Fargo's back, dontcha know!
"Waiting for Dutch" was an incredible season premiere that put to rest any concerns that the series would not be able to live up to the nearly flawless Fargo Season 1.
The central focus of Fargo Season 2 Episode 1 was on introducing its new(ish) cast of characters, and setting up and displaying the crime at the center of this season – the catastrophic event around which the rest of the characters' lives will now revolve and unspool.
There were many great aspects of the first season, but perhaps chief among them was show creator/writer Noah Hawley's ability to inhabit the very specific tone of the Coen brothers' films as well as his propensity for creating memorable, unique characters. I'm not sure any writer could ever top the completely transfixing Lorne Malvo and Billy Bob Thornton's performance in that role (even the writer who created him), but Fargo Season 2 is certainly off to a great start in that regard.
The premiere introduced a rather large ensemble cast right off the bat. The scope of this season opener had a more wide-sweeping feel than that of Fargo Season 1 Episode 1, which afforded a closer focus on a smaller group of characters and gradually expanded the universe of the show outwards.
Here, instead, we are introduced to many characters right away. I'm sure we'll meet even more characters as the series progresses, but we met quite a few all at once.
For how large and sprawling the ensemble is, this premiere didn't tend to feel overwhelming and managed to give a solid feel for each of these eccentric Midwesterners.
Typewriter Salesman: So, soon as you talk to the Judge and she unfreezes the accounts, well, then we can turn on the money spigot.
Rye: The what?
Typewriter Salesman: The spigot? It's like where you hook up a hose?
Rye: What, like a fire hose?
Typewriter Salesman: ... Any hose.
Kieran Culkin's performance as Rye Gerhardt was particularly impressive. It was startling how much Culkin looked like a young Steve Buscemi in this role, but that's a complete aside. Rye is (was... oops) an offbeat, odd little guy, and his dimwittedness provided some of the funniest moments.
Rye was quite an unsympathetic character, but at times it was hard to take your eyes off of him. His initial confrontation with his brother nicely set the tone for his later mental break (if that's what you can call it). Rye was used to being looked down on and insulted by his family (by everyone, really).
Dodd: You wear short pants 'til you prove you're a man.
Rye: I'm a man.
Dodd: You're the comic in a piece of bubble gum!
Rye: Well, I mean, says you.
This quickly-laid backstory made it inevitable that he'd completely lose his mind in the way that he did. And by inevitable, I don't mean to imply that the Waffle Hut massacre was somehow obvious or lesser-than. In many ways, it felt just as shocking and insane as Lester's sudden murder of his wife in the first season.
The actual massacre was remarkably staged. The violence and cinematography were always on point in the first season, but it is clear that the showrunners are having even more fun with their camera angles and visual decisions this time around (I'm a big fan of those split-screens – very '70s!)
The Waffle Hut massacre also draws the attention Lou Solverson, who we met in the first season as Molly's older diner-owning, ex-cop father.
Lou's relationship with his wife and daughter is very sweet and loving, and it's nice to be assured that we're not going to end up watching Lou's eventual gruesome demise (we know he's alive in 2006, so that's a relief!)
Tonally, there seemed to be many parallels to Vern's relationship with his pregnant wife in the first season. Interestingly, Molly's mother does look a bit like Vern's wife, so that made the first season bond between Molly and Ida a bit more layered and interesting.
Hank Larsson, Betsy's father/Lou's partner and father-in-law, also seems like an interesting character. We haven't seen much of him yet, but Ted Danson's rapport with Patrick Wilson seems very natural and I'm looking forward to seeing more of their interactions as things become more high-stakes – particularly as Betsy's condition worsens (which I'm assuming it will over the course of the season).
Lou: Ordered this kit of recipe cards, saw it on the TV. So now every night we eat delicacies of the world.
Hank: Some men like that. Variety.
Lou: She put a souffle on the table last night. Perfectly good casserole -- then lit it on fire with a kitchen match.
Lou: Which reminds me, you're invited for dinner tomorrow.
Speaking of that: it's less enjoyable to hear all of the references to Betsy's cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, since we all know that she won't be around by 2006. Conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers' reaction to hearing Lou talk about Betsy's cancer was a little over the top, but I was equally as upset by it. Not enough to name drop John McCain; but still, upsetting.
Karl Weathers: Tell her if John McCain could hold out for five and a half years against Vietcong thumbscrews, she can beat this cancer bullshit in her sleep.
Lou: I'll make sure to mention that.
My favorite relationship depicted so far was that of Peggy Blomquist, unhappy, ambitious hairdresser, and her hapless husband, Ed. They seem to be two of the more nuanced, interesting characters, and Peggy's vague sense of disdain for her husband was a really unexpected and intriguing aspect of her character.
Poor Ed. All he wants is to love his wife, own a butcher shop, and have a brood of children.
His wife, on the other hand, is a little bit weird. She is overly self-involved and slightly sociopathic – sure she may have been in shock, but her disturbingly heartless reaction to hitting Rye with the car and attempting to cover it up afterwards was a little off-putting.
And by off-putting I mean hilarious: the entire sequence of Peggy, shell-shocked, driving home with Rye half-hanging out of her totally destroyed car, was fantastically absurd.
Ed: Wouldn't that be great? Me owning the shop, maybe you take over the salon one day. You know, unless we have a whole litter of kids by then.
Peggy: Yeah, that's... we talked about that. We're trying. But it takes time, you know.
Ed: Yeah, yeah, of course. Though uh... hun, "trying," I mean... Last time I checked, there's just the one way to make a baby, you know?
Peggy: We did that last weekend, didn't we?
Peggy can barely stand to interact with Ed. She is iffy on the kid issue, and pushes off the idea of having sex with him altogether. I really want to know more about how these two wound up together. I suspect that Peggy is a Lester-type – vaguely sociopathic and unable to connect with other people on any kind of meaningful level. But we will need to know more about her before making that kind of determination.
Finally, we met the balance of the Gerhardt clan. Right now they seem to be character-types rather than actual characters, particularly Otto, Dodd and Bear. I don't think any one of them was nearly as interesting or fun to watch as Kieran Culkin's Rye, but I do have high hopes for the Gerhardt matriarch, Floyd. It seems that she's set to assume control of her husband Otto's business while he's incapacitated.
Unseen mafioso: Leaving who in charge?
Joe Bulo: Unclear. His wife Floyd -- she's tough but, you know, a girl. And then there are the three sons: Dodd, Bear and Rye. And of course they all want their shot at the throne. Which the boys in research think provides a tactical opportunity for us to move aggressively to acquire or absorb their operation.
Unseen mafioso: And if you can't? If the current business owners resist?
Joe Bulo: We liquidate.
Unseen mafioso: Approved.
- I'm really intrigued by the mystery of who Joe Bulo's unseen boss was, the man who approved the plan to "acquire, absorb or liquidate" the Gerhardt operation. Why haven't we seen his face? Who is he?
- Kirsten Dunst's Midwestern accent is really uneven. She was falling in and out of it a lot. I'd almost have preferred that her character was from somewhere else so she wouldn't need to affect that accent.
- On the other hand, Jeffrey Donovan's accent as Dodd was perfection. I loved his whole accent and general manner of speaking. Perhaps because it's just so different from the way he speaks/acts/behaves on Burn Notice. It's just so good.
- Why was Rye acting like a rabid animal scratching at a wall in the Blomquist garage right before he attacked Ed? That was odd, and it seemed like more of a plot convenience (he attacks Ed, so Ed must kill him in self-defense, so Ed/Peggy become embroiled in the story) than anything else.
- I'm not sure how I feel about the episode opening. I certainly didn't love it. I don't think I enjoyed how disparate it felt from the rest of the hour.
What were your thoughts on the second season premiere? Are you sufficiently drawn in and dying to see more of these nice folks, or do you need some more time to have the new story and cast of characters grow on you?
Sound off in the comments below and watch Fargo online right here at TV Fanatic to catch up on anything you may have missed!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.