I’ve been trying to write all morning about the second episode of FX’s Fargo which aired last night, but it’s like pulling teeth.
I went into the first episode with a deep skepticism based on my unconditional love of Joel and Ethan Coen’s film. After a shaky start, I thought the whole thing went pretty well and, on balance, showed enough promise to look forward to future episodes. At the very least, the developments in the episode seemed to suggest showrunner Noah Hawley intended to pay homage to the Coens while definitively striking out in his own direction.
Last night’s episode definitely left the movie further behind, but rather than head anywhere interesting, it just kind of seemed to wander around in the snow.
That’s not to say the plot didn’t move along, but none of it felt very consequential.
Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) arrive from Fargo to find out what happened to Sam Hess. They wind up fingering the wrong guy and planting him in a frozen lake. Wrench is apparently deaf and there’s a lot of belabored nonsense with Numbers translating for him in sign language. They’re not exactly playing deafness for laughs, but there’s really no other reason for it. This is just the first example of things in this show that seem to be there only for effect.
Meanwhile, Deputy Solverson (Allison Tolman) refuses to give up on the idea Lester is somehow connected to both his wife’s murder, the murder of Hess and the dead guy in the woods, while new Chief Bill Olson (Bob Odenkirk who seems to be out of his element) wants her to leave Lester alone. First of all, her name is “Solverson” which has to be the dumbest name you could possibly give to a detective character. Ok, fine, but then the interrogation scene goes on way too long and there’s a bit of business over Hubba Bubba bubblegum because… well because I guess Hubba Bubba sounds funny? I don’t know. Anyway, Lester denies everything and Solverson learns nothing, but it sets up another confrontation between the two at a pharmacy where Lester is shopping for disinfectant cream for the wound in his hand from the shotgun blast that killed Vern in episode one. Why? Because it gives a character a chance to use the word “unguent” which is a word no one would ever actually say except for Gaear Grimsrud in the movie version of Fargo.
This is another annoying trait this show has displayed so far: little easter eggs that mean nothing but allow Coen nerds to nod and smile and feel smart. Last week it was the sign at the diner for White Russians. This week it’s unguent and a moment lifted directly from Raising Arizona. After a protracted and pointless scene at a post office where Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) picks up instructions for his next job, he walks past a man mopping the floor and he points and says “You missed a spot.”
Malvo’s new assignment introduces a new character, Oliver Platt as Stavros Milos, the local grocery king who is being blackmailed. Malvo finds evidence that Milos’ soon-to-be ex-wife is involved, but then Milos’ muscle shows up to warn him off the case. I won’t even get into how Malvo sits down on the toilet and takes a dump mid-conversation (complete with sound effects) because I really don’t know what to say about it. It happened and it speaks for itself.
Finally there was some business with Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), the Duluth cop who had a run in with Malvo at the end of episode one. All we really learn is that Gus is a bottom rung cop (he fills in for animal control when the regular guy is sick) who has a young daughter and a neighbor across the courtyard who likes to undress in front of her window.
All in all, it was a tedious, laugh-free episode that spent over an hour (including a ton of commercial breaks) to give us about 10 minutes worth of plot and character. I’m committed to seeing how this thing turns out for better or for worse, but my initial benefit-of-a-doubt induced optimism has already given way to major concerns. This show had better find its footing in a hurry because life is too short to hate watch.