This article contains spoilers for Fargo season 5 episode 7 “Linda.”
FX’s Fargo is not shy about indulging one-off sojourns into the realm of the fantastical. The show’s second season featured a UFO deus ex machina while season 3 took time out for a trip to a celestial bowling alley that might be the afterlife or at least the soundstage for The Big Lebowski.
Fargo‘s latest dip into the dreamworld, however, is one of its most impressive yet. Fargo season 5 episode 7 “Linda” finds our hero Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Juno Temple) visiting the mysterious Camp Utopia to find her abusive ex-husband Roy Tillman’s (Jon Hamm) first wife Linda (Kari Matchett). In the process she stumbles into a whole bunch of other Lindas (who greet with one another with a cheerful “Hi Linda” like in Barbie) … and some puppets.
At first glance, the proceedings come across as reality – albeit a strange reality. But as the final act of “Linda” reveals, not everything is exactly what it seems. So let’s examine what happens in “Linda” and what it means for Fargo season 5.
Spoiler Alert: It Was All a Dream
Let’s just start with the end, why don’t we? Though the first part of Dot’s story, Gator’s (Joe Keery) accidental homicide, and Wayne Lyon’s (David Rysdahl) very generous car transaction all take place in the real world, everything that happens to Dot after she receives her pancakes at a roadside diner is a dream. And this episode doesn’t make much of an attempt to hide that fact, honestly.
Watching “Linda” on a second viewing, you notice some telltale signs of artifice. The moment that the server gently places the smiley-face pancake in front of Dot (contrasted with how the rude server slams the pancake plate down later in actuality) is accompanied by a “whooshing” sound from the score, suggesting that the exhausted Dot has fallen asleep and been whisked away to dreamland.
Additionally, like a famous “Dorothy” before her, Dot incorporates some elements from the real world into her dream. The last song playing in her red Kia before she falls asleep is James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet,” setting up Camp Utopia’s very literal puppet shows. Also, Dot sees a recipe for a chicken piccata hanging up on the diner’s cork board and that’s what she eats for her only meal among the Lindas.
Viewers can’t be blamed for initially thinking the events at Camp Utopia are real. After all, an entire community of domestic abuse survivors recovering together under the same name is the kind of darkly whimsical storytelling the show has been known to enjoy. In this case though, it’s more important for Fargo to delve into Dorothy’s psyche rather than what’s going on with all the Lindas.
Finding Out Dorothy’s Tragic Backstory
The real purpose of “Linda” isn’t just to have a wacky adventure with a bunch of Lindas but rather to better understand Dorothy’s backstory and the trauma she went through. Fargo, bless it, wants us to understand the horrific things that happened to Dot and empathize with her but it also probably doesn’t want to subject us to having to watch Jon Hamm groom and assault a teenager. Hence: the puppets.
As the Lindas (who, remember: are all in Dot’s head and are therefore part of Dot’s conscious) understand, art is a vehicle to reconcile two versions of the truth. And Dot indeed has two versions of the truth rattling around in her head. One version is that Roy Tillman’s first wife Linda (called “Saint Linda” by the other Lindas at Camp Utopia) was a willing accomplice who brought Dot into Roy’s orbit knowing that her would fixate on the pretty young girl and finally release Linda herself from a life of abuse. The other version is that Linda, herself, was a victim too. Dot has never been able to reconcile this, so she makes her puppets and puts on a show.
The information gleaned from Dot’s puppet show is harrowing. She begins: “Before this. Before I was a mother. And a wife. And a different wife. I was a girl. All skinned knees and make-believe. Then I got my monthly and the wolves came. Once I was running I ran away from everything – home, boys, the future.”
While running away, Dot (then Nadine) was nearly pinched for shoplifting at a grocery store but rescued by Linda. Then Linda welcomed Dot into her home alongside her husband Roy and her son Gator. Nadine lived among them happily, enjoying family meals being taught math by Roy. Soon, however, she would discover that Roy physically abused Linda.
One day, when Linda left town, Roy turned his sights on the underage Nadine, sexually assaulted her, and took her as his new wife to have, to hold, and to hurt. And then Linda was gone. Packed a bag and left in the wee hours. Or at least that’s how Dot remembers it.
What Happened to Saint Linda?
Of course, Linda probably didn’t pack a bag and leave. The end of “Linda” makes that much clear. After Dot’s puppet show, Linda realizes that she bears some responsibility for what happened to Nadine so she agrees to leave Camp Utopia and join her in the outside world to testify against Roy.
It’s here, however, that Dot’s dream starts to wane and she begins to wake up. As Dot talks with Linda in her car, the passenger seat becomes blurry as though its we’re seeing a mostly silent Saint Linda through a veil. Then Dot says the following:
“I know, [Roy] would have killed you. Tried to kill me.”
Dot genuinely believes that Roy would have killed Linda if she stayed with him any longer. She knows this because Roy ended up trying to kill her. So if this was all just a dream and Dot hasn’t seen Linda since she “ran away” then … oh. Oh no.
Tragically, Linda Tillman a.k.a. Saint Linda might not have survived Roy Tillman. But there is a small silver lining. If Linda is, in fact, dead then perhaps her spirit is still keeping en eye on the woman she once knew as Nadine. For, if Dot hadn’t fallen asleep at the diner and dreamt of Linda at Camp Utopia, maybe she would have gone out to her car a split second earlier … right in time for an out-of-control 18-wheeler to crash right into it.
As things stand now, Dot is injured and back in Roy’s clutches. If not for “Linda” though, her story might already be over.
New episodes of Fargo season 5 premiere Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX and stream on Hulu the next day.