Episode two, “Before the Law,” still had plenty of the black comedy that makes Fargo so good, especially Jesse Plemons‘ heart-breaking scenes as Ed Blumquist — both as he stood in front of the fire burning his murder-cleaning clothes wearing just his socks and underwear, and as he ground up Rye’s body in a scene that was better than anything from Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd — but for an episode that had significantly less happen than the premiere’s bloodbath, this had a much more palpable sense of impending doom.
When Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) stopped Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and his silent compatriots on the road, it had the same tension as waiting for Anton Chigurh’s coin to land. It made Milligan’s comments, about how unlikely it was for two men on a winter road to have a rational conversation while the world around them went mad, so poignant. Later, when Hank and Lou (Patrick Wilson) discuss old war stories, WWII vet Lou echoed Tommy Lee Jones‘ laments from No Country For Old Men, unsure if the world can be saved. Hank thinks maybe the Vietnam War came back with poor Lou’s generation.
No one, save for Molly and Lou Solverson, is guaranteed to come out of this season alive, so every scene felt like life or death, either within the immediacy of the moment or in decisions we can see are going to lead to something bad in the future. Lou wants some bacon and suddenly poor Ed, who is already having an existential crisis that can only come from grinding up an entire slab of human, is on the verge of caving in. Even if Lou is meant to live, what is Ed capable of doing in this moment? We like poor Ed; he just wants to protect his wife and future family. I’m sure they have powerful enough cleaning fluid at the butcher shop. Just hide the finger and get out of there safely.
The same tension is present in the scene between Mother Gerhardt Floyd (Jean Smart) and eldest son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan). Both mother and son are in crisis, together and apart. They are under attack at their weakest point, and Floyd just wants to keep them together long enough for her son to take over the empire he so desperately wants. Not only does she want to protect the family business, she wants to protect her family. She knows what war means, and they can’t win one if they are fighting amongst themselves. You want to scream at Dodd to get over his misogynistic ways and do what’s best for everyone. When he chooses to be selfish instead, we know he’s probably signed a lot of death warrants for his family, and maybe just destroyed the only real chance he has to take over the business like he wants.
All the characters of Fargo are connected by crisis, ones brought upon themselves like Peggy and Ed, or had thrust upon them like the Solverson family, or both, like the Gerhardts. Kansas City is coming for all of them, one way or another, and people will die, when and who are the questions each scene felt like it was answering.
The strangest scene from episode one, the blue, maybe/maybe not alien lights that Rye saw right before Peggy ran him over, make a brief appearance at episode’s end. They are accompanied by an interesting narration taken from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, about how mankind never knew their affairs were being watched and scrutinized from space, that man was not even considering the possibility that it was in danger, let alone aware that danger, extinction really, was very real.
In H.G. Wells’ novel, mankind survives death and destruction, but not because of anything it did, rather because the environment killed the Martians — bacteria and germs they had no immunity to. Could this possibly be a hint as to where this season is going; maybe the winners and survivors are more likely to be standing at the end because of luck? Fargo has always dealt with good and evil, right and wrong, but those concepts may be no more meaningful than chance and accident. In a cold world of death punctuated with the polite niceties of the Upper Midwest, it would be a very dark conclusion to come to. Who we are and what we do, good or bad, might not really matter in a sick world.
It is hard to imagine actual aliens will play a role on the show, but as a metaphor for the impending danger that awaits everyone, in spite of their plans and schemes, it makes a lot of sense. Danger comes in all forms, big and small, from above and below. We are all in crisis, whether we know it or not.
What did you think of episode two? Let’s discuss it in the comments section below.