The first episode of this second series of the excellent Fargo left me a little bit perplexed – I felt it was a bit too eager to introduce a new, larger cast of characters and also a new, very explicitly 1970s tone. If that first episode was a bit all-but-the-kitchen-sink, things settled down considerably in this second instalment, revealing why Fargo is often, ahem, a cut above the rest.
The first part of this episode was used to get a better understanding of the dynamics at work within the Gerhardt family. With patriarch Otto laying motionless in bed after his stroke, it was down to Floyd to take control of the business. She had received a delegate from Kansas City who had offered to buy her out, and she called a family meeting to discuss the matter.
Eldest son Dodd had a problem with a woman being in charge of the business and making the decisions and felt strongly that he, the next in line, should be calling the shots. There was a great scene where he and his mother sat at opposite ends of the table – she pushed a tray of freshly baked goods his way and commanded that he eat and listen while she spoke. It was a beautiful scene. At once Floyd was a mother and a boss at the same time, using buns to diffuse a potentially tricky situation. With Dodd glaring at her, she promised that when this crisis was over the business was his. Dodd (who was interrupted torturing a man (by chopping off his ears) in the barn), nodded acquiescence but afterwards declared war on the Kansas City mobsters.
We also saw family dynamics within the Solversen and Blomquist families. Betsy Solversen was shown undergoing chemotherapy and in a family outing to the waffle house. While her husband Lou took another look at the crime scene, she and daughter Molly built a snowman out front, which led to the discovery of the murder weapon, hidden in a bush. We now know where Molly got her powers of investigation from.
The Blomquists, meanwhile, were coming to terms with what they had done and what they were covering up. Peggy, so keen to cover up the murder of Rye Gerhardt, was jittery after the visit of a work colleague, while Ed, so against covering things up, was setting about the task – quietly, solemnly – of clearing the mess up in the garage.
These scenes were played out at a much better pace than the first episode, the bells and whistles limited to occasional appearances. There was a sense that the story was starting to settle down and the real business of how all these strands were starting to knit together.
There were two outstanding scenes in this episode, both of which had a strong sense of jeopardy, the likes of which Fargo absolutely specialises and excels in.
The first featured Hank Larsson, that craggy old veteran cop, who was tipped off by his son-in-law Lou Solversen after he saw the Kansas City posse cruising by the waffle house. There, in the middle of a frosty, deserted country road, Larsson had erected a make-shift road block. Sure enough the car containing the Kansas City gang members – the mute Kitchen brothers and the supremely intelligent afro-tastic Mike Milligan – was ensnared. What ensued was a tense back and forth, with Larsson severely outnumbered and Milligan and friends eying the policeman suspiciously. Every word, every sentence was loaded with danger. You felt that at any time Milligan could have given the nod and his henchmen would have finished Larsson off. In the end the stand-off passed without violence, but the threat lingered like exhalations of breath in the freezing air.
The other scene that mesmerised was the final one. Ed Blomquist had chosen the time to dispose of Rye Gerhardt’s body with care, waiting until the high street was deserted, illuminated only by street light. He opened up the butcher’s shop and got down to his grisly work in the back room. There was something Sweeney Todd-like about his task as he fastidiously and expertly cut up the dead man, grinding down his flesh in the meat mincer. Meanwhile, on his way home, Lou Solversen saw that the butcher’s light was on so he went to investigate. Hearing the knock on the door, Ed’s normally precision chop went awry and instead of chopping through a wrist he missed and sent severed fingers tumbling onto the floor, one of them rolling out onto the main shop floor. As Solversen and Blomquist exhcanged pleasantries, the butcher noticed the finger on the floor and proceeded to try and steer Solversen away from the digit. It was classic Fargo – that brilliant mix of high farce and the macabre.
The tension was ratcheted up even further – Solversen dropped his change on the floor near the finger and bent down to try and retrieve it. Blomquist leapt into action and shielded the finger with his own body, all the while presenting a nervous smile and small talk.
It was funny. It was tense. It was brilliant.
This was (much) more like it.
For all our episode one review, go here