In season one of FX’s Fargo, which was set in the same world as the Coen brothers’ Fargo the movie but didn’t involve the same characters, detective Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) was involved in the search for the truth behind a series of murders. Molly’s dad, Lou (Keith Carradine), was retired from the state troopers and provided a sounding board when she needed a fresh take on the evidence. In season two of Fargo, Lou is front and center (and younger), tackling a case he talked about in season one, a horrible case that involved multiple murders.
Season two’s Lou Solverson is played by Patrick Wilson (Zipper, The Conjuring), Molly is just six years old, and it’s 1979. But Fargo wouldn’t be Fargo if it played things straight, so season two kicks off with the classic MGM black and white lion logo followed by a bizarre scene from a fictional Ronald Reagan Western called Massacre at Sioux Falls. An actor who’s supposed to be an Indian is waiting in the cold, surrounded by extras playing dead soldiers. The action is on pause while Ronald Reagan has more arrows put into him off screen, and that’s why this Fargo episode is titled ‘Waiting for Dutch.”
Fade into a montage of clips from the ‘70s featuring President Jimmy Carter, cars lined up for blocks due to the gas shortage, Jim Jones, and Ted Bundy. And as with season one and the film, we’re told this tale is based on true event but that the names have been changed. “Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) is late meeting his brother and he’s behind on his collections. His big brother Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) reminds him of his low man on the totem pole status in their family. “You wear short pants until you prove you’re a man,” says Dodd, warning Rye he has one day to come up with the protection money he was supposed to have collected.
At the Gerhardt home, matriarch Floyd (Jean Smart) is going over the books with the family and it’s coming up short. Another outfit is cutting in on their turf, and it’s affecting their income. Dodd says he’ll handle it, and patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) says he’ll grind their bones to make his… We know what’s he going to say, but he has a stroke before he can finish his threat.
Rye goes to the typewriter store because he’s working on a side deal. There’s a new self-correcting typewriter about to hit the market and the store owner is offering Rye a way to get in on what’s sure to be a cash cow, if he forgives the store’s debt to his family. Rye’s all in, but has to convince a judge to unfreeze the store owner’s bank account before the deal can move forward.
Rye goes to the courthouse and tails the female judge to Luverne, Minnesota’s Waffle Hut where he takes a seat at the counter and watches her. The attentive waitress is freaking him out and he orders a coffee and proceeds to pour what looks like a cup of sugar in it. The only other customers in the Waffle Hut leave and now it’s just Rye and the judge. He plops down in the booth opposite her and before he opens his mouth she tells him no. She’s not buying whatever it is he’s selling. Rye tells her anyway that he needs her to change her mind about something – or else. She says no way by way of a shot of bug spray right in Rye’s face. He gets up, stumbles, but still manages to pull out his gun and shoot her. The cook comes at him with a pan so he shoots him, too. That leaves the waitress, who can’t be left alive as a witness. Meanwhile, the judge is only mostly dead and manages to stab Rye in the back before he fires three more shots into her. Now everyone’s dead and Rye is left alone in the Waffle Hut to try and get the knife out of his back. He cleans out the cash register before noticing the waitress has stumbled out of the restaurant. She’s wasn’t quite dead either. He follows her outside, has to reload, and shoots her in the back. He sees lights coming at him and it appears he’s being buzzed by an alien spaceship. While Rye’s standing in the road in the snow staring up at the sky, a car runs smack dab into him. It drives off with his body on the hood and his head through the windshield.
Lou’s reading a bedtime story to Molly while his wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) is doing the laundry. It’s a quiet night at the Solversons until the phone rings with the news of a triple murder at Waffle Hut.
Lou arrives at the Waffle Hut, looks around the murder scene, and starts taking notes. In walks Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), Lou’s wife’s father. He knows the cook but doesn’t recognize the judge. They think she might be a tourist. He asks about Betsy and Lou says she’s doing okay but has been busy trying out new recipes that don’t always work. Outside, they look at skidmarks in the road but Hank’s not sure they’re connected to the murder. Lou figures out the shooter has a couple of wounds and bled on the way to kill the waitress outside, but he doesn’t know why the killer didn’t take his own car. They look up and see a shoe in the tree which should have provided them with the clue that the killer was hit by a car and knocked out of his shoes (why does that always happen?). But they don’t put the tree shoe and the skidmarks together.
The next new character to be introduced is Ed Blomquist (Jesse Plemons). He works at a butcher shop and gets to take home some free pork chops because the customer never picked them up.
At the V.W. hall, Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) is explaining the military industrial complex to a young guy who has no idea what he’s talking about. Lou sits down at their table, and Karl wants him to tell the guy about the military industrial complex. Lou says he just came from a triple murder and that Hank thinks it’s a robbery gone bad. Karl thinks it’s a conspiracy like Kennedy and Oswald, but Lou says it’s just a diner in Minnesota. Lou has to get home because Betsy had her chemo today and Karl is pissed at the world that a good woman like Betsy has such a devastating medical issue.
Ed arrives home to his wife, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), with his free chops. She’s cooking dinner: hamburger helper and tater tots.
Lou returns home and Betsy wonders if maybe there was an accomplice in the getaway car. Her dad called to talk things through before going to bed. Molly made Lou an ashtray at school, and Lou jokes, “She knows I don’t smoke, right?” But the smile leaves his face as he silently considers Betsy’s health issues.
Peggy’s excited about an upcoming seminar that will help her re-examine old reflex patterns. Ed tells her his boss is interested in retiring and wants him to take over the shop and maybe Peggy will take over the salon one day, unless she has a few kids. She says they’re trying, but he says they’re not trying very often. He thinks they would have amazing kids. Suddenly there’s a noise and Peggy knocks a glass off the table to disguise it. There’s still banging coming from the garage and Ed opens the door to investigate.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Peggy is the one who was driving by the Waffle Hut and slammed into Rye after he finished up his killing spree. The car is a mess with a huge hole in the windshield and blood all over the hood, and Peggy lies that she hit a deer. But, the banging continues and Ed asks if she brought the deer home still alive. Grabbing a flashlight, Ed sees Rye, bloody and trying to escape the garage. He comes at Ed with a knife but Ed grabs a gardening tool and kills him.
Peggy says when she first hit Rye she thought he was dead, so she drove home with him sticking out of the windshield. Ed wants to know why she didn’t take the stranger to the hospital or police and was just calmly making dinner when he got home. Peggy thinks that because it was a hit and run she’ll be in big trouble and suggests running away to California. But Ed wants to buy the shop and start a family so Peggy says that means they’ll have to clean it up and pretend it didn’t happen or their future is over. Ed says, “Okay, then we clean it up.”
So, how do you get rid of a dead body? They toss it in their freezer.
Episode one of season two finishes up with the introduction of the Kansas City mob. Mob boss Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) is making a presentation to his gang about the possibility of absorbing the Gerhardt family syndicate out of Fargo, ND. The Gerhardts control trucking and distribution and because Otto had a stroke, Joe doesn’t know who is in charge. It could be his wife, Floyd, who Joe admits is tough “but a girl.” Or, maybe one of his three sons – Dodd, Bear (Angus Sampson), or Rye – is taking over the family business. No matter who it is, with Otto incapacitated now is the perfect time to “aggressively” acquire the syndicate.
The Bottom Line:
Fans of Fargo‘s first season expected season two to be odd, but did anyone expect the appearance of a UFO? Hopefully series creator/writer Noah Hawley will fill us all in on what that peculiar scene was about. It’d also be nice to learn relatively soon why Peggy didn’t seem overly upset about having a nearly dead man draped over her car’s hood as she drove back to her house.
Season two has the same tone and vibe as season one, and episode one of the new season does a terrific job of establishing the key players in the dark comedy/crime drama. It’s a shame we seem to have lost Rye so early on as his dimwitted character uttered some of the best lines of episode one. Still, there’s a wealth of colorful characters introduced, and more still to come, and someone is likely to fill the void left by Rye’s demise.
Living up to the immensely entertaining season one is going to be a difficult task, but season two’s first episode delivered smartly written, fascinating characters and set up a compelling story of murder and rival mobs. After just one episode, Hawley and his new ensemble of actors have hooked us back into the small town world of Fargo.