Two-thirds into “The Rooster Prince,” a Bemidji police-department custodial worker shaves Vern Thurman’s name off his office door with a razor blade. Deputy Molly Solverson’s expression sinks. Her heart too. Not only is timid former Deputy Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) the new chief, but her friend and mentor is both dead and displaced. Funny thing is, Bill’s not that bad a deputy, even if he’s over his head in the catbird’s seat. He suggests that Pearl and Vern’s killer(s) might be a drifter, or gang of them, which isn’t entirely untrue. When he disciplines Molly for harassing “poor Lester,” she’s reassigned to head an inquiry into the premiere episode’s frozen, boxers-preferring corpse. Odds are, that investigation will (much to her dad’s lament) bring her head on with their mystery man from the hospital. Nor is Chief Oswalt wasting anyone’s time or resources by contacting state police, lest any of them having recently encountered someone off-putting.
As we know, Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) crossed paths with just such a mysterious stranger. Gloomy Gus is still shaken from making Lorne Malvo’s acquaintance on an icy roadside. He’s also guilty and ashamed, clutching onto the paperwork with Lorne’s license plate, not that he needs a reminder. That numerical sequence — 6286 3301 — lives in him like scar tissue. That night, his daughter, Greta, recounts her school’s anti-bullying assembly (forgive Fargo this minor convenience). In response, Gus trembles through an unconvincing spiel about how protecting her is paramount, even if it necessitates occasionally eating shit. Fortunately for Gus, Greta’s more preoccupied with her burger, nuggets, and “dipping sauces” than whatever her dad’s trying to say.
“Rooster Prince,” and Fargo, circle back to the topic of tolerable behavior quite a bit. In Gus’s boots, any of us might have stood down from a confrontation with Lorne. Still, that doesn’t mean mischievous Malvo wasn’t excessively belittling. And while Lester’s guilty as grape soda, objectively, he wasn’t wrong to scold Molly for interrogating him in that pharmacy. But he still needs to answer for taking the law, and a ball-peen hammer, into his own hands after corporally punishing his nagging wife into a bloody pulp.
Then there’s Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg, beard fully flowered) and his hearing- and fashion-impaired colleague Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard). Lured from Fargo by Sam Hess’s associates to find Hess’s killer, they wrongly accost local troublemaker Lenny (Paul Braunstein, fashioned as a dead ringer for Lorne, down to the head wound). Despite his innocence in that matter, the two decide Lenny’s backtalk at the Lucky Penny merited disciplinary action. And in a closing sequence that wisely, but ominously, mirrored the premiere’s final minute, Numbers and Wrench ventured out to the frozen lakes and drilled a hole. Only they sent Lenny to sleep with the fishes rather than reel them in.
Those two sides to the same iced-over body of water capture Bemidji’s rich storytelling potential. It’s a town hanging onto the Pleasantville nostalgia of Hubba Bubba and Tutti Frutti, despite what Chief Oswalt un-ironically observes as northwest Minnesota’s “cutthroat world of regional trucking.” Bemidji’s full of guys like Bill, who refuse to see the gorilla inside Lester, the punching bag who’d pass out during biology class or when a “girl had her monthly.” For Bill, conceding that Lester could maliciously spill Pearl’s blood would be acknowledging that his Bemidji is fantastical amid a meaner world full of — as Molly’s ex-cop dad, Lou, puts it — “devils with dead eyes and shark smiles.”
Lou’s language is, in fact, a caution of the very threats that Lorne leaves around Bemidji like divination. It’s only fitting, then, that Malvo’s bosses at that boiler-room-esque hit-man phone bank provide him with the fake ID of Minister Frank Peterson for his mission in Duluth. After menacing an innocent post-office employee (in these scenes, he isn’t unlike a glamouring True Blood vampire), Lorne locates Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt, being Oliver Platt) a.k.a. the “Supermarket King of Minnesota.” Milos contracted whatever “mutual friend” of theirs Lorne answers to, seeking to find out and dispatch whoever’s blackmailing him out of a concise $46,613. It’s a choice he may come to regret, much as Lester’s had mixed feelings about ever-mixing wait-room chatter and business with sinister Lorne. But Stavros is full of hubris, the kind amassed upon lying to the government about his fortune and fabricating a self-made myth that’s led to a successful autobiography and eminent Midwest expansion. His office also doubles as an open-counter butchery, with his market’s meat-fillet operations exhibited behind glass as if it were Rocky’s aquarium.
Lorne doesn’t flinch (when does he ever?) at the show-and-tell. Hell, he barely misses a beat after Dmitri, Stavros’s dim-witted son (a lot of those going around these parts), pops in unannounced for a bit of stock-boy vaudeville. Besides, he’ll have his fun with Dmitri later on at Stavros’s mansion, where he poses as a divorce-firm staffer to sniff around Mrs. Milos for clues. All she really provides is that Stavros’s paws smell foul, but a handshake with her overly bronzed personal trainer, Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton), leads Lorne to all the evidence he needs.
As with last week’s show, “Rooster Prince” crows on for about a scene too long, though the themes are getting clearer and bear filling out. There aren’t many White Russian Easter eggs to hunt for, but the episode pops with character and conversational detail, especially in the exchanges between Molly and Lester, who take turns demonstrating poise and desperation in equal measure and arrive at a stalemate for now. Or throughout the dueling repasts at Ida and Chazz’s houses, which reveal Bemidjians’ understated sturdiness in tough times. There’s also the ongoing peculiarity of how Minnesotans acknowledge each other. To the Duluth post-office worker, Lorne is a “young man,” Lester’s greeted with “son” at the pharmacy, but Lorne didn’t strike Hess wingman Max Gold as either young or old. That kind of casualness with words is something Lorne loathes, but it’s also an insight into the procedural quirks of solving cases around Bemidji, Duluth, and Fargo. Like Lester’s nephew Gordo, keeper of the urine jar, life and crime in this show can be a real pisser.
Apart from all that:
Hey, if East Coast mafia can feud over esplanades, why can’t Minnesotan syndicates quibble over trucking turf?
In his own way, Lester actually loved Pearl. Too late now. The monster’s out.
American Phoenix is a perfectly meaningless, aspirational memoir title.
Stavros’s heavy, Samenko, seems to be another “O’Doyle Rules” victim-in-waiting.
“You don’t get to be the supermarket king of Minnesota without making a few enemies.” Yeah, now go get your fucking shine box.
Poor Gus: from practically peeing himself on the job to alternate animal-control duty. His tiger shall be un-caged.
There is indeed a heavily religious Jewish community in Duluth, and it seems to be where Gus and his (maybe hallucinatory?) window-undressing temptress reside. Specifically, behind the Mitzvah Tank.
Dmitri’s got a bit of Buster Bluth in him, huh?
He hid the hammer in the washing machine. Perfect.