Kirsten Dunst Plays A Flawed Feminist Character On 'Fargo', Even As She Descends Into Villainy
Peggy Blumquist is a woman on the verge of something big in the second season of the FX series Fargo, but it's not quite clear what that is yet. After unknowingly getting herself involved in a murderous turf war, Peggy (played by Kirsten Dunst) is now on the run with her husband, Ed. Will she be taken down by the cops for starting this war? Or, will she be brought to justice by the Gerhardt family for the hit-and-run murder of their youngest son and brother? With these options, it's enough to make you go crazy, and seemingly, it is driving her to that point. But, for all the questionable things Peggy has done, she's not painted as a villain. She's just a flawed feminist trying to find herself anyway that she can.
Peggy is a married hairdresser living in the small town of Luverne, MN in 1979, but her vision for the future is rooted in the big city. She's a product of the second-wave feminism movement, which started in the '60s and had women focusing on the issues of inequality at home and in the workplace. Peggy believes that she doesn't have to be just a wife or a mother anymore. It's this belief that keeps her going, hoarding glamour and travel magazines that whisk her away to a more fulfilling place. But this is all just a dream, especially when you consider the fact that her husband Ed dreams of something so much different. He is perfectly happy buying the butcher shop where he works and starting a nice little family in the house he grew up in. It's not until this hit-and-run that she begins to have the upper-hand. That she can finally re-write the script of their future. Now they're Bonnie and Clyde instead of just Peggy and Ed.
While Peggy may seem delusional, her newfound power stems from the New Age self-improvement seminar, Lifespring, which she believes will solve all her problems. The real life Lifespring was created in 1974 by John P. Hanley, Sr., Ph.D. Think The Secret for the '70s, with lots of emphasis put on positive thinking that will increase happiness and force life-altering changes. It's also not that far from the feminist mantra of that time: "the personal is political." This is a quote that's attributed to feminist author Carol Hanisch in 1969 — though the author later said it should be credited to American feminist writer Kathie Sarachild — when talking about sessions women had to talk about feminism and how it could work for everyone. Many outside of the movement felt these therapy or self-improvement sessions, as they had been unfairly called, helped women talk about their personal problems, when, in actuality, it was about finding larger connections between themselves and what was going on in the changing society around them.
With Lifespring, Peggy is hoping to change the way she is seen, but first she must find herself through "self-actualization." It's something Peggy talks about more and more as she gets more entangled in this murderous misunderstanding. She believes she can outsmart the police with a bit of misdirection, but, since she has never tried to cover up a murder before, she gets sloppy. However, this doesn't deter her or even make her want to come clean to the cops. Instead, she keeps plugging away, coming up with new ways to wipe the slate clean. She's quick thinking, always there with a new getaway plan. Sometimes involving torture, which she seems way too calm about partaking in. But, in her mind, it's all for a greater good. It's this calm, cool, collected state she's now in that actually brings her to her "self-actualization," but it's out of desperation. The fear that this could all go away because of one (very big) mistake.
Desperation is a running theme on this season of Fargo, often the emotion that takes hold when making decisions. But the writers make it clear that you should never underestimate these desperate characters, specifically the female ones. The women are calm and calculated — in the best way. They get everything moving, uninterested in sitting back and letting the men take over. Floyd Gerhardt is the aging matriarch of the Gerhardt family, whose decision to start a war instead of giving up the business her husband worked so hard for begins this mess. But, even with all that power, she has to contend with her eldest son not wanting to follow the rules. Dodd Gerhardt's daughter Simone, who grew up in the free-loving '60s and is fully in charge of her body and what she does with it, uses that body to go behind her family's back, risking her life for revenge she's been waiting to enact since she was a kid. Not all of these choices are right, but they are theirs. And that's what makes them powerful.
Fargo is a show filled with flawed characters who think what they're doing is right, and, because of that, you can't help but root for them, then hate them and then root for them again. Peggy is one of those characters, deeply flawed, but not so far gone yet (and it's a big yet) that you wouldn't want to see something good happen to her. While you can question why someone would hit a man and then ride with him on her hood all the way home, it's not as hard to question why a woman would want to feel free. That's something unique about Peggy, that besides the murdering, she's not too different than the average feminist looking for equality. Peggy feeds off of the horror of it all, believing this turn of events provides proof that wanting to leave it all behind is possible and necessary to her becoming the person she needs to be. Peggy is a flawed feminist who is achieving self-actualization to the fullest. But more importantly, she is a fully realized character, who is just not necessarily good or right.
Image: Mathias Clamer/FX; Giphy