Chris Large / FX

Ranking Fargo's Most Unflappable Badasses

Only the stone-faced shall survive!

Of all its many pleasures, I think my favorite thing about the Fargo universe, both in the film and on the TV series, is its commitment to unflappability. Extreme moments -- whether they're funny or creepy -- are much more intense when everyone stays deadpan, and when the entire universe of a story remains fairly stone-faced, it creates a surreal quality of absurdity. How can these people be going through so damn much without seeming flustered? It's the nth degree of the famed Midwestern reserve, and I never get tired of it.

Season 2 of FTV -- that's Fargo TV for those of you who don't live inside my head -- has admirably continued this stoic tradition, and I've been thinking a lot about which characters best embody it. Here's my ranked list, from least to most likely to keep things under control.

  1. Dodd Gerhardt
    Now that Rye's dead, Dodd is this season's only loose cannon, but you've gotta have one, right? His temper tantrums and rage beatings and aggressive disdain for his nephew's doughnut order are like the one pop of color in an all-black outfit. I'm fairly certain he's going to be the nutjob who incites a bloodbath, though, and in retrospect the survivors are going to wish they'd offed him earlier.
  2. Ed Blumquist
    Oh, Ed! I'll give the guy props for methodically putting Rye in a meat grinder -- and for setting a dismemberment trend that would get followed up (chronologically speaking) by that woodchipper scene in the movie -- but homeboy is clearly losing it as everyone starts to figure out what he and Peggy have done. Plus, he gets points off for being taciturn at the wrong moments. When Lou explains to you that you're caught in a trap and offers you a chance to get free, you've really got to jump on it. Especially after you know that somebody has moved your fireplace grate.
  3. Peggy Blumquist

    Part of me thinks that Peggy is going to wind up the champion of this whole sordid affair, cheerily wiping the blood off her face before she stands up to discuss her actualization at this fabled seminar. But her peerless narcissism is undercut by her lack of experience.

    Chris Large / FX

    Chris Large / FX

    You can see homegirl getting nervous when Constance finds the toilet paper, never mind when Lou drops by. Maybe if she'd had a few years as Floyd's apprentice, she'd have been an unstoppable machine, but I think her inexperience will work against her.

  4. Hank Larsson
    He was pretty much a badass when he confronted Mike Milligan and friends at that traffic stop, but did you see how distracted he got when Lou showed up at the auto body shop with news of Betsy's treatment? The man cares for his daughter, and his daughter's not doing so hot right now. If that gets him emotional during a snowstorm showdown or something...well, I worry!
  5. Hanzee Dent

    Right here. This dude is a great example of why Fargo is such a great show. Because on one hand, Hanzee is an expressionless killer who does dirty work with surgical precision. But on the other, he will take even the most random mention of the Vietnam War as an opportunity to explain how horribly he was mistreated by his fellow soldiers. He's burning with hurt and resentment that make him seem human, even as the show frames his tracking of the Blomquists like a satire of a James Fenimore Cooper novel where a Mohican chases a Buffalo.

    Chris Large / FX

    Chris Large / FX

    His unexpected vulnerability may not make him a literal killing machine, but it does make him a great character.

  6. Floyd Gerhardt
    My esteemed colleague Tara Ariano pretty much nailed the reasons that Floyd is so awesome, from her no-nonsense speechifying to her undeniable love for her crazy sons. That's making her blind to Dodd's dangerous faults, of course, but it also foreshadows some grand acting moments for Jean Smart when Floyd finally learns what happened to Rye. I'm thrilled at the prospect of a scene where she faces down Peggy with all the fury of her tight perm.
  7. Betsy Solverson
    She's not really caught up in all the gangland warfare, though she was admirably even-keeled when she found that pistol at the waffle place. But Betsy lands high on this list because she's facing down cancer and a possible placebo treatment with remarkable resolve. She's a reminder that the series is also about everyday humans, even when it's portraying monsters in human form.
  8. Lou Solverson
    Patrick Wilson is giving such a good performance that you can totally see the churning emotion Lou keeps just under the surface as he runs gauntlets like his wife's death and the gathered forces of the Gerhardt family trying to intimidate him from their porch. But Lou is a great cop and an all-around stable guy, so he still musters up courage in every scenario. And when he coolly explains to the Blumquists that they're just like a Vietnam soldier with his legs blown off, he radiates menace in the softest of tones. That's the perfect Fargo recipe: stay polite as you gut 'em like fish.
  9. Mike Milligan
    Like Lorne Malvo with more conversational flair, Mike Milligan is the most terrifying character of the season. He may not be the most original creation in the world -- every modern art form is lousy with charming-but-deadly psychos -- but he's got such a striking combination of ruthlessness and panache that I find him enthralling all the same.

    Chris Large / FX

    Chris Large / FX

    Just as Fargo needs a loose cannon like Dodd, it also needs a figure whose pure evil is more literary than human. This unleashed malevolence is crucial because it underlines that the series is as much a philosophical treatise on the indestructibility of humanity's basest impulses as it is a ripping good crime story.

Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?