TV Review: Fargo: Season 2, Episode 1
Season 2, Episode 1: Waiting for Dutch
SUMMARY: Twenty seven years before his daughter encountered Lorne Malvo, Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) is a state trooper and family man who finds himself in the middle of a Midwestern crime war after investigating a brutal diner triple-murder.
REVIEW: OK, so who else thought the idea of turning FARGO into a TV series was the worst idea since…oh I dunno…the other FARGO TV series – which got a pilot in 1997 but never went forward beyond that. As much as I love that ultra-black 1996 comedy, the Coen Brothers are a rare breed and trying to recapture their voice in an ongoing TV series – cable or otherwise – seemed like not only a tall order, but a next-to-impossible task.
Naturally, I was pretty damn wrong, as it only took about ten minutes of the first episode of Noah Hawley’s Fargo to realize something pretty special was happening on the airwaves. Coming in the wake of HBO’s True Detective, Fargo wound up being the sleeper hit of the season and further evidence of how effective the use of an anthology format – where each season tells a separate story – can be on TV. As we all know, just because the first season is good doesn’t mean the second will automatically be better, especially with a zeitgeist-catching show like this one. However, I’m happy to say that the first episode of Fargo Season 2 is just about as good as anything in the first season – heck maybe even better.
Right from the intro, which uses the old MGM Lion (which made me think I had taped a movie of TCM by accident) to satirize an old-Hollywood B-production, it’s clear Hawley is more ambitious than ever with season two, but his ambition is matched by the quality of his execution. This B&W teaser will likely pay-off later on, with the film-within-a-film being a Ronald Reagan vehicle, with old “Dutch” Reagan being in the midst of his presidential campaign in 1979, when this season takes place (note the poster of Bruce Campbell as Reagan in the background of several scenes).
From there, season two’s first episode quickly sets the stage for a Minnesota mob war, with Jeffrey Donovan and a coked-up Kieran Culkin as the crazed princes of a clan ruled by Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Hogan and an awesomely dowdy (but tough-as-nails) Jean Smart. These early scenes are so quickly-paced that you can’t help but feel Hawley is deliberately trying to distinguish himself from the Coen Brothers by doing his own thing (and succeeding), with the brutal diner scene awesomely scored by Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through the Out Door’.
Once we get through the brutal triple murder (and a possible UFO sighting) the episodes settles down a bit to introduce us to Lou Solverson, who was played as an older-man by Keith Carradine in season one, but is now played by Patrick Wilson. The continuity between Wilson and Carradine’s performance is excellent, although being an anthology show, having seen season one isn’t a necessity to enjoy this. Solverson’s just as decent and kind as he was in season one, being a doting dad, with the added benefit of us getting to see him married to Molly’s mom, played by Cristin Milioti, who’s shown here to be suffering through a battle with cancer. Already Lou’s an extremely appealing character, and it’ll be fun to see him navigate the sure to be blood-soaked episodes to come.
As with season one, the emsemble cast is exceptional, with Jeffrey Donovan stealing scenes, and the great Ted Danson showing up as Lou’s Sheriff father-in-law. Maybe the best of all of them is Brad Garrett, who- in the last scene- is shown to be playing a kind of mob middle-manager who approaches his murderous work just like any other business. It’s probably too early to say, but it feels like Garrett’s going to have an exceptional part. The other major characters are Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst as a married-couple who have a fateful run-in with a murderous Culkin and seem poised to go down the same kind of violent path poor Lester Nygaard did last year.
All in all, Fargo season two looks like it just might wind-up being even better than season one. Considering that season one was just about the best thing on television that year, this means season two is going to be absolutely extraordinary. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next week. As an addendum to the review, yes I am aware that this review is a full four days late. For some reason I thought the show aired on FX on Tuesdays and it took me a couple days to track down the episode after missing it. All future episodes will be reviewed Monday night right after they air. Better late than never!