This Fargo review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 2 Episode 2
The first season of Fargo was fantastic, I enjoyed it immensely, but it didn’t grab me right away. Throughout the first few episodes, the show was still finding it’s footing, lingering too long in the film’s shadow. Eventually it found its own voice and hit its stride, but it took some time.
Fargo season 2 isn’t suffering from that same issue at all. Right away, Fargo is here with an incredibly well connected story, with interesting characters, and a signature style. The premiere was quirky, action packed, and fast-talking, while tonight’s episode “Before the Law,” simmered like heat coming off of last week’s body count in the snow. The first half of the episode focused on getting us more acclimated with the major players in this year’s story, while the second half churned up the suspense and foreboding feelings like a grinder full of “mystery” meat.
In the episode’s open, we get to sit at the table with Gerhardt’s as they discuss looming “corporate” threats and the power vacuum now that patriarch Otto is indisposed indefinitely. In one corner. Jean Smart is calm and calculated as matriarch Floyd, in the other, Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) is brutish, impatient, and prideful as Dodd. Dodd is so consumed by the opportunity to lead and grab hold of his legacy that he tells stories of his family to dead men that aren’t even listening. Floyd knows she has to lead the thuggish Gerhardt brothers threw the conflict with Kansas City, but Dodd still makes his own plans under her nose.
Speaking of Kansas City, the main muscle coming from the Paris of the Plains is Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). Milligan is the sort of courteous cold reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, speaking exclusively in cool monologues that double as friendly threats. In his first appearance in the typewriter store, Woodbine doesn’t quite capture that dangerous quality that Billy Bob Thronton tapped into so easily last year, but just before I was about to write him off as a lesser-Malvo, Milligan hits all of the right intimidation notes on Sheriff Larson. Kudos to Ted Danson for selling the fear, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that “rational conversation” on that quiet road to turn violent.
The episode mostly plays this way; dialogue-heavy table-setting scenes that are just dripping in style. Everything from the production design, like the tennis ball hanging in the garage, to the costumes, like Rye’s gaudy white shoe, to the string-heavy score just make Fargo stand-out amongst other shows. The camera work is also fun. Fargo puts the flash in flashback, as Peggy and Ed try to shake memories of their dirty deed in split-screen. Cross-fades help spice up transitions and nominal scenes like Ed cleaning up the garage. My favorite shot of the episode comes when Lou is re-inspecting the diner as Betsy and little Molly build a snowman in the background. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the show: seedy criminal behavior happening amongst Midwest normality.
The show is employing a lot of last year’s tricks, notice the way Peggy mirrors Lester’s lying or all of the eccentric supporting characters, like Peggy’s new age-y lady friend, popping up, but its long past just aping the Coen Brothers’ work. I love the new idea of small-town vs corporate crime and I can’t wait to see that story play out with Fargo‘s ever-present true-north, this time Lou Solverson, caught in the middle. Fargo season one was good, but Fargo season two might end up being spectacular.