Fargo: Fear and Trembling

Posted on November 03, 2015


This shot not only represents the biggest “OH SHIT” moment of the season so far, it also handily illustrates how much costuming can become part of a story on both a figurative and literal level. What was once a bit of costuming is now a major plot point and harbinger of doom. It looks like we should have been paying more attention to Hanzee up till now, as that rabbit shot from last week becomes much more ominous when you consider what Peggy Blumquist uses to keep her ears warm.

There’s also, on some level, some ironic commentary being made as a Native American character uses his almost stereotypical, practically supernatural tracking powers to lead him straight to this bit of western-inspired cowboy kitsch.

A couple episodes back we noted all the parallelism going on in the scenes and the costumes. This week, we noted quite a bit of oppositional or confrontational costuming.


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Dodd and Otto, despite the huge differences in their looks, can be pegged as family members by certain vague similarities in their costuming, like their coat collars, coupled with hanging printed scarves (paisley and plaid) as well as their collared shirts. This in opposition to the rival gangster, in his paisley tie and plaid suit. Paisleys and plaids are all over this episode in a lot of ways, much more of the latter than the former, but they both recur enough to be worthy of some examination.

Men in ties vs. Men who refuse to wear them will also be something of a motif in this episode.



Charlie, in his second red, white and blue striped sweater and Dodd, in at least his third or fourth abstract rayon disco shirt, are two characters whose costuming motifs have been firmly established very early on in the story. Like Bear with his lumberjack style or Floyd’s turtlenecks or Peggy’s various ultra-feminine pink ensembles, these choices are deliberate and subtly reinforce your understanding of each character while helping you to differentiate them all in such a large cast.

Anyway, here once again are two tie-less Gerhardt men going up against rival gangsters in ties, which must be a family tradition by now.


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Pink is definitely Peggy’s go-to color. She’ll wear it in every outfit and scene in this episode. It serves to underline her ideas about femininity and the proper way to present yourself, as well as her ties to the salon, where she’s required to wear a pink smock. In this scene, in which Ed constantly talks about the baby he’s sure she’s going to have (and she’s even more sure she’s not, thank to her secret birth control pills) the pink plays against the blue surroundings to give the scene a baby shower feel to it.


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Again, men in ties vs. men who would never wear one. Joe’s and Floyd’s costuming feels extremely confrontational in nature; the pointed collars, the silk tie vs the string of pearls. Masculinity going up against femininity. His flashy rings vs. her austere wedding band. Checked shirt vs. floral shirt.

Note that the tie is paisley, which is starting to look like costume code for “rival gangster,” but also serves to contrast this failed meeting with the “successful” (depending on how you look at it) method Otto used to deal with his rivals in the opening scene. We should also note that he’s wearing a very fine and expensive-looking ensemble, by 1979 standards.

Note how business-like she looks in comparison to her much more traditionally grandmotherly sweaters and turtlenecks. She’s trying very hard to be something she’s not. Business-like, refined, and proper. This is a front. An attempt at a legitimacy that Otto never saw the need to bother with. In other words, she essentially put on a tie, which is not the Gerhardt family way.


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Another one of those scenes fully dominated by the blue and brown color motif, which continues to pop up in scene after scene. Note that here, no one is wearing a print or plaid or stripe. It’s all drab colors that fade into the background as much as possible. There’s a stark flatness to the scene that wouldn’t be accomplished if any of the characters were dressed in a focus-pulling print. The only thing of slightest visual interest is Otto’s fringed blanket, which tends to draw your eye to him, the only survivor of this scene.


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As we’ve noted before, it’s not exactly surprising to see so many browns and earthtones in a story set in 1979. Similarly, it’s practically a requirement that you dress your characters in as many checks and plaids as possible. You can do florals and you can do stripes and you can even do paisleys and polka dots and still be 1979-accurate, but you better have roughly half your characters in plaid at any given time because it was THE pattern of the 1970s, on everything from luggage to car interiors to wallpaper.

Again, Peggy wears a pink ensemble so she won’t clash with her work smock. Trying so very hard to have everything be just so in her life.

Compare the Blumquists with the Solversons:

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Ed and Peggy seem to have so much trouble connecting and communicating, but Lou and Betsy couldn’t be more coordinated, on both an interior and exterior level, if they tried. There’s nothing oppositional or confrontational about their costumes.


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Oranges and browns vs. pink and fluffy white. Like a fox and a rabbit. Predator and prey.

Constance’s somewhat hippy-inspired styles aren’t totally anachronistic. This sort of look may not have dominated the fashion magazines or catalogues of the late ’70s, but plenty of people were still grooving out through this decade. The thing about Constance is, it’s almost entirely pretentious. You could argue that her feminism is informing this look (and there is something a little early ’70s Steinem about it), but her feminism is more of the cartoonish, man-hating, self-absorbed white lady cliche of post second-wave feminism. If we had to guess, we’d say she adopted this look fairly recently, somewhere along her seminar-going, consciousness-raising journey (which, like so many did, she seems to treat as a way to get laid).


Fargo-Style-Costumes-Season-2-Episode-4-Tom-Lorenzo-Site (14)All of Peggy’s small town middle class aspirations are represented in that blouse, with “PARIS” written all over it, representing a dreamy anywhere-but-here sentiment that underlies all her actions, and Can Can dancers representing a more glamorous version of womanhood; just like the drawings of flawless women that adorn the walls of the salon and taunt her with their perfection. It’s the Blouse of Insecurities.

We should note that the Blumquists have the trendiest house in this story. With its sunken living room, open floor plan, smoked glassware, wicker, hanging spider plant and shag carpeting, it’s every inch 1979 and very much the house of a childless young couple. Especially one with a member who’s as aspirational as Peggy is. You can bet many mainstream magazines and catalogues were consulted to get this house to look just so for her.


Fargo-Style-Costumes-Season-2-Episode-4-Tom-Lorenzo-Site (15)Gone are the attempts at respectability. She’s back to being the farmhouse wife, mother and grandmother she is; fiercely and violently angry over the violation of her family’s safety and ready to go to war over it. This is the Gerhardt way; not silk ties or strings of pearls.


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And finally, we see Betsy Solverson, pondering her fate in a pink plaid that calls to mind Peggy’s coat and makes us wonder if either of these women will survive much longer.


[Stills: Tom and Lorenzo/FX]

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