Picking up mere moments after the conclusion of the previous episode, “The Paradox of Intermediate Transactions” opens with Roy arriving at the seemingly cursed gas station that first served as the site of a shoot-out between Dot and her abductors and is now a crime scene twice over thanks to Ole Munch’s stealth takedown of Gator’s deputy. “I didn’t want this going out on the wire,” Gator tells his dad. It’s both a “no kidding” moment and a window onto how things operate in their neck of the Dakotas, where the Tillmans are the law of the land. (Or, more accurately, it’s the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Tillmans.) Still, Roy may be a fascist-leaning petty tyrant, but he knows how investigations work so he decides it might be time to figure out what this Ole (pronounced “ooh-lah”) guy’s deal is.
Good question! And the episode provides some answers while raising many more questions. Ole, it seems, hails from Bismarck, North Dakota, a place his mother (Clare Coulter) still calls home. (Or is she his mother? IMDb lists the character as “Mama Munch,” but the official credits from FX have her only as “Irma.” It’s quite possible she’s just an unlucky older woman who likes beer and doesn’t see much to be gained by fighting with her new lodger.) Not that she was expecting Ole, but he makes his intentions clear when she finds him upstairs saying, “I live here now.” But what about 500 years earlier over in Wales in 1522? And why do we need to know? The episode never explains the latter, but it spends quite a bit of time depicting the former, where a man who looks a lot like Ole works as a sin-eater. What’s the connection? And does it have anything to do with the goat sacrifice Ole performs later in the episode (a pretty religious gesture for a professed nihilist)? Those are big TBDs.
Of course, Roy has mysteries of his own. It seems that while he still considers Dot his wife, that hasn’t stopped him from getting married again, to a woman named Karen (Rebecca Liddiard) or fathering a pair of twins named Jessica and Maud (Brooke and Quinn Sauve). If it’s not a marriage of convenience, it is a marriage with some advantages: Karen’s dad is Odin Little (Michael Copeman), a customer for whatever ill-gotten munitions Roy can supply. Odin and his boys (“they’re outdoor animals”) also have an agenda that complements Roy’s. Odin’s got big plans for the weaponry Roy sends his way, dropping a reference to 1776 and telling his (possibly illegal) son-in-law, “We’re not going to take this country back with harsh language.” But despite Roy’s political leanings, even this seems a bit much. Is he a true believer or just someone who thinks he can ride these political winds to his advantage?
Roy may not believe in 1776, but he does seem to believe in 420. Though Karen presents him with a variety of erotic scenarios for the evening (“Helpless hitchhiker? How about angry feminist?”), his mind has drifted elsewhere as he imagines the ceiling giving way to visions of Dot’s current life in Scandia, where she peers warily out the window to a street decorated for Halloween.
It’s a pretty accurate vision. After sneaking out in the middle of the night, Dot changes the street signs to throw off any enemies who might approach. The next morning, she’s making plans that only appear unrelated, switching the family’s costumes to zombie hunters and drawing up a shopping list that includes shotguns and bulletproof vests but also Lactaid and orange juice. This leads to a trip to Gun World and the episode’s biggest laugh, when Wayne compliments a clerk on his pirate costume’s eyepatch only to be told, “Actually, that’s a hunting accident.” (It’s fine. The clerk knows he stepped right into that.) Dot knows exactly what she wants: stopping power and plenty of it. The only problem: that pesky waiting period that stands between her and the weaponry she needs.
Elsewhere, Gator psychs himself up by listening to metal and yelling “I’m a winner” before heading to the offices of the North Dakota Highway Patrol where he once again crosses paths with Witt. Both are seeking info on the gas-station incident by way of Donny’s personal effects, but they have differing agendas. Witt arrives just in time to see Gator help himself to some incriminating evidence (well, all of the evidence, actually), leaving only with threats, insults, and Gator’s card. Armed with this and Dot’s mug shot (finally), he now has some leads.
On the Lyon-family front, Indira and her boss try to question Lorraine and Danish, informally of course. But even this careful approach sends them toward a brick wall. Lorraine wants to keep this in the family (which, we’ll soon learn, involves hiring security to protect them and bringing in an ex-CIA agent to look into Dot’s past). Danish knows the law. And that’s that. Or it would be if Lorraine didn’t want to send them off with a lecture about the real function of the police: to maintain the preexisting order and keep the haves separated from the have-nots. “You’re gatekeepers,” she tells them, “standing outside the walls keeping the rabble from getting in. But in here, inside these walls, you have no function.”
Roy has a different interpretation of what the law is supposed to do, one that includes bringing Dot back to him. To this end, he puts Gator in charge, telling him, “I believe in you.” Which raises a question: Is Roy blind to his boy’s shortcomings, or is he more lucky (having been born into a family that was already in power) than bright?
Gator and his Nightmare Before Christmas–clad team’s efforts get sidetracked almost immediately as Scandia turns out for Halloween. The street signs are all messed up! But that doesn’t mean Dot’s off the hook. As the episode ends, her foes seem to have found her. And is that a mud-caked, blood-covered, mostly naked Ole entering the house behind her? No, it’s not. In a bit of a fake-out, the camera rolls up to Dot’s front door, then cuts to another door, one that opens in the opposite direction. And where might that be? We still don’t know. (Roy’s place makes sense, based on the editing, but it’s not 100 percent clear.)
Things are getting tense, aren’t they? In some ways, this feels like an end-of-the-season episode, rather than one arriving before the halfway point. Can Fargo sustain this level of suspense through the end of this fifth season? That too remains a mystery, but the clues suggest “yes.”
• This isn’t from the current episode, but the previous one has helped sustain the way Sam Spruell delivers the line “You failed to mention that she is, for real, a tiger” ringing in my head.
• Fargo’s fifth season has been featuring an eclectic soundtrack, and this week is no exception, with songs that range from the country classics like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” and Jim Reeves’s “He’ll Have to Go” to Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up.”
• This is the second episode to feature allusions to A Nightmare Before Christmas, and next week’s will as well unless it cuts away from Halloween Night without showing what happens when Gator and his crew meet Dot. (Could happen. We did just take a trip to 16th-century Wales.) Is this just because the film has become a Halloween perennial, or is there something deeper going on?
• References to sin-eaters can be traced back to an account of 17th-century Wales and suggest it was a long-established custom there. The ritual was apparently much as it’s presented here: A poor person would be hired to consume bread placed atop a corpse and in doing so devour his or her sins. Sounds like easy work, apart from being burdened with all those sins committed by others.