“This is a True Story”
So says Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), in response to her son claiming a woman couldn’t lead the family simply because “she’s a girl.” Floyd’s calm, reasonable and calculated response set forward everything that followed in an extraordinarily tense Episode 2. (It’s only the second episode, and yet investment is already peaking.) “Before the Law” seemed keen to examine reactions and how different people from different backgrounds respond differently to various scenarios. Sure, Floyd’s thoughtful analysis of the Kansas City syndicate’s offer was directly contradicted by her power-hungry — not family first — son’s temperamental call to war, but the theme continued throughout the episode.
Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) — after claiming she didn’t steal the toilet paper from work and, more importantly, that she got her bump on the head from a car accident — was busted by a boss excited by a bit of danger. Yet Peggy doesn’t know how to react, relying on basic manners to usher her out of the door and thus, in her mind, maintain the illusion of control. Her next instinct was to call her husband (Jesse Plemons) while he was grinding up Rye’s body at the butcher shop (in a nice homage to the woodchipper scene from the “Fargo” film). She’s playing her part as a concerned wife, and he’s playing his as a dutiful husband. Yet she’s in total control, even if both are too traditional to admit it.
A more even balance of power is evident at the Solverson household, but Lou (Patrick Wilson) was trumped yet again by Betsey (Cristin Milioti) when she found the murder weapon while he was inside walking around the Waffle Hut. “Mama’s doing Daddy’s job again,” Lou says to their daughter. Earlier, she was the one to tell her father Hank Larsson (Ted Dansson) about it being a judge found at the murder scene, and she was also the reason Lou gave for stopping at the butcher’s shop after hours. Had she been with him, who knows? Maybe Ed would be explaining himself to a trustworthy local cop rather than dealing with Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), as seems to be his fate.
All of this isn’t to say girls rule and boys drool. Noah Hawley — who wrote and directed “Before the Law” — made a point to slow things down and honor the efforts and effects of men’s historical value — strength and courage at times of war — even as he noted it’s likely their fault for putting us in the situation at all, making for a tempered examination of the gender and social dynamics framing the country in question. Hank and Lou swapped war stories on the stoop outside the diner, literally sitting next to death’s door. After Lou remarked how the chef’s fall inside reminded him of a veteran who was shot while lighting a cigar in Vietnam, Hank told one of his own tales from WWII before concluding, “Some days I wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with ya.” Maybe they did, but it’s up to men like Lou — and women like Floyd — to keep that war at bay.
The Lorne Malvo Award for MVC (Most Valuable Character)
For all the reasons above and then some, Floyd is probably the character to watch in a sea of rich options. We’ve now been shown two separate shots of her in bed with Papa Gerhardt, holding her stroke-laden husband ever so lovingly. In another show, Floyd would have been written to be some tough-ass monster, uncaring for weakness and calling for an early funeral for her incommunicado hubby. Instead, she’s a thoughtful, connected and loving mother who seems to have the best grasp of what’s going on — even if the Kansas City syndicate isn’t to be trusted. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the untouchable Jean Smart is seizing every scene with an aptly firm but sparing hand.
The Alison Tolman Award for MVA (Most Valuable Actor)
In any other show, a white cop staring down a black man riding in the back of a car and then radioing his father-in-law to pull him over without cause would make the internet explode in righteous indignation. Yet in the course of just 90-ish minutes, Hawley has already established the lines between good and evil so effectively, it transcends racial biases. Helping with that is the character of Mike Milligan, who henceforth will always be referred to by both names as one does not seem adequate. The way in which he responds to such a ridiculous traffic stop is so unique to the situation, so defined by the unspoken understanding between characters, all one can do is sit back and pray poor Hank won’t cross the invisible line clearly drawn between them. And that’s why Ted Danson is getting our award this week: Not just because his silent body language communicated even more than his perfectly executed wannabe-authoritative inflections, but also because I’m so, so very worried Hank will be the first innocent character to die, and I want to pay tribute while I can. Oh, Hank. You have me so very, very worried. Nobility, old age and an early meeting with a series’ most ominous character rarely add up to longevity. Here’s hoping Hawley subverts that logic, as he so carefully subverts expectations elsewhere.
(This section highlights the unexpected trouble “Fargo” regularly showcases, usually to tragic or comedic ends.)
After a helluva blow-up in the premiere, where incident after incident sparked the story for Episode 2 and onward, this week found more close calls than confrontations. Yet even though Ed (Plemons) avoided getting caught red-handed (literally) by the bacon-craving Officer Solverson, dwelling on his pain and personal conflict over cleaning up what’s mostly his wife’s mess was a tragic focus for an empathetic character. “One Hour Ahead of the Posse” by Burt Ives played over a montage of Ed mopping up while moping around, ending on the lyrics “…may the Lord have mercy on my soul” as he soaks up the blood from his garage floor. Later, he burnt his clothes and the victim’s (/killer’s), with a fateful belt buckle remaining unscathed in the flames. Will it come back to haunt him? I wish I could say, “no,” as Ed seems deserving of the happy life he thought he had only a day prior.
(This section highlights the unexpected glee “Fargo” regularly showcases, teased by tragedy or humorous beginnings.)
“Glee” would not be my word of choice to describe just about anything involved with this episode. Instead, it focused on imbuing fear in the hearts of its audience. Though nothing horrific occurred, plenty almost did. From Hank’s encounter with Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Bros. to Ed coming within a finger’s width of being caught, there weren’t many laughs to be found in “Fargo.” That being said, I did chuckle to myself when Peggy told her husband’s boss he wouldn’t be coming into work because of some bad “clams.” “Never trust anything that comes from the sea,” Bud the butcher said (speaking to a theme of this week’s episode, between this and Hank’s story to his granddaughter about shellfish). “We came from the sea,” his daughter replied. I guess we can’t be trusted (or at least Peggy can’t).
(This section highlights the obscure local customs brought to focus by this Northern-set series.)
Coming from the Midwest, I must say it’s incredibly odd to have to take a bus anywhere — even to work. Dunst absolutely nails the expression as the Rock County United pulls away, but it makes Peggy’s arrival at work even more conspicuous; an introduction that doesn’t do her any favors after her boss gives her a ride home, sees her busted-up car (thankfully already cleaned up by Ed), bruised face and stolen toilet paper. Yes, stealing TP by the case is frowned upon by any boss, but doing so in a small town is an indication of exactly what Peggy’s employer states: Peggy’s “kind of a bad girl,” indeed.
Quote of the Night
don’t surrender easy, but you can kill ‘em.” – Joe Bulo
One of the Gerhardts — if not all of them — are about to stir up a whole mess of trouble for the rest of town. Clearly, the Kansas City syndicate (as represented by Joe Bulo, played by Brad Garrett) is up to no good. Will they honor the agreement offered to Floyd if she can get her family to abide by it? Doubtful, and, if she’s the first Gerhardt to “switch sides,” there’s no way she’s letting the rest of her family fall by the wayside. War is coming, people. I just hope a woman is in charge of this one.