Season 5, Episode 5: ‘The Tiger’
Although her accent as Lorraine Lyon suggests Amy Archer, the fast-talking journalist who likes to tout her bona fides (“I’ll bet my Pulitzer on it!”) in Joel and Ethan Coens’s “The Hudsucker Proxy,” Jennifer Jason Leigh is projecting power as a kind of entitled boredom. She doesn’t merely walk into a room. She makes an entrance, like royalty. And when her commands are not heeded, she either calmly asks for the heads of those who defy her or she goes for the throat herself. She doesn’t raise her voice. She is steady, calculating and vaguely put out.
There are two tigers, Lorraine and Dot, in this week’s drum-tight episode, even though a voice-over narrator, who speaks of tigers in a nature-doc parody throughout the show, seems to be referring only to Dot. And while that narration says nothing about a sisterhood between tigers, this episode engineers an unexpected alignment between the two, who have been at odds, to put it mildly. The opening sequence, which shows Lorraine deep in thought in her office, is a helpful little recap of where their relationship stands: She seems to recognize that Dot is formidable, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and genuinely committed to her son.
But perhaps she is more ally than adversary.
Two connected scenes appear to redirect Lorraine’s perspective on the situation. The first takes place at a lunch meeting between two bank executives who had been negotiating with her lawyer, Danish Graves, on a deal to sell to her company. (The numbers being “pretty sweet” nods to the sale Jerry Lundegaard tries to arrange in “Fargo” the movie.) Lorraine wants to expand her Redemption Services from the debt business to the credit business, because “everyone loves a lender, not so much the repo man.” But she quickly realizes that her counterparts across the table have no interest in dealing with a woman, so she leaves them with new numbers that are not sweet at all.
Later, she gets a visit from Roy Tillman, who she suspects has come to shake her down for money to let the Dot situation go. When Roy surprises her with a demand to get Dot back as his biblical property, Lorraine’s mood shifts exactly as it did with the bank executives. His claim to have felt relief when Dot resurfaced gets a skeptical “uh huh” from Lorraine that’s a fine example of how well Leigh plays the tiger, with a laconic half-interest that masks a deadly ferocity.
“Listen, slick,” she tells Roy, “nothing would make me happier than to put that woman in a box marked ‘return to sender,'” but she bristles at his retrograde demands. She and Dot may be at odds, but they’re aligned in fighting men who wish to own them.
Based on what we know about Lorraine, she wouldn’t necessarily be unfriendly to a guy like Roy, a “constitutional sheriff” who stumps for limited government and probably has his own holiday pictures of the family posing with assault rifles. You would almost mistake her for a progressive in the way she sizes him up as a libertarian who abhors taxes and the social safety net, even though she operates a predatory business that surely benefits from weakened oversight. By the same token, she wouldn’t necessarily be unkind to the shady bankers in the earlier scene if they had negotiated with her in good faith. She just won’t be disrespected. Or underestimated.
None of this is to say that Lorraine feels a sudden warmth toward her daughter-in-law. But at this point, Dot needs all the help she can get. She spends most of this gripping hour on the run after Lorraine and Danish claim power of attorney over her and have her committed to a psychiatric ward. By sticking Dot in a different wing at the same hospital where Wayne is recovering from “a serious electrical event,” the show engineers a tense set piece in which Dot pauses mid-escape to protect her husband from being kidnapped. It’s a sign of Roy’s respect for her cunning that he has abandoned a third attempt to capture her and decides to go after her family instead.
This leads to yet another unlikely allegiance between women, as Dot turns to Olmstead for help protecting Scotty, who stands to be another target for Roy’s henchmen. Dot gambles wisely that Olmstead’s feelings on this case haven’t yet settled, despite her being the deputy who initially picked her up for tasing one of her colleagues. These are two women who have known imperfect marriages, after all, as Olmstead is reminded in the steady thumping of shanked golf shots that must pulse in her head like a migraine. As the Marge Gunderson of this season, Olmstead has sound instincts and a sympathetic nature that makes her persuadable.
Lingering over all these developments is a big question that “Fargo” seems content in putting off for as long as possible: Who is Dot, anyway? Or, more to the point, who is Lorraine? How did this reedy housewife from suburban Minnesota acquire a certain set of skills like Liam Neeson in the “Taken” movies? For now, it’s helpful for Dot to have powerful women like Lorraine and Olmstead in her corner. But tigers are inscrutable, too.