'Fargo' recap: 'The Gift of the Magi'

We are halfway through Season 2, and it is only fitting that we can celebrate this moment with death, destruction and Ronald Reagan.

The episode begins with Reagan delivering his "City on the Hill" speech to a small gathering of Luverne residents.


While the incomparable Bruce Campbell delivers his best Reagan impression, the Kansas City criminals are having a polite hunting trip with a local zoning commissioner. This trip is interrupted, however, when the Gerhardts decide to have their own hunting trip.

A gloriously bloody shootout follows (it's about time) and Hanzee (what a badass) manages to kill a Kitchen brother and Joe Bulo. He keeps the other Kitchen brother alive (like Mr. Wrench!) to gift (of the Magi?) Bulo's head to Mike.


Mike, the cold-hearted snake charmer, shows Bulo's head to Simone Gerhardt before outlining his next move.

"I want to know what they're gonna do before they do it, every time," Mike says to Simone. "Otherwise you can die with the rest of them."

Mike's decision to let Simone go shows the power he wields and his cold calculation. It is a chilling scene that paints Mike as a much more formidable opponent than Bulo was (God rest his soul).

On the other side, the Gerhardts are gearing up for an all-out war. Hanzee discovers the truth about Rye and relays the information to Dodd and Floyd. Dodd takes it upon himself to say that a hit man from Kansas City, posing as a butcher, killed Rye. This lie works perfectly on Floyd, who is now more eager to fight back.


Dodd sends his henchman and Charlie, Bear's confused son (c'mon man), to go kill Ed.

Meanwhile Dodd continues his string of being a total douche when he threatens his daughter with a fist (or a knife) because she is acting like a grown up. Luckily, Floyd intervenes.

It seems as if Floyd is losing control of the family and the only one she seems to have on her side is Bear. Dodd is manipulating and maneuvering the family towards disaster, but at least he will be in charge of that disaster.

Lou's investigation, in the meantime, is put on a hold while he escorts Reagan through the city.

During this trip we learn how empty the words of the Great Communicator truly are. First, Ronny tries to bond with Lou about the war, even though Lou was in the real war and Ron was in a movie about a war. Furthermore, he cannot even remember the ending of the movie. Then Lou asks the future president about his wife, the cruelty of the world and if there's hope for the future.

"Son, there is not a challenge on God's earth that cannot be overcome by an American, and I truly believe that," Reagan says.

When Lou asks him how, though, Reagan has no response. Reagan's appearance serves to highlight the emptiness of American Exceptionalism, even moving the staunch Ron Swans… I mean Karl Weathers ... to tears with his charisma.

Finally we move to the stars of the episode. Peggy and Ed are debating their next move, given Lou's warning. Ed, for the first time, is just as stubborn as Peggy has been. He cannot abandon his American Fream and run away with Peggy (bad move).

Peggy decides to get her car and run away without Ed, but when she gets in the car she has second thoughts. Ultimately she sells the car and returns home, telling Ed that he was right to stay put. Call me suspicious, but I figure her motives are not so pure.

While that is going on, Ed is in the shop. Charlie arrives for blood, but discovers he does not have the guts to kill Ed and his assistant, Noreen.

"Kid, one more thing: no witnesses," Dodd's henchman says before Charlie enters the shop.

After Charlie decides he wants to go to school instead of being a criminal (finally someone makes a smart decision!) he and the henchman go back into the shop to finish the job. Things go awry almost immediately.

Charlie misses his first shot, his gun jams, he can't fix it with his club hand, the shop is set ablaze, Charlie is shot by accident and Ed kills the henchman with a cleaver. Ed does manage to drag the injured Charlie out of the burning building, so it is not all bad.

Ed, realizing that Lou was right, runs home ready to leave town with Peggy. Of course, Peggy does not want to leave now, choosing instead to fight for the American Dream. The episode ends with cops pulling up to the Blomquist household.

The second season of "Fargo" keeps getting better. This episode is all about how pointless everything is, and I believe this is the real strength of Fargo. There is something darkly hilarious about the futility of life.

We have a clueless Reagan making speeches about America's "rendezvous with destiny," while he has no answers for the struggling Lou.

Ed and Peggy are fighting for an American Dream that does not exist while trying to cover-up a murder that has already been solved.

Dodd is fighting for his dream to run the family while he is totally blind to the fact that he is pushing for a war he cannot win.

The only one who seems to understand the way the world works is Mike. Mike calls himself an optimist because he sees the head of his boss as an opportunity, rather than a disaster.

I feel like Lou is on his way to understanding the truth of the world as well. He is staying up at night trying to make sense of the world, trying to grasp why bad things happen to good people. When he asks one of history's greatest talkers, Ronald Reagan, for an answer Reagan finds himself at a loss for words.

This episode just goes to show that death is nothing but the punch line to the meandering joke that is life. "Fargo" is nothing if not a tragic comedy that illustrates that sentiment.


Most direct metaphor: Noreen is reading Albert Camus in the butcher shop. Camus is the master of futility, and Noreen perfectly sums Camus up with the quote, "Knowing we are all gonna die makes life a joke." If only Ed listened when she said, "You could kill yourself … get it over with."

Funniest moment: Karl Weathers, Nick Offerman's scene-stealing character, vows not to shake Reagan's hand since he made a movie with a chimp. Weathers promptly turns into the biggest fan girl, praising Reagan's work. Offerman's transformation from stoic idealist to star-struck fan is priceless.

The self-fulfilling prophecy: This is why I love "Fargo." At the beginning of the episode, Dodd tells his mother about Ed the Butcher, a hit man hired by Kansas City. At the end of the episode, Ed the Butcher kills Dodd's henchman with a cleaver.

Quote of the night: "She was a true gloom my mother, we used to eat in the dark. For a laugh I wrote on her tombstone, 'Here lies Barbara Milligan, happy 'till the end.'" -- Mike Milligan does it again with his reflection of his mother. A tombstone is supposed to encapsulate an entire life and Mike uses his mother's as a joke. If that is not hilariously morbid I don't know what is.