“The world’s becoming more corporate. This was their pitch to me. And in this new world there’s no room for family business.” – Floyd Gerhardt
The elder Gerhardts built their empire from nothing but a shoeshine box. Now in just days it’s beginning to crumble. Not at the hands of the Kansas City boys (not yet, at least), but from within. With Otto out of commission, Floyd is taking the reins. This doesn’t sit well with Dodd Gerhardt, who believes he’s entitled to the throne for two reasons: Floyd’s a girl and he’s the eldest son.
His disdain for his mother’s decision splits the family into two camps, with Dodd and Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon) on one side and Floyd and Bear on the other. While Floyd is thoughtful and can see the whole picture, Dodd is ruthless and reckless. To keep the family together, they’re going to have to handle Kansas City’s pitch like a business offer. Dodd’s ready to drop more ears in his bucket.
That opening scene with the Gerhardt clan was an impressive one. It further established their family history and the roots they’ve put down in the region. It displayed their tense dynamic and let Jean Smart, Angus Sampson, and Jeffrey Donovan show their stuff. What a great scene. It also added weight to the theme of big corporations coming in and swallowing up smaller businesses. The Gerhardts need to adapt or risk getting washed away in the wave of “progress.”
The corporation here is the Kansas City mafia and, as Hank Larsson put it, what a “fascinating bunch” they are. Their triple threat of muscle is made up of Mike Milligan (Bokeen Woodbine) and the Kitchen Brothers (Brad and Todd Mann). The grinning, veiled threats of Milligan and the quiet menace of the Kitchens make for a solid combination that fit nicely into the Fargo universe. I loved how the Kitchens didn’t flinch when Dodd flicks his cigar at them. And later they flip off a cop. These are baaaad dudes.
Being Fargo it’s safe to bet the business negotiations between the Gerhardts and Kansas City aren’t going to be very civil. Also being Fargo there’s no black or white forces at play – no mustache-twirling villains. It’s tough to even call the “baddies” of Fargo actual villains. They’re wholly realized, vividly painted characters that make it damn tough to pick sides.
Take Peggy and Ed Bloquist, for examples. They did a bad, bad thing (out of self-defense, to a degree) and are now scrambling to cover it up. Peggy is “keeping up appearances” while Ed disposes of Rye Gerhardt’s body. Like Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson, Jesse Plemons’ Ed says more with less. It’s an understated performance and Plemons is nailing it. That shot of him brooding in a lawn chair spoke volumes about how he’s shutting down emotionally. The enthusiastic optimist from the first episode is gone. Violence has devastating consequences in the Fargo universe and the Coen Brothers world as a whole. It changes people. Ed Blomquist is a fine example of this.
The horrors seen by Lou Solverson and Hank Larsson certainly changed them as men. Like the Gerhardt kitchen pow-wow, Lou and Hank’s sit down outside the Waffle Hut was another excellent scene that displayed the actors’ chops and added to the show’s exploration of the effects of violence.
Is it possible to understand this violence? The episode’s title “Before the Law” is taken from Kafka’s parable of the same name. In the parable, we see the senselessness of the human condition and how we all seek deeper understanding of ourselves. But we obstruct this gateway to knowledge. The mystery of it all? No such thing. The dead man hanging that Hank saw. The soldier next to Lou shot through his own cigar. Both men strive to understand this violence but they never will (according to Kafka, at least).
Now the cops have Rye’s gun. Kansas City and the Gerhardts are looking for Rye. And Ed turned Rye into ground meat. This pickle sets us up nicely for next week. Until then.
Episode Rating: ★★★★
I WANT TO BELIEVE
In this subsection we’ll be looking at the UFO happenings in Fargo each week. Will all of this mean anything in the end? I don’t know. But it’s fun to theorize.
“Before the Law” closes with the opening Richard Burton narration from Jeff Wayne’s 1978 musical version of The War of the Worlds. The narration talks about how we are being watched and scrutinized by beings from space. What a jarring but wholly appropriate way to end the episode as the level of paranoia nearly every character is experiencing is sharply increased in this episode.
- As Peggy walks towards the garage alone, the radio appears to turn on by itself. It definitely wasn’t on when she got home. That scene closes with a bumpy tracking shot pulling away from the Blomquist house, like someone was watching her.
- A light flare appears to be in one shot of Lou outside the Waffle Hut.
- The same flare, but more distinctive, reflects in the window of the butcher shop at the very end and then track up, like a ship ascending.
- Let’s just take a moment to say how composer Jeff Russo is absolutely killing it again this season. This season’s score sounds more cinematic than the first and it ratchets up the atmosphere a serious amount.
- A snowman named Billy Bob, that’s cute.
What was up with the Get Well Soon balloon that Molly finds? Did I miss something in the first episode? Oh, I know. It was referring to Betsy’s cancer. The aliens left it there for her to find.
- “I believe they mean an 11, not a two. That would make them toddlers.” – Mike Milligan.
- The Kitchen Twins are a nice echo of season 1’s Hess twins, though the Kitchens seem to work nicely as a team. They aren’t out back shooting each other in the ass with arrows.
- A severed finger was also a tool of tension in the Coen Brothers’ 2004 underrated madcap comedy The Ladykillers.