in this week’s episode, as Roy finally has her back at his ranch in North Dakota, shackled to the floor like an animal. “You’ll end up same as Linda,” he hisses. “I’ll bury you right next to her.” We had just spent most of the previous episode at Camp Utopia, the women’s shelter that Dot had conjured in a reverie over pancakes, which seemed at the time like a clever way to fill in a crucial piece of her back story. But now it’s clear that she was clinging to the idea that Linda had fled Tillman Ranch to save herself and perhaps could one day reappear to make amends with Dot and be a mother again to her wayward son, Gator, who has gone to the dark side in her absence.

In the time leading up to Roy’s revelation about what really happened to Linda, Dot is still dead set on returning to the fantasy life that she has nearly succeeded in making real. She needs to order an ice cream cake for Scotty’s birthday. She has her duties as a den mother for a girl scout troop. She has 13 seasons of “Call the Midwife” to get through with Wayne. Yet the incontrovertible truth about Roy is that he is a killer with a badge, unrestrained by the laws of man or the influence of a powerful lawyer like Danish Graves, who smugly assumed he had the upper hand in a negotiation. From her shelter on the ranch, Dot can see that corpse disposal is so routine for Roy that he has a pit on site for it.

At this point, it may be worth questioning how sincere “Fargo” is about domestic violence. As skillfully as the show’s creator, Noah Hawley, has spun his serio-comic yarn this season, it can be difficult to reconcile the glib, knowing, referential tone of the show with the content warnings that have bracketed the last two episodes. When Roy takes his long walk back to Dot in the shelter, following his humiliation at the county sheriff’s debate, a Lisa Hannigan cover of the Britney Spears hit “Toxic” blankets the soundtrack and it strikes a bum note. “Dark” covers of pop songs have become a staple of movie trailers, and here it’s the coming attraction to a type of abuse the show isn’t sober enough to handle. What worked for the puppets in Camp Utopia feels more like genre exploitation here.

It doesn’t help that the prelude to violence is so extravagantly silly. Lorraine and Danish’s plan to spoil Roy’s re-election campaign surely ranks as the strangest of the onerous debt consolidation options offered by Redemption Services. In order for the plan to work, Danish has to get name changes approved for three Roy Tillmans, secure spots for each of them on the debate stage for Stark County sheriff and provoke the real Roy Tillman so shrewdly that he melts down and slugs the female moderator. Those seem like a lot of unpredictable variables, but the scene itself is reasonably funny, with the fake Roys echoing the real one like siblings pranking their older brother.

Now that the Roy-Dot-Linda situation has been clarified, can we get a puppet-assisted back story on how Indira and Lars Olmstead ever became a couple? Because whatever it is that Lars brought to the table when they fell in love and got married, there’s no evidence left of it now. Indira catching Lars with another woman adds infidelity to a long list of flaws that she itemizes one last time before kicking him out of the house. Throughout the season, Indira’s troubles at home have been placed in contrast with Dot’s blissful marriage to Wayne, and it has offered a different picture of domestic toxicity than Dot’s abuse at Roy’s hands. They are both women fighting for their own happiness, and the show has engineered an unspoken bond between them.

The final shot of Dot peering out a small, broken window on the ranch, fully awake to Roy’s capabilities, introduces a genuine fear that we haven’t yet seen from her. “You don’t have a plan, do you?,” she asked him earlier. She intended it as a rhetorical taunt, but perhaps now she realizes that his not having a plan is a terrifying proposition. He will assert his authority over her. He hasn’t planned anything after that.

  • Dot knowing the truth about what happened to Linda does increase the possibility that Gator will turn on his father, especially given the vulnerability he shows at any mention of his mother. He will have to survive Ole Munch first, however.

  • Nice to see Deputy Witt Farr re-emerge in the hospital, where he tries to pry Dot away from Roy’s clutches. He has shown a lot of courage already in standing up to the Tillmans, but it’s his insistence on repeatedly calling Dot “Mrs. Lyon” that is touching in this context. He wants her (and Roy) to know that he recognizes who she really is.

  • One Coens reference in this episode: Indira’s opening the bedroom closet door on Lars’s mistress recalls when George Clooney discovers Brad Pitt hiding out in “Burn After Reading.” The mistress gets off a little easier, though.

  • Another small movie reference: The squeaky windmill above the spot where Roy dumps his victims seems like a nod to the famous opening of “Once Upon a Time in the West,” where such a squeak is among the new sounds we hear in the pregnant moments before three outlaws ambush Charles Bronson at a train station. It’s also a callback to the place where she hid the postcard from Linda in her reverie.

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