It takes a big set of stones to adapt a film as revered as Fargo for the small screen, but show runner Noah Hawley delivered a first season that was, for the most part, universally acclaimed. Hawley’s pitch black, sharply plotted tragicomedy piled up Emmys, Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and even a Peabody. If he felt bone-breaking pressure to serialize a Coen Brothers film, imagine the pressure going into its wildly anticipated sophomore year.
The busy “Waiting for Dutch” exhibited that Hawley has settled into well-earned confidence as a show runner. It’s still a criminal world with heaps of insolent cynical atmosphere and enthralling characters, but there’s more boldness in its presentation. The split screens and opening and closing montages, for example, show that Hawley and his team aren’t adhering to the style the Coens presented in the original film and that they replicated in season 1. They’ve found their sea legs and going full steam ahead.
That opening montage and the Ronald Reagan outtake that preceded it were a nice way to place Fargo’s criminal world into a cultural and historical context. Thanks to Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s resignation, and other horrible things that pervaded the time, people in 1979 were rapidly losing faith in the government. As Jimmy Carter put it in the bit of his “malaise speech” shown, an “erosion of confidence in the future” had swept the nation. It’s the perfect atmosphere for desperate men and women to do desperate things.
The connecting thread between the seasons is the Solverson family. In the first season, officer Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) often sought advice from her father, retired cop Lou (Keith Carradine). In the penultimate episode “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage,” Lou references a case he had in Sioux Falls that could only be described as “animal.” That case is season 2. The year is 1979 and Patrick Wilson plays younger Lou. Molly’s there too, a pint-sized daddy’s girl who gets read Happy Days stories before bed.
Lou told Lorne Malvo that bodies kept piling up during that old case. In “Waiting for Dutch,” we see the first four drop at The Waffle Hut. It starts with the Gerhardts, a Fargo crime family that’s been running things in the area for going on three generations. Their patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) has a stroke, leaving his three sons Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson), and Rye (Kieran Culkin) to vie for control.
But for now it’s Otto’s wife Floyd (Jean Smart) who’s calling the shots. Rye, the screw up of the bunch, tries to carve his own way by opening a side business selling typewriters. To free up his partner’s assets, he has to put the squeeze on a judge who turns out to be more stubborn than Rye anticipated. A massacre ensues and young Lou is put on the case with his father in law Hank Laarson (Ted Danson). Also mixed up in it are hairdresser Peggy Blomquist (Kirsetn Dunst) and her butcher husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), who wind up with a dead Rye in their chest freezer.
The plot gets further complicated with a chapter of the Kansas City mob trying to muscle in on the Gerhardt’s region of influence. They’re headed up by Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett), who already made one dire mistake by voicing his disregard for Floyd Gerhardt’s power. “She’s tough but, y’know, a girl.” If there’s one thing Marge Gunderson and Molly Solverson taught us it’s never underestimate women in the Fargo universe.
The plot is downright Byzantine so far but the writers are striking a nice balance with the characters. “Waiting for Dutch” gave us an intimate look at them as well as introduces the larger forces at play, like the Kansas City boys. It feels larger than the first season so far but still just as grounded (except for that UFO – more on that below). From what I can judge so far, Hawley and his team have maintained their clutch of the Coen’s atmosphere but rather than duplicate it, are taking Fargo into exciting new directions.
Does the season look bright for Fargo? As Jerry Lundegaard says, “You’re darn tootin’!”
Episode Rating: ★★★★★
- About that UFO. This supernatural incident really doesn’t fit into the Fargo universe, but it could be referencing a well-publicized case in Minnesota in 1979 known as the “Val Johnson Incident.” Sheriff Val Johnson reported being engulfed by a moving beam of light and waking up 39 minutes later. His squad car was found all busted up, turned sideways on the side of the road. Whether that moment was referencing this incident or not, the writers will have to do some damn good explaining of this incident later on.
- The writers were definitely referencing a real incident with Peggy driving home with Rye through her windshield. In 2001 a nurse in Dallas named Chante Mallard struck a homeless man and continued on home, parking in her garage. She was high as hell at the time. Stuart Gordon made a movie about it called Stuck.
- I love that Joe Bulo created a slideshow presentation to convince his boss that the Gerhardt family is worth “liquidating.” The Kansas City crew is depicted as a greedy corporation out to swallow up the ma-and-pa setup of the Gerhardts. This dichotomy will fit into the Reaganomics theme sure to be prevalent later on.