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Fargo season two premiere recap: "There’s two ways this can go"

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Fargo Season Two, Episode One: “Waiting for Dutch”

Gosh darn it, Fargo’s done it. The show’s season two premiere up and knocked it so far out of the park, we’re not sure it’s in Minnesota anymore. Just kidding, Fargo’s totally in Minnesota (even if Fargo, the city, isn’t) and it’s revelling in all the Land of 10,000 Lakes had to offer in the 1970s.

Pretty much all of this premiere episode lay in the exposition, but it never felt like we were far from home (and hotdish) while we got introduced to a whole host of new characters... and some old ones, like the Solversons. It’s 1979, and our intrepid hero from last season, Molly Solverson, is just a little girl who loves bedtime stories, her dad Lou (our favorite diner owner from season one) is still a cop, and her mom is still around.

Since there are so many new characters this season, let’s mix things up in this recap and introduce ‘em all to you. [Beware: Spoilers abound.]

Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson): We’re introduced to Lou as he’s reading a bedtime story to Molly in the most stereotypical '70s home. He gets a call about a triple homicide down at the Waffle Hut, and we see State Trooper Solverson in action for the first time. He tells the dispatcher not to let local police onto the scene of the crime before he gets there (which we’ll find out is a power-play move), and we get to see him start to take stock of all the stuff that went awry at this grisly crime scene. This echoes the situation his daughter finds herself in as a deputy decades later during season one’s premiere.

Lou walks through the crime scene disturbed, but mostly impervious to the horror at hand: A waitress face-down in the snow, a judge atop a table, a line cook prostrate on the floor with his frying pan nearby. All are riddled with bullets, but it seems like it’s nothing compared to what Lou saw during his tours in Vietnam. Afterwards, he stops by the VFW to meet up for a beer with some buds and wind down before going back home. It’s clear that Lou has earned his part in the stereotypical American Dream (wife, kid, steady job, military background), but there’s some sort of evil that’s encroaching on that happiness, whether it’s a result of these murders or something more insidious. (Hey-o, Patrick Wilson joke.)

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Betsy Solverson (Cristin (Milioti): You probably recognize Milioti most as the mom from How I Met Your Mother, and here she is again playing a mom. But this show could just as well be called How I Lost Your Mother, since we found out from season one that Betsy is no longer with us. We don’t get much out of Betsy in this episode, but she’s tough and un-phased by Lou’s line of work, having grown up in a cop household herself with her dad. However, Betsy already drifting around the house quietly like she’s not even there anymore, spiriting the laundry away into drawers. We’re told she just had an appointment earlier that day and that she’s already started chemotherapy, so it might only be a matter of time.

Hank Larsson (Ted Danson): Speaking of her dad, that’s Hank Larsson for you. He’s the local sheriff who’s more in tune with high school football stats (that line cook was a record holder) than who the local judges are, as shown when he arrives at the Waffle Hut to assist his son-in-law on the homicide investigation. Hank’s got a no-nonsense attitude that goes with probably having served peaceful years on the force (how much trouble can one little town like Luverne get up to?). He’s kind of reminiscent of what Lou might’ve been like had he not ditched the blue uniform for a diner apron.

Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst): Peggy’s got a luscious head of hair, a damn nice wardrobe, and a terrible sense of right and wrong. This salon worker has big dreams — clearly, as she has a postcard of Cali-forn-i-a on her vanity that she longingly stares at — but they’re about to be dashed because of her shitty driving skills. Outside the Waffle Hut, she accidentally rams into the diner killer with her car. It’s a hit-and-run, but this time, the driver runs with the body. She panics and stashes the just-barely-living guy (who turns out to be Rye Gerhardt) in the garage, and pretends it’s nothing. She goes about the Stepford routine, making dinner (tater tots!) and smalltalk with her husband while attempting to live her best life. (She’s about to go do some Lifespring courses!)

Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons): Ed’s a small town guy with small town ambitions. He wants to take over the butcher shop after the owner retires, and he’s thrilled to get the leftover porkchops from a customer’s forgotten order. He’s a simple guy — maybe a little too simple — who wants a “litter” of kids, his own business, and a doting wife. He has none of those things right now, and his path to getting them has gone to hell after he accidentally kills Rye Gerhardt (in the garage! with the garden tool!) while investigating the string of lies Peggy tells him about why she’s being so damn weird.

The Gerhardts: We’re introduced to the patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) and his bookkeeping wife/partner-in-crime Floyd (Jean Smart, winning the award for the most badass name on the show) as they count up their latest collections, coming up short thanks to their youngest bell-bottom wearing son Rye (Kieran Culkin). Their other two sons Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and Bear (Angus Sampson) are bulkier, more responsible, and elbowing their way toward the small-time mafia throne when Otto has a stroke and throws the power dynamics of the family into disarray.

But poor Rye doesn’t even know about the stroke. Instead, he’s out trying to execute a foolhardy plan involving large sums of money... and electric typewriters? Needless to say, it doesn’t turn out well when the short-tempered (and height-challenged) Rye tries to prove he can play with the big dogs by attempting to strong arm a judge. (He’s a little reminiscent of Steve Buscemi’s old character from the original flick.)

Of course, when you bring a coke-snorting hothead with a Napoleon complex and a gun to the party diner in Fargo, someone’s gonna get hurt. And boy do they get hurt. The diner scene is an incredible work of art, showing slow motion and the passage of time to great effect as we watch Rye gun down everyone in the diner from different angles as the kitchen door swings open and closed between gunshots.

The Kansas City Mafia: We don’t get a good look at these folks (one of whom is Brad Garrett), but we know they’re trying to make a move on the Gerhardt’s territory, especially with Otto out of the picture.

Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman): First things first: Is there going to be some Carl Weathers joke a la Arrested Development here? Next, if Fargo were set in present day, he’d be a 9/11 truther. Instead, he’s a Kennedy truther that quotes Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech and talks about Watergate, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the girl in the polka dot dress. “This thing’s only getting bigger,” he tells Lou at the VFW and we know he’s right.

Luverne, Minnesota (Calgary, Alberta): Just about any story told in New York features the Big Apple as “a character.” While not every show or movie cares so much about the place it’s set, Fargo does. Hell, it’s named Fargo. The bleak tundra dusted in powder-fresh snow is, cliche as it sounds, just as much of a character as any of the people in it. The small town of Luverne is plenty of different things to different characters: it’s a prison for California dreamin’ Peggy, it’s the epitome of home for Ed, it’s an empire for the Gerhardts, an acquisition for the Kansas City mafia, and for Karl Weathers it’s ground zero for some crazy shit to go down.

What’s significant about Fargo’s strong showing is that it’s breaking out of the dreaded sophomore slump that befell last year’s critical and popular darling, True Detective. Though the two shows are on different networks (FX vs. HBO) and have varying tones (dark comedy vs. dark drama), they’ve got more in common than you’d think, which is why it’s so fascinating to see how they've fared against each other.

Both are "true crime" anthology series, meaning each season of the show functions with a completely different storyline than the one before it. One of the best anthology series is American Horror Story, another FX show. AHS solidified itself as a rule-breaking show, much to the delight/chagrin of fans trying to find some sort of meaning in its grotesque glamour from season to season. (Though it seems like the show will never surpass its glorious first season in the Murder House.)

True Detective’s first, mostly brilliant season was marked by a couple phenomenal leads (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) and a single director that carried his haunting vision all the way through eight episodes. On the other hand, Fargo boasted a huge cast and five different directors throughout its first 10 episodes, creating sometimes-uneven storytelling from one episode to the next. But it still somehow worked. 

Arguably True Detective was more of a critical darling, but Fargo had the balls to take on the Coen brothers’ already iconic world and make it anew. Fargo didn’t always work, but it took a hell of a lot of chances. With True Detective’s much-maligned second season out of the way, we now have got Fargo to fill the void. (It’s doing a mighty fine job of that so far.)

Death count: 4 (the judge, the line cook, the waitress, and Rye Gerhardt.)

Random notebook dump:

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-This line: “That’s like Jupiter telling Pluto, ‘Hey, you’re a planet, too.’”

-Also these lines: “Tomorrow has never been closer than it is right now.” “It’s 11 o’clock in the morning.”

-The Bible imagery is back this season, with the judge telling Rye about the story of Job, a man who lost everything (except his faith) thanks to a bet between God and the Devil. “If the devil couldn’t change Job’s mind, how the hell are you going to change mine?” she asks him when he tells her she has to sway a certain way on a case.

-We’re digging the super 70's color scheme here throughout the episode, in everything including the lighting, props, wardrobe, and scenery, there's mustard yellow, forest green, subway seat orange, and dusty blue.

-WTF, FNL? Upon our second watch, we realized that our Friday Night Lights binge earlier this year actually paid off! (Well, sort of.) Remember the drama between Tyra and Landry? Looks like Jesse Plemons’ (Ed Blumquist) finds himself in yet another situation where his character’s lady friend has accidentally killed a man, and she needs her doting man to help cover up the evidence. Things worked out on FNL (even if Tyra and Landry didn’t), but we’ve got a feeling that nothing will be so easy on Fargo.

-WTF, UFO? We’re only partially willing to explain away those drone-like UFO lights that distracted Rye before he got beamed by Peggy’s sedan. Was it the bug spray getting to him? Bad/weird coke? Too much sugar in his coffee? When everything else on the show seems so grounded in snow-packed reality, we’re not sure if '70s Minnesota needs an X-Files element.

-WTF, kids' book? Did anyone else think it was weird that the bedtime book Lou reads to Molly mentions ejaculating?