Tuesday, October 13, 2015

REVIEW: 'Fargo' - Lou and Hank Investigate a Brutal Crime at the Waffle Hut in 'Waiting for Dutch'

FX's Fargo - Episode 2.01 "Waiting for Dutch"

In 1979, an unexpected turn of events at a diner disrupts the lives of the citizens in a small Minnesota town.

Fargo was my favorite show of 2014. That first season was incredible television from start to finish. However, that means expectations for the second season are even higher than before. The first season proved that it could pay homage to the style and tone of the Coen Brothers' movie. And now, the second season has to prove that the first one wasn't just a fluke. Sequels have the tendency to go bigger. It's what movies think they need to do in order to be better. This new TV season-long anthology trend has the same problem. Going bigger and adding many new characters runs the risk of losing what was so special about it in the first place. The cast for the second season is still as impressive as the first but it is also significantly larger too. The first season was comfortable exploring the lives of several supporting players. But it largely centered around Lorne, Lester, Gus and Molly. This new season already has so many different plot elements to it - the Gerhardt family, the Solverson family both at work and at home, Peggy and Ed Blomquist, the Kansas City Syndicate, etc. And yet, all of it still feels just as captivating as before. In fact, it's beautiful to watch as the show fully embraces the period details of the late 1970s but never loses the stylistic touch that made the first season and the movie so special. That's very impressive. It makes it seem like once again the show will have a brilliant and brutal season.

There is an understated beauty and menace in every single story Fargo does in this opening hour. This premiere has a lot of story to get through. And yet, it never feels like a slog. It's captivating to watch as great performers like Patrick Wilson, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons play things subtly in the beginning but with a hint of damage and tragedy just underneath the surface. All of these characters are connected in some way. "Waiting for Dutch" keeps them all isolated. But it never feels like the show is just dropping us in on some random peoples live. It flows naturally while still being unnerving. Anything can happen on this show. That's what makes it so delightfully unexpected. That comes across brilliantly in the stylistic opener of the season as the audience gets a peak on the set of a non-released Ronald Reagan movie called Murder at Sioux Falls. It's basically just two people standing on the set ready to film but are waiting on Reagan. It's those little minor details of life that are so crucial in fully realizing the characters instantly. They are just fretting about the cold while also trying not to say the wrong thing about each other. It hints that this season will see another mass murder in Sioux Falls. But it also showcases just how distinctive the show is.

Things then move onto the Gerhardt family - headed up by Otto (Michael Hogan), managed by his wife Floyd (Jean Smart), and enforced by his three sons, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson) and Rye (Kieran Culkin). The family has controlled the crime syndicate in the area for decades now. Business is starting to dip as new players have emerged in the area. That will be important for the future. But right now, the family themselves are starting to fall apart. Otto has just had a crippling stroke - which will leave his family to pick up the pieces in a changing business world. Meanwhile, Rye is trying to strike out on his own. He believes he won't inherit the kingdom when Otto goes and is trying to do his own thing. Unfortunately, that leads to the action that kicks off the story arc of the season.

Rye is a little dim. He thinks he can just walk into the Waffle Hut and talk to an esteemed judge and get her to change her mind. It doesn't seem like he has any sound reasoning behind the change. He just thinks intimidation will do the trick. And yet, this judge isn't foolish. She sees him as just a little nuisance. Someone she doesn't take seriously because she won't change her opinion on any of her cases. She doesn't fear him until he pulls a gun on her. But he doesn't use that to make her listen to what he has to say. Instead he just shoots her and then targets the rest of the people at the establishment. Killing her could make the situation worse for his prospective business arrangement. He doesn't think that though. He is eliminating a problem the best way he knows how. It just gets a little more complicated and he starts shooting up the place. It's a fantastic sequence to watch as it is timed to the door swinging in the kitchen. It's absolutely brutal for all characters involved.

It also leads to the tragic and swift end to Rye. Culkin is fantastic in this first episode. His character is important to getting the season's story started and connecting all of the various pieces together. But his death also marks a key decision for several other characters in the narrative. While he is fleeing the scene of his crime, Peggy runs him over with her car. The car pops out of nowhere after Rye is distracted by looking at something that could only be called a UFO. Whatever that means, I don't know. But it is important to see how Peggy reacts to this whole situation. After that, neither she nor Rye are seen for awhile. The investigation by the state and local law enforcement takes over. But when the action does cut back to Peggy, her life is about to undergo this massive change in an instant.

Peggy's husband Ed is a simple man who enjoys his simple life. He loves his job at a butcher shop and hopes of one day taking over when the owner retires. That and a couple of kids are what will make him happy in life. Peggy is more of a dreamer though. She dreams of being better enlightened about herself and moving to California to be with the stars of the world. Those two outlooks on life don't clash in a big way though. Their marriage is strong even though the two are starting to pull away from one another. The incident with Rye is the thing that will unify them again - even though it's a heinous and tragic crime. After she hit him, Peggy just drove home. She claims to have freaked out and didn't know what to do. But the sequence also shows, Peggy calmly entering her home, cleaning herself up and making dinner for the two of them. Ed has practical questions about why she didn't call the police or take Rye to the hospital. But the situation is much more complicated than that because Ed has killed Rye after he attacks him in the garage. It's a phenomenally directed sequence. As the light from Ed's flashlight shines on Rye trying to escape, he does look like the feral animal Peggy described hitting. He attacks violently and Ed reacts by killing him. Now the two of them are in this mess together - united by this dead body that they are now storing in their freezer.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the crime at the Waffle Hut is only getting started. Lou Solverson - a younger version of the character Keith Carradine played last season - is the first on the scene. He and the local sheriff (and his father-in-law) Hank Larsson try to make sense out of what just happened here. It's a scene of understated beauty. This is a horrifying act that isn't common in this area. And yet, the audience can also tell that these two men have seen much worse during their adventures overseas in the wars. They are surveilling the land. It's a strange crime scene but a brutal one nevertheless that needs to be solved as quickly as possible. But there's very little they can do during the night. They return home. Wilson and Cristin Milioti have such nice, easy chemistry as husband and wife. Betsy is battling cancer, but that seems to be effecting him more than it is her. They are doing their best to keep their family safe and happy. Big changes and danger will be coming this season. But the simplicity of happiness for these characters is also very appealing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Waiting for Dutch" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by Michael Uppendahl & Randall Einhorn.
  • Two directors are credited for this episode which means that at some point reshoots were necessary and the original director couldn't come back to do them.
  • Nick Offerman and Brad Garrett also pop up in minor roles. They already stand out too. Offerman's Karl Weathers is very much a believer in conspiracy theories and truly believes that this mess is only going to get worse. He's probably right. That's especially true when the ending features Garrett's Joe Bulo telling his bosses about the Gerhardt family and how best to handle them. A liquidation may be coming soon.
  • Everything the audience knows about Molly from the first season makes so much more sense now knowing that both her father and her grandfather were police. It's those kinds of details that can help inform characters greatly.
  • The 70s style of production design, editing, filming and music all work so well on this show.
  • Any theories on how that UFO will play into things? I have none. That was a weird but very specific moment in the premiere.