Fargo 2.9: The Massacre at Sioux Falls
Fargo Season 2, Episode 9 recap.
So the Sioux Falls Massacre, this famed event we’ve been barreling toward from two different eras, goes down at the Motor Motel in Sioux Falls, and it’s a totally avoidable, completely unnecessary tragedy. But it is, like so many other things that happen on Fargo, the result of assumption and lack of forethought. And it ends with the single most bizarre thing to happen on this show. The Sioux Falls Massacre is a tragedy, but it’s an absurd one.
The episode opens with a framing device that presents this segment of the story as a chapter from the fake book True Crime of the Midwest (I would totally read that book), and it’s narrated by Fargo season one star, Martin Freeman. There’s a lot of artificiality in this episode, which only makes the moments of humanity stand out even more, such as Betsy Solverson’s collapse. This scene is cut beautifully, cutting between Betsy in her kitchen, little Molly in her bedroom, and Lou on the road, calling home. Betsy is so weakened by her illness and its treatment that she can barely use a can opener, but we don’t actually see her collapse. We only hear glass breaking from a distance as Molly looks for her mother. Likewise, as Lou calls home, the focus is on the broken glass and spilled water, and the phone ringing in an empty house. Lou’s world ends, and he misses it.
While Lou’s life is falling apart in Luverne, it’s also at severe risk in Sioux Falls. With Peggy and Ed Blomquist in custody, Captain Cheney—a blowhard if ever there was one—wants to use Ed to bait Mike Milligan and maybe expose the Kansas City crime ring in the area. Lou is the only person who thinks this plan is stupid—well, Hank thinks it’s stupid, but he’s still willing to go along with it—and he’s also the most junior officer on the scene. So Cheney dismisses him, unwilling to listen to Lou’s warnings that Hanzee is far more dangerous than they’re allowing, and they’re on the brink of war.
Lou’s frustration with the other cops is palpable, but in the moment he doesn’t do himself any favors by losing his temper. Still, Cheney only sees Lou as a rookie cop, he doesn’t see the soldier he was before he became a cop, so he refuses to listen to Lou. Schmidt, likewise, makes a crack about Lou’s “Gary Cooper” façade, and later, Schmidt is seen watching an episode of CHiPS. These men are very concerned with posturing, dominance, and image, and these things make them shortsighted. So shortsighted, in fact, they turn off their radio and don’t notice the army of Gerhardt gun thugs surrounding them until it’s too late.
But the linchpin of the episode is Hanzee, as it’s his traitorous machinations that bring everyone to the Motor Motel during the “devil’s hours”. Hanzee’s reasoning is opaque—a fact reiterated by the narrator—but whatever his motive for turning on the Gerhardts, he has decided to finish the job he started with Dodd. He lies to get them to the Motor Motel, which he knows is crawling with cops, and the massacre begins. This scene is spectacular in its execution—right up there with Justified’s “Decoy”. It’s brutal and relentless and the body count is insane, and in the middle of it all, Hanzee murders Floyd Gerhardt. There’s colorful bunting strung across the motel parking lot, and as Hanzee is killing her, the camera pans up just enough to bring that bunting into the scene—this is Hanzee’s party.
But the guest of honor is the UFO. Lou and Bear Gerhardt are fighting to the death—literally, Lou shot Bear in the head, and Bear is strangling him—when bright lights wash over the motel. And there is the UFO that has been just out of focus all season, in a moment so patently ridiculous you have to wonder if it’s a shared hallucination. “It’s just a flying saucer,” Peggy says dismissively, attempting to flee with Ed, “we have to go, honey.” Peggy is Fargo’s most woke character.
We can debate the purpose of the UFO, but I think it’s there to underscore that there is always something else happening beyond the knowable thing. Lou is caught up in this mafia turf war, while at home his wife is dying and he has no idea. Mike Milligan is attempting his own machinations; meanwhile, his enemies are busy exterminating each other. The Gerhardts think they’re going to rescue Dodd, but they’re walking into a trap. And Hanzee is so mysterious that the UFO might as well be his motive for turning on the Gerhardts. All season characters have been propelled forward only to be undone by something they didn’t see coming, and the UFO is a meta reminder of the unknowable. Or it’s just a bigass UFO and the season will end with an alien abduction. You decide.