Let me start by saying that I enjoyed the hell out of the second season premiere of FX’s Fargo. This is the kind of television that you want to luxuriate in. This is the kind of television that you want to watch multiple times: first for the story and the characters and then once more for all the nuances and stylistic choices made by the creative team. I was completely dazzled by its confident direction, gorgeous cinematography, and intriguing performances. My only reservation with the premiere is that it dances a very thin line between being reverential to the original film and to the first season and being thematically repetitive of it.
After a bizarre prologue set during the early MGM days about a Native American actor waiting for Ronald Reagan to prepare himself for filming (I’m sure this will bear fruit later in the series), the main action is quickly established as taking place during the late 70s – the era of Jimmy Carter and lines at the gas station. We are introduced to the Gerhardt clan – father Otto (Michael Hogan), mother Floyd (Jean Smart), and brothers Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson), and Rye (Kieran Culkin). During a discussion about a light take in their illegal trucking activities, Otto suffers a stroke, leaving Floyd to grieve over her husband’s plight. Their son, Rye (Culkin), appears to be the source of the missing funds and struggles to make up the funds through a deal with an IBM Selectric outfit that is somehow blocked by a court ruling handed down by a local judge.
Thinking he can convince the judge to change her mind on the case and free up an avenue of funds, Rye tracks her down to a Waffle Hut, a local roadside diner, where he ends up shooting her, the waitress, and the cook. Failing to kill either the judge or the waitress on first attempt, Rye is stabbed in the back by the judge before shooting her multiple times, finally killing her. The waitress stumbles outside into the snow to escape Rye, and he quickly follows suit and kills her as well. When brilliant lights in the sky (what appears to be a UFO) distract him, he is struck by an oncoming car which then slowly drives off into the dark. Later, the driver of the car is revealed to be Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) who drives all the way home with Rye’s body sticking out of her front windshield. When her butcher’s apprentice husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) comes home, he hears a banging in the garage that turns out to be the still-alive Rye. After a struggle, Ed kills him with a garden spade, and the two decide to hide the body out of fear and, let’s just say, ignorance. More on this later.
The entire Waffle Hut murder scene is investigated by State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson, picking up the role played by Keith Carradine in the first season) and his father-in-law Sheriff Hank Larson (Ted Danson). Lou’s wife is apparently suffering from cancer, and there are even a handful of scenes where Lou reads to his little daughter Molly who figures so prominently in the first season. These sequences are less integrated with the crime story and deal more with the Solverson family dynamics.
That’s a great deal of material to cover within the hour-long pilot, but the creative team somehow manages to pull it all off flawlessly. Fargo Season Two is immediately confident in what it wants to say and how it wants to present its characters. There is time for local flavor (the usual “Okay, then” and other local phrases that people remember about the Fargo brand – who would have ever imagined we’d be saying “the Fargo brand?”), but it doesn’t feel unnecessary or overindulgent. Yes, perhaps, there are a few too many scenes of the quirky things those from Minnesota allegedly say, but that’s the hallmark of the series. I’m willing to cut them a little slack for it.
What I am concerned about with Fargo Season Two is how thematically similar it is to the original series run. Immediately, we’re dealing with dim-witted people looking to make quick bucks / escape from their suffocating surroundings, yet they make bad choices at every turn – namely, Rye’s decision to shoot the judge in the Waffle Hut, and the Blomquist couple’s decision to hide Rye’s body and cover up the hit and run. These are events that will undoubtedly unfold into greater and more dangerous choices down the road, and, as such, they’re a little predictable. I’m really anticipating that the second season will course-correct and give us a new spin on this same thematic territory we’ve already encountered twice now in the Fargo universe. Revisiting the same bad choices and moralistic outcomes won’t necessarily give us enough thematic content to carry us through another season.
Other than that, the Season Two premiere was really very strong, in my opinion. I am already heavily invested in the characters and in the overall story, despite its minor predictability, and I like the performances thus far with a minor turn by Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman as the paranoid Karl Weathers as my very favorite (please somebody give this brilliant man something to do). Overall, thanks to the strong writing by Noah Hawley and excellent direction by Michael Uppendahl and Randall Einhorn, I’m locked and loaded for the entirety of the second season. Here’s hoping they continue to find new avenues and themes to explore with this story. Being a well-executed retread will only get them so far.