Like many TV Performers of the Week, Kirsten Dunst manages to make herself stand out as an essential part of a show already filled to the brim with excellence. Though I had my reservations and, frankly, a dislike regarding Fargo Season 1, one of the things that has made Season 2 so great is how its characters — though all of them besides the Solversons are corrupt in some way — are all so complexly empathetic. This goes doubly true for Dunst’s Peggy Blomquist, who is a simple dreamer, but who is also capable of casually executing extraordinary violence.
And that, really, gets at the heart of what Fargo is all about: ordinary people who make increasingly poor decisions, and get mixed up with some definitely bad people, with everything everything in a bloodbath. Yet with Peggy and her husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), they still manage to nearly sustain a protagonist’s role as they hide from the Gerhardt family, who are out to kill them after Peggy kills the youngest adult son, Rye (Kieran Culkin). Somehow, the two have become a northwestern Bonnie and Clyde, on the run from the law and the Gerhardt’s revenge. And so far, they’ve managed to come out alive.
But it’s Dunst and her dreamy performance in the midst of all of this other posturing and chaos that really pops. And while she’s been exceptional all season, she hit new heights in “Loplop.” Despite the fact that she has just witnessed two murders and tied up her attacker in the basement (filled to the brim with travel magazines — a great nod to how trapped Peggy feels), she hallucinates a conversation with the Lifespring self-help guru about how to actualize her best self, puzzling over the nature of being. Peggy is resourceful (she saved herself from Jeffrey Donovan’s murderous Dodd), but in the next instant, she’s child-like. In the car with Ed later, she giggles with glee over their “road trip” (with Dodd, meanwhile, in the trunk).
With Ed having ground up Rye’s body and now has fully participated in the carnage and coverup, though, Peggy no longer has to work her Lady MacBeth routine on him. Instead, she can return to just being cheerfully supportive of Ed’s actions, like encouraging him to call the Gerhardt’s for the exchange of Dodd, or later wanting to turn him over to Mike Milligan (the excellent Bokeem Woodbine). But there were three scenes late in “Loplop” that were really extraordinary in showing Peggy’s many conflicting facets, and Dunst’s mastery of each.
First, the stabbing. It was a shocking scene because though Peggy had committed violent acts in the past (with running Rye down, and leaving him in her windshield until she got home, as well as cattle-prodding Dodd), there are few acts more visceral than that of a stabbing. Peggy picks up a knife and pierces Dodd not once, but twice, in an attempt to get him to “show some manners.” The whole time she’s not only composed, but somewhat exasperated. Like, “how dare you make me stab you? Why can’t you just behave, then I wouldn’t have to rip open your flesh?”
This chilling act (played for laughs when Ed returns and questions her, and Dodd fears her completely) is juxtaposed brilliantly with Peggy’s childlike innocence again later as she watches TV, and in her friendly but hesitant telephone conversation with Constance (Elizabeth Marvel). Here, she seems like a regular throwback housewife, just going about her daily life (Dunst plumped up her weight for the role, and relishes in the homespun dialect and persona) … except that there’s a man tied up next to her.
When Dodd escapes, though (in a scene we don’t witness, and we also don’t see why he didn’t kill her between that moment and when Ed returned), Peggy again uses her resourceful nature to attack Dodd and save Ed from being hung (an excruciating scene), with Dunst making quick but strong movements that highlighted Peggy’s deeply capable nature. Though it’s admittedly a somewhat psychotic nature, too.
All of this came together so beautifully in one of “Loplop’s” final scenes, when Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) makes the surprising move of betraying and killing Dodd before quietly and sincerely sitting down for a hair cut. This is Hanzee’s moment, as he sits down wearily and asks for something “more professional,” because he’s tired of this way of life. It’s a gorgeous scene in every way, both tense and funny, as Ed (freshly having been hung and almost killed) offers Hanzee some “pop.” But meanwhile, Peggy is looking at him and trying to make a decision. Kill Hanzee while his guard is down? Why does he trust her with the scissors? That trust is misplaced, of course, as Peggy stabs him just as he goes to shoot at Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), when the law men start approaching the cabin, though he’s able to escape. Peggy and Ed, of course, are then left with their hands up.
It was another exceptional hour of Fargo that really belonged to Dunst and her wonderfully complicated portrayal of such an enigmatic character. Peggy babbles a lot and keeps a cheery disposition even when faced with violent and horrible things, and it makes it impossible to really know what she’s thinking. But in a way, that’s the key to Peggy — she’s not thinking about anything unpleasant. Dunst is magnetic in the role, and plays Peggy with both with ruthless practicality and a dreamer’s heart. She’s naive but in control, and ultimately, she just wants to “actualize” and have it all, and won’t let anything get in her way. What’s important is that she escapes, even if it’s just in her mind.
Fargo airs Monday nights on FX. You can read about past TV Performers of the Week here.