Written by Randy Allain
With each new entry into the fifth season of Noah Hawley’s Fargo, it becomes clearer and clearer that our scrappy heroine, Dot Lyon (Juno Temple, Ted Lasso) is more than just a survivor. She is a revolutionary.
It’s fun to watch Dot construct makeshift flamethrowers and booby traps, but it’s her ability to spark new life into the folks around her that makes her special. We saw the power of Dot’s influence a few weeks ago in “The Tiger” when Deputy Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani, Never Have I Ever) agreed to cover for Dot after her hospital escape. Things haven’t slowed down since then.
Fargo’s two most recent entries continue to track Dot’s revolution. In “The Tender Trap,” the sixth entry of the season, we see Indira fan those flames of revolution and find her own voice. Subsequently, the seventh entry of the season, “Linda,” shows us that Dot can empower herself just as well as she empowers the women around her. Now, before we examine how this movement is taking shape, be sure to check out “The Tender Trap” and “Linda.”
The Tender Trap (5.6)
While the previous episode centered on Dot “The Tiger” Lyon (Juno Temple, Ted Lasso) and her ability to spark new life into some of the folks who have been drawn into her orbit, the most recent episode lets those sparks burst into flame. What once felt like a show about a lone woman against the world is starting to feel a bit more like a movement. Of course, before you take a look at how this movement is taking shape, be sure to check out “The Tender Trap,” the sixth entry in Fargo’s fifth season.
If Dot has, in fact, sparked some sort of revolution – then that revolution is taking shape in opposition to Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and the twisted, hypocritical brand of “Constitutional justice” he is using to manipulate and terrorize his constituents. Despite the unnecessary Donald Trump footage in this episode, Tillman isn’t really all that interested in partisan politics. He is all about control. Tillman isn’t excited by his wife’s right-wing talking points, and he seemed similarly disinterested in her father’s militia a few weeks ago. It’s becoming clearer with each episode that he is simply interested in exploiting the power that comes from riding atop all of the chaos and hatred. This is further evidenced through his decreasingly justified acts of murder and audaciously hypocritical disgust with Vivian Dugger, (Andrew Wheeler, The Day the World Stood Still) the banker we met last week, for “keeping tabs” on a woman who was trying to escape his abusive advances.
Despite our growing disgust with Roy Tillman, the episode also hinges on establishing a new key villain in the story: the king of this season’s man babies: Lars Olmstead (Lukas Gage, The White Lotus). In one of the most anger-inducing scenes ever recorded, Lars demands “a wife” and defines a host of services that he expects “his” wife, Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani, Never Have I Ever) to deliver; essentially Lars unironically requests everything Judy Syfers listed in her satirical 1971 article, “I Want a Wife” (part of a promotion for the launch of Ms. magazine). In a show full of campy indulgence that often works, this scene may have gone a step too far. Fortunately, the scene mainly exists as a launching point for Indira Olmstead to start speaking her mind and go to bat for the absent Dot Lyon. More on that later.
Thankfully, we get to balance out some of Lars’ bullshit by spending quality time with our much more lovable man-baby: Wayne Lyon (David Rysdahl, No Exit). He is still pretty fried from that electrocution, but it’s hard not to pity the guy whose main support system and role model is a man named Wink (Jan Bos, Apollo 18) who somehow looks casual sipping cocktails in a hospital waiting room. If that’s not enough to put you in Wayne’s corner, we also learn about his childhood dream to become a ballerina (or ballerino if we want to get hung up on gender distinctions like Wayne’s parents). Our pity for Wayne continues to mount later on when Lorraine scoffs at the sight of her injured son being rolled into the room before infantilizing him with his old “stuffies.”
Clearly, Lorraine likes to see the men in her life occupied with their toys. This trend comes into even clearer focus when Wink engages in performative play with his WWII figurines, channeling all the Twin Peaks energy of a deranged Benjamin Horne. As much as we pity Wayne, we also have to love him – particularly when he shares perhaps the only moment of pure human love and connection in the episode when his daughter, Scotty (Sienna King, Under the Banner of Heaven), embraces him.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Ole Munch (Sam Spruell, Snow White and the Huntsman) when Tillman and his son Gator (Joe Keery, Stranger Things) decide to “pay the boogeyman.” It turns out that Munch got his message across; Tillman hopes he can settle the score and remove a dangerous distraction. For some inexplicable reason, Gator decides to start poking the bear and needlessly threatening the man who has humiliated him time and time again. Munch approaches with some slightly monstrous physical contortions to remind his prey that “a boy complains because he thinks the world is unfair…a man knows better.” It’s clear that Munch is in control, even as we learn that Gator placed a tracker on Munch’s car.
About the only hope for Gator here is the fact that it would be the most Fargo move ever to have a pathetic little monster-in-training like Gator inadvertently destroy a 500-year-old elemental force of evil (and perhaps inherit his burden? That would be a particularly apt punishment for a guy brimming with so much unearned confidence). It’s hard to say exactly who will pay the ultimate price, but Munch makes it pretty clear that someone is going down: “When a man digs a grave, he has to fill it. Otherwise, it’s just a hole.”
Gator may have his mind on vengeance, but we are about to learn that Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) is the true master of revenge. After her right-hand man Danish Graves (Dave Foley, The Kids in the Hall) tracks down Vivian, the banker who ghosted Lorraine in response to Tillman’s threats at the top of the episode, she talks him through all of the different ways she has used her influence to destroy him and his family financially. Before hanging up the phone and letting out an amused chuckle, she says, “Do you want to know what your mistake was? It was thinking death is the worst thing that could happen to you. So, congratulations. The sheriff’s not going to kill you. Instead you’re going to live the rest of your days in squalor surrounded by the dead-eyed stares of your futureless children.” It’s a speech that once again makes us wonder what sort of creative justice will be meted out before the end of the season. Perhaps this won’t be our last fate worse than death.
While Lorraine’s attitude and demeanor remain troubling, she does get another nudge toward Dot’s corner and the growing revolution of wives thanks to the efforts of an absolutely outraged Indira Olmstead. Hot off her infuriating encounter with her wannabe golf-pro hubby, Indira is further incensed after a fruitless meeting with our bumbling federal agents; they are so interested in taking down Roy Tillman that they’ve lost sight of Dot – a victim they could actually support with their resources. By the time Indira gets home to an unfed child (who is, at least, rocking the hell out of Lars’ drum kit), she is done playing games. She is going to return Scotty to her grandmother, Lorraine, and start fighting for the victim.
After being roughed up by Lorraine for the last couple of episodes, Indira comes in swinging. When Lorraine points out that she doesn’t like this new tone, Indira responds with “tough shit!” and goes on to demand that Lorraine pay some respect to her daughter-in-law, Dot. Lorraine surprises us by offering up a “white-collar” job and debt consolidation plan. This is an offer Indira will have to consider given the depth of her debt, but it’s hard to imagine she will take a job that takes her so far from the work she wants to do: supporting victims. Indira certainly does this job well when she challenges Lorraine to examine the photographic evidence of what her daughter-in-law, Dot, has been through at the hands of Tillman.
We close the episode with Lorraine examining Dot’s file. The images are horrific, and they serve to escalate whatever level of abuse we may have imagined earlier in the episode when Tillman talked about his failure to “break” Dot, as if she were an animal. We shudder – but so does Lorraine. Perhaps Dot’s revolution just earned another member. Dot, Indria, and Lorraine are in very different phases of their respective journeys, but the closing moments of the episode make it feel like they might just come together to accomplish something great.
Early rumblings from critics indicate that next week’s episode should be quite a ride. After a week away from Dot, it seems likely we are going to learn more about our favorite tactician. Lorraine also teased something about “stealing an election.” Maybe that will give Danish a chance to show us what he’s made of…or perhaps we will begin to learn what other fates worse than death await our central characters?
After setting up the enticing prospect of Dot, Indira, and Lorraine coming together as part of a shared revolution, “Linda” pumps the brakes so that our key revolutionary, Dot, can finally slow down and reckon with her emotional trauma. This is a welcome detour, because how is Dot supposed to lead an entire movement if she is still clinging to the false reality she has constructed for herself? As much fun as it has been to watch our hero whisk pancake batter and keep mixed shopping lists of firearms and snack foods, Dot needs to be able to “tell her truth” if she is ever going to deal with Tillman or reclaim her family.
While Dot’s emotional journey is the main course here, it’s worth noting that we get a few plot beats along the way. First of all, Gator uses his tracker to find Munch before firing at an ambiguous silhouette rocking gently in the window. It turns out, Munch is Kevin McCallistering the corpse of homeowner Irma’s deadbeat, asshole son who was dispatched via ax earlier in the episode (perhaps only to generate a misleading shot for the season five trailer – we finally know who the long-haired ax victim was…nobody very essential to the story). Despite the success of Munch’s trickery, Gator sticks around and ends up in a tussle with the feisty Irma. In the scuffle, Gator knocks her to the curb and kills her. Munch, Irma’s self-proclaimed guard dog, does not look pleased by this development. We are left with an unsettling shot of his signature inhuman face contortions. Gator may regret this.
Additionally, Wayne continues to win our hearts. He spends most of the episode cuddled up with Scotty and refusing to let the darkness of the world seep under his skin. Over at the Kia dealership, he gifts a new car to a down-on-their luck family in an “even” exchange for their older model, despite his salesperson’s concern that this isn’t, “how capitalism works” (to be fair, we don’t know how this is going to impact his commission). Still, it feels wholesome to watch a man look at financial games with total disinterest. Later, as Scotty walks him through the bedtime routine, he reads her an invisible bedtime story, and Dot is the hero.
Yes, Dot is the hero, but this time she has to save herself. In what ultimately turns out to be a dream sequence (or a particularly vivid version of the premonitions and visions she has experienced throughout the season), Dot finally shares her truth.
We open with a very tired Dot veering off the road as she nearly falls asleep at the wheel. We aren’t quite sure where she is headed, but she finally acknowledges that it’s time for some nourishment. She steps into a roadside truck stop and is instantly greeted by the breadcrumbs of the fantasy world we are about to encounter: a Camp Utopia postcard, a chicken piccata recipe on a bulletin board, and of course, the song “I’m Your Puppet” as performed by James & Bobby Purify:
Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet.
I’ll do funny things if you want me to, I’m your puppet.
I’m yours to have and to hold,
Darling you’ve got full control of your puppet.
As soon as the signature smiley face pancakes arrive (they will also snap us back to reality later on), we shift into Dot’s dream. She unearths an old dropbox by a windmill where she finds a Camp Utopia postcard from a woman named Linda. Later, we see Dot’s car run out of fuel as she approaches the snowy entrance to Camp Utopia (this should have been our first clue that we were in a dream sequence, because nobody who has to escape as often as Dot is going to miss a detail like a depleted gas tank). Nevertheless, Dot will be Dot, so she trudges forward on foot through deep snow. She is still fighting to stay awake as she reaches the compound and encounters a Punch and Judy puppet show performance of relationship abuse. It’s too much. Dot loses consciousness.
She awakes to the voice of a polite but trepidatious woman named Lindo. You see, every woman at this compound is escaping abuse; they each take on the name “Linda” to represent the fact that they are starting over from scratch. So why is Dot’s guide named Lindo? Well, as the women share their truth and engage in acts of healing, they can earn new letters, and eventually new names.
Of course, Dot doesn’t want to heal. She wants to confront a very specific Linda: Roy Tillman’s first wife. It turns out that Dot’s Linda is also the Linda, Saint Linda (Kari Matchett) – the founder of Camp Utopia. Dot quite literally comes out swinging, but Linda is unfazed by Dot’s punch or accusations that she “fed” a young Dot to Roy Tillman. Instead, Linda insists that they hold a trial and share their two versions of the truth. Dot hates this idea (we love Dot, but she is definitely more of an “act now, ask questions later” type). Linda’s army of Linda variants keep Dot at bay, but they are friendly captors who are more than willing to help Dot learn the finer points of puppet crafting and chicken piccata. After an incredible sequence in which Dot tries to rush through crafting her puppet, she eventually caves and goes about constructing a wildly elaborate and beautiful marionette in her own image. It’s beautiful, but it seems to frighten her.
Dot takes to the puppet stage and recounts the agonizing tale of Linda rescuing her from a potential shoplifting charge, only to put young Dot in the path of Tillman; the deeper Dot gets into the story, the more elaborate the puppets and sets become. The puppets are equal parts beautiful and grotesque; the large hands on the abusive Tillman puppet are particularly unsettling. Similarly, Juno Temple’s voice work as Dot is absolutely perfect. Her gruff recreation of Tillman’s deep voice captures both her fear and vulnerability.
It’s an incredible spectacle, and we are so enthralled in the story that we aren’t even asking whether or not we are watching a dream sequence. Constructed reality has been at the heart of the season, whether it was Lorraine telling Dot to write her own pulp fiction, Tillman presenting himself as a selfless lawman, or Dot believing she can simply be “Dot the housewife” without reckoning with her past, so it’s easy to write off this impossible puppet show as a bit of Noah Hawley’s signature panache.
Most importantly, we see why Dot feels so vulnerable and so betrayed. She watched Linda suffer unspeakable violence at the hands of Tillman even before she became the target of his abuse. Furthermore, she trusted Linda, only to be pushed into the arms of a predator – at least, that’s how Dot sees it. Earlier, she called Linda a “venus flytrap.” It’s interesting to note that one might use the same language to describe Dot’s ability to gain someone’s trust before striking. In any case, even if Dot doesn’t know the whole story (it seems unlikely that Linda simply abandoned Dot and her son, Gator), it seems clear that Linda deserves to shoulder some blame.
It’s also sad to learn that Gator was once a sensitive and redeemable kid rather than the monster we’ve come to know. Unfortunately, the reality he has constructed for himself involves living up to the overbearing and violent nature of his father. There simply aren’t enough childhood cuddle sessions with Dot to justify some of the darkness we have seen him enact over the course of the season. Of course, we can pity him and remember how important it is to shut down violent and controlling narratives like the one Tillman is putting out into the world.
Dot is applauded for her puppet show, and we finally get the sense that reality is breaking. She instantly earns her full chosen name rather than a one letter variation like the other Lindas. Also, Saint Linda agrees to leave her compound without a second thought. She will even use what she knows to work with Dot to take down Tillman once and for all. Hooray!
But then those damned smiley face pancakes pop back onto the screen. It was all a dream. Dot is in denial. She runs to her car to check for Linda just as a semi-truck crashes, knocking a van into Dot. She wakes up in the hospital only to find that Tillman has tracked her down. He leans over her with the same menace he showcased in the puppet show.
While it’s gutting for the audience to realize that the cathartic moment with Linda never actually happened, it feels like the emotional payoff will linger in Dot’s mind. It doesn’t matter whether the real Linda is still alive or buried somewhere on the Tillman estate; at the end of the dream sequence, Dot wasn’t running away – she was ready to confront Tillman head on. She is no longer a woman balancing a false reality haphazardly on her nose, she is the revolutionary we’ve been waiting for. While it’s likely that Dot will still have to dig into her bag of survival tricks, perhaps next week we will see some allies rally to her cause.