Not since season one of True Detective has there been such a GIF-worthy, middle-digit salute. When Hank pulls Kansas City henchman Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Wayne (Todd Mann) and Gale (Brad Mann) Kitchen over and inquires about their shoe size (“A truly odd question,” Mike justly observes), the Kitchen twins each flip the bird, prompting Mike to surmise, “I’m gonna go ahead and guess the boys are an 11, and not a two, which would make them toddlers.” Cut, caption, publish. If only Hank were so amused. He goes through protocol and does his best to demonstrate that he’s in control, but his halting breath, shifting eyes, and unsteady posture betray unease about this particular trio. He lets them off with a warning to get out of Dodge (albeit in what appears to be an Oldsmobile ’98), and as they peel away, he can finally feel his pulse.
As Hanks regains his composure, it’s hard not to think of Keith Carradine as 60-something Lou in season one of Fargo, a man who’d been molded by bearing witness to terrible misdeeds and was ultimately better suited to the slow pace of serving coffee. That shared psyche is evident in Hank’s subsequent scene with young Lou, as the two liken their experiences in WWII and Vietnam, respectively, to the perils of police work. But Hank is particularly sympathetic toward Lou, whose mettle will be tested not only by his wife’s cancer diagnosis, but by maintaining order and raising his daughter while contending with a generation of vets-turned-desperate vagrants who “brought that war home.”
Betsy senses that same menace, and sits disconsolate during a chemo session, no doubt wondering, in part, who will protect the family she’s leaving behind. Though from a very early age, it’s evident Molly will inherit her mother’s grit, smarts, and compassion. En route home from the hospital, Lou stops at the Waffle Hut, determined to listen to the “wild hair” telling him there’s something he and Hank missed in their initial investigation. Outside in the snow, Molly and Betsy stumble upon a telltale pistol underneath a punctured “Get Well Soon!” balloon. Lou scrambles, cautioning Betsy not to compromise its integrity. She merely laughs and replies, “Yeah I know I got it by the barrel,” all but inserting a phantom, “Duh.” Lou is transparently, as ever, in awe of her irrepressible wit, especially when his head and heart are spinning and breaking.
Ed carries a similar temperament to Lou’s, despite having never served in Vietnam. They could even be the same person in a different life, but the two men exist along a slightly asymmetrical split-screen divide. Or as is the case toward the episode’s end, on opposite sides of the glass door that separates Fargo’s serene Main Street scene from the ghastly task at hand in the back of Bud’s Meats. What starts as a nod to the theatrical Fargo, with Ed grinding Rye’s bones down to pulp, gets its own screwball twist when an errant finger rolls into the main customer-service area right as Lou raps his fist out front. Like Hank confronting the Kansas City crew, Ed does his best to keep cool. He gamely makes small talk and wraps up bacon for Officer Solverson, and even fields a phone call from a fretting Peggy, who seems to have seized this crisis as a role-playing fantasy. Ed’s adrenaline kept him from coming undone, and Lou’s preoccupation with Betsy and that smoking gun staved off his suspicions, but if either had any idea who was out looking for Rye, they might both agree that Ed’s safest behind bars.
“Before the Law” is chock-a-block with encounters that come to a simmering tension without boiling over. Mike shakes down Rye’s partner-in-petty-crime and leaves him sweating, but in one piece. Hank’s lucky to have escaped the aforementioned run-in with Milligan and Co. unscathed. And Ed probably benefited from his final near-miss, since the only thing for certain is that everyone’s relative good fortune is about to run out. The question is who can keep their head on a swivel long enough to avoid a tragic fate.
A smart bet would be on Floyd, the shrewd Gerhardt matriarch who’s capable of balancing practical business with family sentiment. She’s probably even smart enough to know Dodd will try and double-cross her, despite his acquiescence at the dinner table and weakness for hand-kneaded bread. Not to mention keep a wary eye open and aimed at Dodd’s stoic sidekick, Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon, who’s nearly as fascinating to gaze on as Plemons, much like he was in Red Road). The dynamic between surviving Gerhardt brothers Dodd and Bear is unexpected and rich. Dodd presumes to be the more book-smart and street-tough, but his Flintstone-ian chauvinism and restlessness make him a volatile threat to the status quo. Bear, on the other hand, is simple in some ways, but far more forward-thinking and sensitive, plus completely self-aware of his ceiling (if not his gastrointestinal limits). Perhaps it’s got plenty to do with raising a son, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu), who has cerebral palsy, as a single dad. Then again, Dodd’s eldest daughter, Simone (Rachel Keller), is a Dazed and Confused feminist who couldn’t fly farther from her father’s values, so who’s to say what inspires us to be who we are?
Two irresistible episodes in, this round of Fargo layers its established themes of fate and consequence with appealingly unanswerable questions about where our fundamental nature ends and circumstance steps in. Does salon owner Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) have Peggy, well, rightly pegged as a wild child polished by Midwest poise, or is an extraordinary situation inducing extremely unusual behavior? Would Ed have been less transformed by murdering and mutilating Rye had he seen the horrors of war, or is he the proverbial big softie with no stomach for life outside the norm? Do the actions of these collective misfits populating Fargo, Luverne, and Kansas City speak more to how history led them to this moment than any knowable aspect of themselves? Fargo, 1979 edition, exists in a time and place where predetermination and environmental will are primed to collide head on and make a big bang. And in executive producer/writer Noah Halwey’s universe, it’s quite possible that an alien force far more sentient than God is watching and waiting for them to tear each other apart.
Apart from all that:
- Lest you’re wondering if Constance indeed likes the ladies, the song playing in her car, Cris Williamson’s “Song of the Soul,” was something of a ’70s lesbian anthem.
- More pressingly on the music front … ladies and gentlemen: Jeff Wayne.
- My guess? The shoe from the tree was from an alien abductee.
- Hard not to think Hank and Constance don’t make it out alive.
- That was one bold, partially unclothed scene in front of the fire.
- Best moment of the episode: Floyd chastising Dodd that, “Girls grow up to be women and change boys diapers.” Cut to Bear sloppily guzzling his milk.
- Dog’s revenge! Last year, one was slayed. This year, one gets to dine on human ears.
- A couple of indications the KC mob is Jewish, but it’s not entirely clear.
- It’s fun to imagine where Lester’s business eventually situated on that main street of Fargo.
- See, no wasted meat!
- On a somewhat bittersweet note, my own circumstances have conspired and compelled me to pass the torch on these Fargo recaps to another fine scribe, but thanks for checking in for the first season and these two episodes, and may we all toss our red-striped, shin-high socks into the fire of life.