On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Santee men were executed by hanging in Mankato, Minn., as ordered by the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The men were charged with killing hundreds of white settlers as part of the Dakota War of 1862, a conflict fueled by broken peace treaties and starvation before quickly being put down by the government.
Half a century after the hangings, a four-ton monument would be erected that read, "Here were hanged 38 Sioux Indians, Dec. 26th, 1862."
If that sounds familiar, it's because a similar sign was featured in the latest episode of "Fargo," during Hanzee's hunt for the Blumquists. Hanging outside a bar that proves just as racist and unpleasant on the inside as the outside, the sign is a nod to the massaged history that "Fargo" deals with regularly.
Yet, not really. It's one thing for the series to begin with a faux earnest disclaimer, "This is a true story," and to invent a new, elaborate, filmography for Ronald Reagan, but it's quite another to acknowledge, even subtly, one of the darker moments in U.S. history.
But before delving too far into the seamy underbelly of the United States' relationship with its indigenous peoples, let's take a moment to examine the rest of the episode, which presented itself as a sort of dark screwball comedy, complete with stabbings, hangings and bathroom jokes.
We learned at the end of last week's episode that Peggy and Ed had Dodd Gerhardt in their possession so that they might have a bargaining chip in order to extricate themselves from the Gerhardt blood feud. "Loplop" doubles back to reveal what the Blumquists and Dodd have been up to in the meantime, focusing almost exclusively on the traveling trio and Hanzee (a quietly explosive Zahn McClarnon,) who's searching for them.
Interspersed throughout the episode are repeated instances of split-screen phone calls, as Ed tries to get anyone at the Gerhardt compound to care about the fact that he has Dodd and Hanzee attempts to use Peggy's boss, Constance, to locate the Blumquists.
As funny as the Blumquists' interactions with hostage Dodd are and hapless as the pair seem to be as kidnappers, the humor is not the crux of the episode.
"Loplop" gives itself over to two characters locked in parallel battles. For Peggy, the journey to self-actualization has been a difficult one. It's only with the help of a hallucination that she has a breakthrough: that she cannot "think" and "be" simultaneously, she must stop thinking about who she wants to be and, for lack of a better term, just do it.
For Hanzee, the struggle has never been about knowing who he is. Dodd's Native American accomplice has always stood firm in his identity in the face of open hostilities, calmly informing individuals of his three tours of duty in Vietnam. Hanzee knows himself, but also knows that occasionally, identity comes at a high price, leaving him searching by episode's end for something else.
It's appropriate, then, for an episode that spent so much of its time on the spiritual journeys of two disjointed souls to conclude with those two individuals finally interacting and coming to an understanding.
Hanzee finally traces the Blumquists and Dodd to their hideout and walks in as Peggy is trying to hogtie Dodd. He instructs the pair to sit down, while Dodd yells at him to just shoot them and be done with it. As Dodd's anger grows, so do his insults, calling Hanzee a half-breed, a mongrel.
Hanzee seems to take the insults in stride — after all, he's already been called any number of names by the racists at the bar — instead ignoring Dodd and asking whether Peggy would cut his hair. Dodd persists and, for his efforts, Hanzee shoots him in the head.
When Peggy asks whether Hanzee is sure that this is the path he wants to take, cutting off his hair, he is resigned. "Yeah. Tired of this life."
With a single phrase, Hanzee captures the exhaustion of life as a hired gun, yes, but also that of existing as a marginalized person in a hostile world. He knows who he is: a hired gun, a war hero, an "other" in a society with no tolerance for outsiders.
Loplop, from which the episode borrows its title, is a character developed by a 20th century surrealist artist named Max Ernst. Loplop was a totem for Ernst's self, a way for him to better express himself and his thoughts.
Peggy and Hanzee don't have totems, not really. All they have is themselves, left to remodel and reshape into some version that they find more pleasing and hope the world finds similarly acceptable.
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