Fargo: The Gift of the Magi

Posted on November 10, 2015

Events are taking place at a rapid pace in the story now, so this post is going to be all the hell over the place as we try and nail down some of the motifs and themes in the costuming and art direction. Let’s dive in.
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It’s kind of a no-brainer to put a presidential candidate in a red-white-and-blue costume, but there’s a certain acute level of dark irony happening when you juxtapose his campaign bus and “shining city on a hill” rhetoric with a couple of devastated killers, post massacre, in shades of red, white and blue. This tends to reinforce the subtle framing of Reagan’s speechifying as a load of horseshit, which is reflected in the scene in the men’s room, when he simply can’t answer Lou’s question as to how he’s going to make things better. If there are killers roaming the same highways and wearing the same colors as the man who claims he can save the world, what does that say about his claims? Or about the world?

There were several examples of this kind of dark irony happening throughout this episode.

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Two things here.

One is the darkly hilarious way Noreen’s sweater is rendered in the exact colors of the chicken parts in the window. She’s a girl obsessed with death who spends her entire day surrounded by carcasses.

The other is the persistent and overt framing to keep that cigar store Indian figure as prominent as possible in all the shots.
Fargo-Style-Season-2-Episode-5-Tv-Show-Costumes-Tom-Lorenzo-Site (20) To our eyes, there’s a rather clear juxtaposition being made with Hanzee; a note about how our perceptions of our history come up against the reality of it. Hanzee is in all muted colors, dressed in “white man” clothing, with nothing but his own features to signal his cultural background, as opposed to the figure, with its war bonnet and brightly colored buckskin. Reality vs. kitsch.

This is also picked up in Simone’s jacket:

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Which is practically an exact replica of what the cigar store Indian figure is wearing. It’s not that we’re trying to draw a direct link between all of these scenes and characters (although we could, since Hanzee is at the center of everything that’s happening). It’s more about this sense of everything being broken-down bullshit. Reagan’s rhetoric is bullshit. The myth of the American West is bullshit. The idea of the Noble Savage is bullshit. Patriotism is reduced to a speech full of empty platitudes and an entire culture is reduced to a kitsch replica or a trendy coat.

Bouncing around some more…

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Joe Bulo, the man in the pink paisley tie, comes face to face with his fate, in this case, a beheading on behalf of the Gerhardts. We said last week that the paisley tie motif signaled rival gangsters, since it was used more than once in their costuming, but someone else wore paisley this week:


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Charlie Gerhardt, who finds out the hard way that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a family goon and calls his father to tell him he wants to go back to school just before embarking on that disastrous hit job against Ed. In this context we can say that the paisley represents those men who are unwilling or unable to do the kind of dirty work the Gerhardt family engages in. After all, Joe’s entire city boy getup was completely incongruous with the rest of the hunting party. This is not where he belonged and he payed a price for it, just as Charlie pays a price for not staying in his lane.


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Once again, Rye’s belt buckle figures prominently in a scene, just as it’s an important feature of the story. It’s the clue that sealed the Blumquists’ fate as well as the death knell announcing her son’s demise to Floyd. It’s also another bit of western kitsch, alongside Simone’s jacket or the cigar store Indian, adding to this sense that this is all taking place in a specific time and place. As we said last week, this also illustrates how costumes can become utterly essential to a story, not just in subtle, subconscious ways, but sometimes by yanking them straight to the foreground.

Note the parallelism in the scene. First, in the way that Dodd and Floyd both sit at the table with their hands spread it, as if to stake a claim on it; both of them fighting for control of the family. Then there’s Bear, who’s completely loyal to his mother and dressed similarly to her. Or rather, she’s dressed similarly to him, since this is the first time we’ve seen her in a plaid and he wears them all the time.

The Dodd/Floyd/Bear triangle of loyalty is referenced again:

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In two scenes where similarly dressed and aligned family members stand up to Dodd. It’s notable because the scene with Bear is all about how one of them is happy to listen to their mother and the other one is disdainful of the idea and full of rage over it. The scene with Floyd is all about her exerting control over the family, to the point that she can order a father to leave his daughter alone. Reinforcing this persistent sense that Dodd Gerhardt is the biggest threat the Gerhardt family is currently facing.

You can see more of this kind of familial costuming in the scene with Hank and Betsy:

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There’s always an overwhelming sense of brown-ness in this home and it’s almost always reflected in the costumes of the family. Betsy and Hank are both in browns and white here, which ties them together as father and daughter, solidifying their obviously loving and harmonious bond visually.


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Just as it also ties into that brown-and-white pill bottle, upon which this entire family is resting their hopes. We couldn’t help thinking there was a conversation happening here between Betsy and this pill and we couldn’t help noticing how much her pearl drop pendant tends to visually mimic it.


Meanwhile, Peggy Blumquist is drowning in blood and aspiration:

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen her in red, signaling the guilt of what she’s done.

We noted last week that the Blumquist home was fairly up-to-date and 1979-trendy, reflecting the dual-income, no kids lifestyle as well as Peggy’s ragingly aspirational nature. We surmised that she must have poured over a ton of lifestyle and women’s magazines for inspiration. Well, here’s your proof. There’s nothing quite so middle-class aspirational as the average woman’s magazine – especially during this period. She is literally dwarfed by her aspirations.

And even when she thinks she’s running away from it all…

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She still finds space in her overstuffed suitcase to add a couple more stacks of aspiration for the road.

That guilty red plays on her, though. Note how much and how often her hands are framed in the scenes when her nagging guilt forces her to change her mind and stay:

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You can’t take your eyes off those blood-red hands. You’re not allowed to, any more than she can stop thinking about what she’s done.

[Stills: Tom and Lorenzo/FX]

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