Posted by : Patrick | October 21, 2015
*FULL SPOILERS AHEAD*
After starting out with a bang, Fargo‘s second episode, “Before the Law” starts to get us a bit more settled in on the situation at hand. This show has nailed a perfect tone so far, its earthy color scheme, working man’s soundtrack, and subtly efficient dialogue painting a Midwest picture of harsh living in harsh conditions. Rye’s edgy insecurity will be missed, but his death has created a host of branching plot lines destined to collide in a spectacular mess.
The episode opens with an envoy from Kansas City arriving to negotiate a buyout of the Gerhardt crime territory and to better assess the strength of the family after the stroke suffered by the patriarch. Brad Garrett displays just the right amount of uncaring mafia exec callousness, but its Bokeem Woodbine as enforcer Mike Milligan who brings the real menace. With the so far mute twin brothers accompanying him, his friendly, talkative musings emit a latent seething. A conversation after being pulled over by Ted Danson’s Sheriff Larsson shows how tension can ramped up without a single threat lobbied or weapon drawn. “And isn’t that a minor miracle?…That two men could stand on a lonely road in winter and talk. Calmly and rationally. While all around them, people are losing their minds.” His smiles seem more like a predator baring its teeth. This was easily the best scene in an episode full of stage-setting, and what it foreshadows has me worried for Hank. His coolness and trust in his authority was impressive, but I couldn’t help but think that the next time he stands alone against Kansas City things won’t go as smoothly.
Also getting a little more fleshed out in “Before the Law” was the predicament of the Gerhardt family business. With their dad laid up, a power struggle has begun to surface, and not exactly how I would’ve thought. Instead of eldest brothers Dodd and Bear directly opposing each other for control, Bear backs their mother, Floyd to take over. But a girl can’t run a crime family! An interesting spot for a feminist plotline, but these are strange times, and Jean Smart plays the matriarch with the perfect mixture of conniving Lady Macbeth and righteous motherly tenderness that somehow I still don’t trust. Her insistence that her gruff and resistant son Dodd eat some bread seemed like a scenario that will be revisited later, possibly with some poison involved. Or maybe Fargo has just put me on edge, in the mindset that everyone and everything is out to get me, so I better be on guard. It’s the rare piece of entertainment that can pull this off, where every little detail seems to have impending significance.
The moments with Lou and his family this week provided nice breaks to take a breath, but as if there weren’t enough menaces looming over these people, we were reminded of Betsy’s illness, with a shot of her chemotherapy and the results, weakness and dizziness that is only the beginning. Luckily Molly’s presence keeps things upbeat, and while a smoking gun (almost literally) is discovered, there is just a general feeling that Lou’s investigation is about to open his eyes to the larger goings-on. His relation of a corpse to a Vietnam memory not only served as a good character moment, but also reinforced the time period and America in which the story takes place, and Hanks’s suggestion that maybe these boys brought the war back with them. The America of Fargo‘s 1979 setting seems on the verge of turning into the wild west if hope doesn’t soon arrive. What’s amazing to me is that all this doom can exist, yet the Midwestern cheery optimism perseveres regardless, maintaining pep and preventing the vibe from sinking into the snowy depths.
The last plotline has Ed cleaning up after the mess that he and Peggy made killing Rye. Jesse Plemons doesn’t have much to say, but his face speaks volumes about how his soul is sadly changing by these acts. He has the look of a man who will never be truly happy ever again, knowing he’ll have to live with what he has done and continues to do to protect his wife. Surely he must know that his dreams for a quiet life and a family are dying, if not already gone. His disposal of the body was a nice callback to the movie, and the finger on the floor was a great way to force him to now realize that he will be lying and hiding this for the rest of his life from friends and neighbors. I wonder if he’ll start to believe that maybe he should’ve taken Peggy’s suggestion that they just leave town. She, meanwhile, tries to resume her daily life, working at a salon under the interested eyes of her lesbian boss, Constance. This may have been the moment that seemed a little too on the nose for me. The metaphor for the male-female dynamic involving castles and trapped princesses was a good way of ramping up Peggy’s inevitable pursuit of individuality, but coupling that with Constance’s blatant and tactless advances didn’t really add much. Maybe it’ll end up going somewhere, but I’m not sure this subplot will make Peggy a more interesting character than she already is. Still, Dunst wears this role like warm mittens, and her reactions to this new development ring nothing but true.
And to cap it all off we of course have our wtf UFO appearance, though much more visually jarring this time, with some narration straight out of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. I have no idea, people. Anyway, so far, so great. Two episodes in, Fargo‘s second season is as good if not better than this point of the first. “Before the Law” was fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how Lou’s trip to Fargo goes.