Like the cream in Mike Milligan’s coffee, the story is now a swirling miasma of opposing agendas and forces coming up against each other in ways both quiet and explosive.
BAM. How ya like your metaphors NOW?
Okay, so we really broke out the poetry for that one, but the shot above actually does make a nice summary of what’s going on in the story right now, how multiple forces are opposing each other while others are seeking out alliances and blending together. How it’s getting harder and harder to see the outcome because so much is in motion at the moment. How this isn’t a world of black or white, but overwhelming, relentless, muddy brown-ness.
Yeah, yeah. It’s just a cup of coffee, Dr. Freud. Walk with us. We’re going to ramble quite a bit in the hopes that we stumble upon a point.
First, the cinematography of that funeral scene was so beautiful we could’ve wept. FOrget the term “cinematic.” This went beyond that description. It was painterly in its precise, haunting beauty.
As for the costuming here, it’s done in service to the idea of illustrating the family connections. Floyd and Simone are wearing exactly the same colors in different proportions: black, gold and red. But Floyd is mostly a stark figure in black, representing her widowhood, and showing her as somehow removed from what’s going on in her own family. Bear’s greys and oranges are tonally similar to Simone’s coat, and they’re both wearing prints. But while Bear is in his typical plaid, a pattern his mother has worn as well, Simone is in the dreaded paisley, which has been worn by doomed rival gangsters and the bumbling Charlie, who should never have had a gun put in his hands. Paisley, in this story signals Not One Of Us, from the Gerhardt family perspective.
These costumes will continue through multiple scenes and will have slightly different meanings depending on the interactions.
Floyd quite deliberately goes from looking like a criminal to looking like a harmless grandmother when she finally doffs her coat and fur hat and sits across the table from two men who mean to do her and her family harm. In this way, it calls back to her scene with Joe Bulo, when she once again faced an enemy while wearing her pearls and looking every inch the churchgoing woman. When the camera moves in on that final smirk of hers, it becomes obvious that this grandmotherly affect on her part was entirely deliberate and something she used to her advantage.
Bear’s lumberjack look serves to widen the gap as much as possible between himself as a representative of the Gerhardt family and the slick mobster guy from Buffalo, who’s coded to look as city slicker as possible against Bear’s bumpkin drag.
Last episode had no significant costume changes from the previous one, but this episode had some rather startling changes, if you’re the type to obsess over these things. Mike Milligan changes his shirt and suit for the first time in the series. Up until now, he’s been wearing the same blue shirt and blue suit through the entire story. Knowing that he’s going to be facing the Undertaker, sent by the head of the Kansas City mob to deal with him, he cleans himself up (the blue suit was looking awfully dingy) in a lighter shirt and a suit with a very subtle purple undertone for the massacre to come. But he’s prepared to flip the script, and while this may not have been a deliberate choice on anyone’s part, it stuck out to us like a blaring trumpet: The very last thing the Undertaker says before Mike Milligan comes storming out of the bedroom to kill him is to use the term “eggplant” in a racist manner to describe him. The very last thing he sees is a black man in an eggplant colored suit bringing doom.
In other words, it’s a giant fuck-you of a suit.
The undertaker and his two minions serve as yet another example of the show’s obsession with parallelism. Mike Milligan is a black man who traveled with exactly identical white henchmen in nearly identical outfits. The Undertaker is a white man who travels with nearly identical henchmen of color in exactly identical outfits.
After Simone storms off from the family compound, her outfit becomes all about the lacy, Gunne Sax-style dress she’s wearing underneath. Her whole look, from the prairie dress to the knee-high stiletto boots to the dramatic Rhiannon coat, is pure late ’70s rocker chick. But the exposure of that dress in all the scenes that follow her exit from the family compound tends to underline her as fragile and in danger. There’s a vulnerability to that girlishly simply dress as opposed to the huge, almost armor-like coat. In addition, there’s a certain wedding dress quality to it that comes to the foreground when she utters lines like “I’m done lying down for men.”
And in her final scenes, it brings to mind not so much a young girl’s dress or a bridal gown, but a gauzy shroud or even a final baptismal gown as she kneels down before a greater power and surrenders herself to it.
Okay, fine. We’ll pull back on the reins a bit and just close out with one more:
Betsy’s feeling awfully blue all of a sudden.
We try to avoid falling too much into the “red=passion or violence” or “green=envy” trap of color theory, because how colors are perceived differ widely from person to person. For us, this is very much a series of madonna blues, calling to mind images of saintly motherhood in renaissance paintings. All the scenes with Betsy this episode were about her role as the matriarch of this family; her relationships as a daughter and a wife, but especially as a mother, as she makes plans for her family to be looked after knowing that she’ll be gone soon. It’s not a peaceful set of blues she wears. There’s a melancholy to them, tinged with love and concern.
[Stills: Tom and Lorenzo/FX]