Episode two: "The Rooster Prince" [Warning: Spoilers for FX's Fargo series]
Once again, we open on the road. However, rather than ominous music or eerie lighting, we're given a sunny day and a silly percussive groove that seems more at home in a drummer's garage practice sesh. Why this was chosen as the theme music for two hitmen from Fargo is beyond us.
Yes, time for more parallels to the '96 Fargo.
There are two henchmen rolling into Bemidji to "investigate" the death of Sam Hess, the big-shot trucking company owner who met his unfortunate end while getting it on in the back of a strip club. Adam Goldberg plays Mr. Numbers, the fast-talking, hot-headed half of the duo -- kinda like this show's Steve Buscemi, only he is definitely not "kinda funny looking."
On the other hand, there's Mr. Wrench, played by Russell Harvard. Everything about Mr. Wrench is slightly ridiculous. His mutton chops are so thick you'd need a butcher's knife to slice through 'em, he's got a Davy Crockett jacket, and oh yeah -- he communicates through a completely made-up version of sign language that only his partner-in-crime can understand. Their signing makes for some slapstick visual humor, but it feels like there's something more there. Are they faking? We'll see.
Next, we get an inside look at two post-funeral receptions for two out of four of the deceased folks from episode one: Lester's wife Pearl and the late town sheriff Vern Thurman.
After Pearl's funeral, Lester sits alone at his brother Chazz's house during the reception, nursing a cup of coffee... and his soon-to-be-festering wound sustained the night there was a double homicide in his house.
"Did you have the hot dish?" Lester's brother Chazz asks, because hot dish cures everything.
"Oh. Yahhh, real good."
Nothing looks good there. It's quiet and stark, and no one besides Chazz seems to care that he's there.
Lester returns home to his house, floors still stained with blood. There are flashbacks of Lester going full Maxwell's Silver Hammer on his wife in the basement and watching Lorne Malvo shoot the sheriff in the living room. (But he didn't kill the deputy -- she stumbled into the crime scene later.)
Thurman's reception is hosted by his very, very pregnant wife with no less than half a dozen hot dishes. Things look warm and welcoming in the Thurmans' household, like there's finally a sense of community in this so-far icy-hearted town. Vern's wife Ida tells Molly about one of Vern's old bosses who got killed by a hail stone while eating Dairy Queen.
"Strawberry, I think."
Molly then reveals her father Lou used to be a cop before he owned the town diner. She found out he got shot while she was at school one day, during an algebra class. While this scene fails the Bechdel test, it captures the feeling that sometimes the smallest details about the biggest incidents are the ones that stick with you.
Too bad Vern didn't get to put in his recommendation for Molly to be chief before he got blasted with a shotgun, because Bill is officially terrible at his job. "Gotta believe it's about the cutthroat world of regional trucking," Bill tells the women about Sam Hess's death. Right, Bill, and random drifters killed the folks in the Nygaard house.
Deputy Molly and new sheriff Bill pay a visit to Lester's home, the former looking for clues and the latter awkward and blind in the face of Lester's terribly made up alibis. Tolman and Odenkirk play off each other's performances so well here -- there's no good cop, bad cop, just good cop, dumb cop.
After nagging Lester one too many times, an insecure Bill throws Molly off the Nygaard homicide case while she's eating dinner at Lou's with her father. This scene, and the one in the Thurmans' kitchen, are the most affecting in the episode, thanks in no small part to Tolman's expert handling of her role as what seems like the town's only competent, insightful female officer. Carradine's Lou also deserves a shout out as maybe the only other calm voice of experience and reason -- not preachy, just plain real.
Meanwhile, Malvo goes to his next job in Duluth, picking up his assignment from the sorriest post office this side of the Mississippi. He gets a new identity (minister, imagine that!) and a book in the mail: American Phoenix, written by the self-proclaimed supermarket king of Minnesota, Stavros Milos. Malvo pays a visit to the king's grocery store office, which has a window into the butcher shop and a red-clad security guard Malvo calls a "fire hydrant." Zing.
Turns out Stavros, played by a delightfully money-hungry Oliver Platt, wants Malvo to find the person that sent him a ransom note for $43,613. You can see Malvo's sizing just about everything and everyone in the room up at this point, not just the fire hydrant. Eventually, Stavros's security guy Semenchko goes to Malvo's motel room to threaten him, but his character comes off as a weird mix between Walter White and Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad. At one point he says, "I'm the guy--," and we half expected him to finish with "-- who knocks." (He doesn't.) Malvo isn't phased, and proceeds to drop trou and sit on the toilet until Semenchko leaves.
Also in Duluth, Gus Grimly -- the single-dad cop that let Malvo go in the first episode after his daughter was threatened -- debates telling his boss about the run-in. Gus's precocious kid schools him in the black-and-white, right-and-wrong rules of the world over chicken nuggets and burgers.
There are no shades of gray for Greta Grimly, and it seems there's no gradient of good or evil, smart or stupid, insight or blindness for many of the characters. Right now, we're still getting acquainted with these people while getting introduced to even more. Hopefully we'll see more sides to the characters we already know in the next couple episodes, rather than meet more folks we don't.
"Am I right?" Bill asks early in the episode.
"You're not not-right." That's about as Minnesotan an answer there is. The promise of some great intertwining stories is there, but for now we'll just have to do our best deputy Molly Solverson impression to find it.
Death count so far:
Five, including a guy the hitmen dumped into a frozen lake because they mistook him for Malvo.
Random notebook dump:
"There's no library in this town," asks Mr. Numbers at Mr. Wrench's behest. "Why is there no library in this town?"
"He thinks every town should have a library."
It should be noted that Bemidji does in fact have a library which has been around since 1907.
[Editor's note: Don't have cable? Looking to read recaps? Want to discuss the show in the comments? We'll be recapping each episode weekly as it airs. Stay tuned!]