Posted by : Patrick | October 16, 2015
The first season of FX’s Fargo did a masterful job of capturing the spirit of and tying into the 1996 Coen Brothers movie while still telling its own self-contained story, but the circumstances of the moral play and very similar-feeling character types played it safe, hewing very close to those established by the show’s inspiration. The result was a fine homage, but with the premier of season two, titled “Waiting for Dutch”, Fargo seems poised to break from the confines of emulation and stand on its own two feet as an original series with many different stories of greed and murder to tell in the frozen, hyper-real Midwestern setting, boding very well for the future. Full of blunt intrigue, charming awkwardness, and grim violence, this was a great way to start.
*FULL SPOILERS AHEAD*
After a clever prologue taking place on the set of a fake Ronald Reagan western titled Massacre at Sioux Falls, we skip ahead to 1979, where now an entire country waits for the actor, this time to hopefully jump start the troubled production called America. A stylish montage introduces us to the era, with period split screen and the funky music of the time being a nice touch. A quicker pace helps emphasize the difference between this season and the last, giving the opening a fresh vibe, and things do get rolling pretty quickly. How much politics and Reagan himself will play into the plot and theme of the rest of the season remains to be seen (creator Noah Hawley has implied we will feel his presence, whether physically acted by Bruce Campbell, or otherwise), but it sets the tone nicely for the small town locales where the story begins. Times are tough, people are either very thankful for what they have or frustrated by their inability to get what they think they deserve.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rye Gerhardt, youngest brother and low man on the totem pole in the Gerhardt family syndicate, a crime family operates a trucking business out of North Dakota. Played by Kieran Culkin, he’s the greasy runt of the litter, looked upon by his bigger, more menacing-looking siblings not as a man, but instead “the comic in a piece of bubble gum”. A short man with something to prove is a dangerous, unpredictable thing, and Rye hopes to arrange his own deal selling brand new electric typewriters to make his fortune. This involves influencing a judge, and so after a few other introductions we end up at the fateful incident around which the season will turn. What happens at the Waffle Hut is handled flawlessly, with moments of dark comedy and brutality mixing perfectly together in the way only Fargo can when it’s at its best. The whole scene happens so quick that like Rye the viewer barely has time to process the tragedy, and then weirdness hits: lights rise from the trees into the night sky, briefly hovering before zooming away. Okay, this can’t really be danced around: whether this UFO (?!) is a hallucination or real or a metaphor for whatever, I have no idea, but I will say it was a strange and oddly distancing way to conclude what had otherwise been a very powerful sequence, and I’m not sure I liked it. It feels out of place, but I am curious as to what’s up the writers’ sleeves. Luckily, things go back to Fargo normal soon, and Rye is hit by some bad luck of his own. He leaves a big mess, which brings us to Lou Solverson.
Those who paid attention to the first season remember that Keith Carradine’s former cop turned diner owner vaguely alluded to a horrific occurrence in 1979 in Sioux Falls. Ever been? Now we see a Lou (Patrick Wilson) in his prime that year, still as verbose as ever, with his young daughter Molly, a wife just starting chemotherapy, and a couple of conspiracy theorist friends who enjoy a good bingo night. The call comes in and Lou heads out without ceremony. A crime scene, as gruesome as it may be for a quiet town such as Luverne, Minnesota, is still treated as isolated, just work. But as pal Karl (a perfect Nick Offerman) warns later, things may start small, but they always gets bigger. Wilson is great here, conveying the calm authority that Carradine so effortlessly pulls off, and conversations with his similarly talkative colleague Hank (Ted Danson) feel almost like they came out of a western. This is some great variety from the chipper police we’re accustomed to in the Fargo world, and simply reinforces that there is no one type for these stories.
There are a lot of characters introduced in this episode, which can sometimes feel like an overabundance of information, but the show wisely doesn’t jump back and forth too much, instead devoting an act or so to the main threads. Last up are the Blomquists, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed (Jesse Plemons). Ed is a nice, if not too bright, galoot whose highest ambition seems to be owning the local butcher’s shop. Peggy, on the other hand, is having trouble adjusting to domestic bliss, and a feminist streak has her aspiring to more than just housewifery and a pack of babies. The awkward dinner scene speaks volumes about their relationship, seemingly headed in opposite directions. Even more unfortunately for them, we now find out what happened to Rye, a bloody mess of an animal now in the garage after Peggy hit him with her car, panicked (thinking he was dead) and drove home. Forced into an act of self defense, Ed is now brought in on this, and the two are faced with an important decision that will affect how the rest of their lives turn out. Somehow I doubt it will end well. In between we see a bit of the Gerhardt family and the patriarch’s stroke, along with a Kansas City-based mafia that is looking at this as the perfect time to muscle in. They’re willing to acquire the territory in a business-like manner, but when asked what happens “if the current owners resist”, the reply of “we liquidate” foreshadows the very horror the prologue hinted at.
Overall “Waiting for Dutch” was an exciting kickoff for a new season of Fargo. I loved how viewers are subtly reminded of the movie through imagery like Rye’s greasy rodent look, or the way Papa Gerhardt distinctly resembles Wade Gustafson. The storyline is packed with intriguing potential and a freshness that doesn’t have to rely on its predecessors (even if it does connect with them). Across the board the acting is top-notch, the costumes and sets feel authentic, and despite some different character types and stylistic choices, from the brown color palette to use of a period soundtrack, the essence of what makes Fargo feel different from other crime series is in full force.
My Rating: 9 out of 10