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Fargo recap: A cruel, cynical twist justified by fantastic storytelling

"Linda" finally tells us who Dorothy is, then wrenches the rug out from under her

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Sam Spruell in Fargo
Sam Spruell in Fargo
Photo: Michelle Faye/FX

A guy with a cool eyepatch named Danish Graves once said: “We have our own reality.” That, more than anything, might be Fargo season five’s mission statement. For weeks, we’ve watched Dorothy bob and weave past threats and kidnappings. She’d had to explain herself to those increasingly desperate to, if not help, then at least understand her. But Dorothy’s a survivor in constant survival mode: Simply getting past whatever’s in front of her is the aim. Figuring out what to do after that, well, that comes after.

And so, when she lets her guard down just for a moment in a remote, friendly diner, and imagines a better life, a kinder life, of course, that’s when the snare finally catches her ankle. Of course, it can’t be her reality.


Aside from a few footnotes, “Linda” focuses almost entirely on Dorothy’s journey, that “thing [she] had to take care of” she mentioned to Indira two weeks ago. She’s been driving for hours, if not days, almost nodding fully asleep at the wheel. At the aforementioned diner, she refuels on coffee and, as a master of deflection, parries questions about where she’s going by asking about the pancakes (“best in the county!”). Seeing a chicken piccata recipe on the corkboard, she stills for a moment and drifts away, before the famous pancakes clatter down unceremoniously in front of her.


Back on the road, in the middle of nowhere, she finds her way to a small box buried long ago with one of the postcards from the diner (“Greetings from Camp Utopia!) inside and a message reading simply, “I’m sorry - Linda”. Arriving at the camp, she finds a community of previously abused women united in hiding, in healing, acting out their past traumas with custom Punch and Judy-style reenactments. Dorothy, exhausted and finally, for a moment, safe, passes out.


Greetings, indeed, from Camp Utopia, home of the “Lindas”. Every woman taken in is given the new name Linda, “Or variations,” a woman called Lindo tells her, who just “earned her first new letter.” Dot, nonplussed, explains “But my Linda was named Linda before.” “Oh, that Linda.” Lindo says.


Saint Linda, as she’s known, turns out to be Roy’s first wife, who took Dot in from the streets and eventually left, “feeding” her to the Sheriff, as Dot puts it. After punching her on sight (to the horror of the other Lindas), Dorothy demands the former Mrs. Tillman come with her to the police to tell them about his abuses, to back up her story. It’s the first moment, coming in episode seven, that we’ve finally heard what Dorothy wants. Her running from Witt, her telling Indira only the need-to-know facts, is not borne of denial or stubbornness, it’s the belief she won’t be believed. Be supported. Wayne, god bless him, loves Dorothy to death, but isn’t, as we’ve seen, the kind of guy who can back her up when the men in masks come. Linda isn’t just the smoking gun, she’s the injustice of Dorothy’s past made manifest: The woman who escaped, the woman who got to forget. Saint Linda says they’ll hold a trial. “When there are two versions of the truth we have to reconcile them.” Linda’s told her truth. Now, Dorothy must do it so that together, they can find the “true truth.”

Zooming out for a moment, it’s obvious in hindsight this is what Noah Hawley’s been leading to. For the first time, Fargo is set in near-modern-day, Trump rallies on TV and everything. We are firmly in the post-truth era. He’s intent on making less a statement on America, and more on how the stories we tell often end up being our reality, however fragile or tenuous. Dorothy and, like it or not, Roy, are in that boat together, placing themselves in worlds that make sense to them. Whether or not you dig on Hawley’s fragmented, gleefully unsubtle style at all times (and I certainly am in the “not” section. Get three beers in me and bring up Lucy in the Sky and I’ll be wailing with my head in my hands for hours), his latest Fargo outing has hit the mark for me.


Plenty of that has to do with the cast, which has felt far more of one singular reality than previous seasons. Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, and Richa Moorjani, in particular, shed the respective glamours of their past roles and inhabit characters who are, yes, symbolic, but a step up from ciphers, too. Moorjani got her shine last week, Hamm’s been delighting in the sleazy Sheriff’s skin for weeks, and finally, it’s Temple’s turn to let Dorothy loose in episode seven.


The “trial,” it turns out, comes in the form of one of the puppet shows we saw earlier. After some of Dorothy’s signature initial resistance, she crafts a marionette of herself from scratch. The care with which she handles doll Dorothy, the loving way she looks into her own eyes as she paints on eyebrows and mane, is one of the points of the exercise in itself. It’s time for Dorothy to tell her truth. For her and us, it’s all been leading to this.


In the wrong hands, relaying Dorothy’s time at the Tillman compound via puppets could come off as an unserious crutch, but Hawley, co-writer April Shih, episode director Sylvain White, and Temple collaborate to blend the fantastical with the blunt horror as we see Dorothy initially brought into the Tillman house as a runaway, and even a caring sister to Gator (which gives that brief moment when they lock eyes in episode four new layers of heartbreak). One day, Linda’s gone, and Roy takes Dorothy as his new wife after two years of abuse and grooming. The rest, well, we saw what was in Indira’s file.

The Lindas applaud and embrace Dorothy. Saint Linda tells her “It wasn’t easy to hear but we heard it. You’ve earned a new name. What’ll it be?” Need we even hear her answer? Nadine Bump is long gone. You’re looking at Dorothy Lyon. Saint Linda agrees to go with Dorothy, “and we can face him together.”


Driving back, Linda and Dorothy sit in peace. Linda finally apologizes outright for leaving. “He woulda killed you. He tried to kill me,” Dorothy says, the relief in finally being able just to say it radiates from her. She asks why Linda didn’t take Dorothy and Gator with her, and Linda sits silently but calmly, out of focus. “You’s tell me when you’re ready,” Dorothy says. “All that matters is thank you for doing this. This life I fought so hard for. I’ll be grateful—” The pancakes clatter down unceremoniously in front of her.

Gotta hand it to ‘em, they had me for a while. Rewatching the episode, the clues are everywhere. But such a rote, cynical twist feels like the point here. Camp Utopia was just that, and whether there’s a real log cabin in the woods somewhere housing dozens of Lindas is beside the point. Dot’s finally been able to tell her story and finally equipped herself to receive it. That’s surely victory enough? No.


Twisting the knife, Hawley and Shih have Dorothy look out across the parking lot from the diner window to the empty Kia. As she zips up her coat and walks back to the car, a skidding truck barrels into an SUV, wiping her out. She awakens some time later in the hospital, where she’s told her husband has barely left her side. She smiles at the thought of Wayne finding her, reciprocating the care she took in his safety after Halloween, but we know better. We know what’s coming. “I got you,” Roy Tillman sneers.

Stray observations:

  • I kept the recap action solely focused on Dot’s story because it felt important to stay there, but over in Minnesota, real real things are happening. Gator once again fails miserably at assassinating Munch, then accidentally kills “Mama.” Given how Munch slaughtered Mama’s son for being a prize asshole, Gator’s got one hell of a reckoning coming his way.
  • Speaking of Midwest’s Next Top Failson, Linda asks after her son at Camp Utopia. “He’s trying, I think,” Dorothy says. “He wants to be good. But more than that I think he wants to be his dad.” Heartbreaking stuff, and also a nifty little demonstration of how Dorothy notices a lot more than she lets on, even from the smallest interactions.
  • Scotty, doing her homework, asks Wayne if he knows any mammals that lay eggs. Not to brag but I knew platypus was one! Sound off if you know the others. No cheating.
  • Post-electrocution Wayne: anticapitalist king! The guy can’t figure out why one of his salesmen is refusing to trade in a family’s old jalopy for one of his brand-new Kias. “Car for car!” Wayne simply says, smiling. Makes sense!
  • Couldn’t help but flashback to Barbie during all the “Hi, Linda!”s at Camp Utopia. What can I say, I’m a child of the zeitgeist.
  • I’m truly unsure if anyone else was fooled for a moment by Camp Utopia here. If I’m simply an idiot, please be kind. I liked it even when I knew where this was headed on my second watch. Is “it was all a dream!” such a “trope” now, that it’s circled back to being a little…subversive?