The success of the first season of “Fargo” on FX was one of the best surprises of television last year. The 10-episode short-run series was ambitious, daring, heartfelt and yet still true to the spirit of the original acclaimed movie (without being too derivative). After the early reviews of the second season, which debuted last night, expectations are running extremely high. In watching this episode, “Waiting for Dutch,” I’d say that the expectations are merited. We’re in for another great run of true crime mayhem amid Minnesota sensibilities in the Season Two “Fargo” storyline.
This year, “Fargo” takes us to Southwestern Minnesota in 1979, the same year I was born on the other side of the state. A small town family crime syndicate based in Fargo is under siege from a larger, more corporate mob looking to expand. Events draw in innocent bystanders and noble cops to test the mettle of each character, as they are quite literally under fire.
What I do with these episodes here at MinnesotaBrown.com is provide specific Minnesota color commentary on each episode of “Fargo.” I’m not looking for precise accuracy — this is fiction (or is it?) — but I am looking for unique elements that hit the mark or miss completely, especially for fans of the show who might not know the real Minnesota the way my regular readers and I do. I use a ratings scale of “Oh, ya!” for the best moments, ranging down though “Pretty Good,” “Could Be Worse,” and the ultimate Minnesota dismissal, “Interesting,” for the most baffling or tin-eared elements.
There be spoilers here.
“Waiting for Dutch” opens on what appears to be an old western entirely “Massacre at Sioux Falls” starring Ronald Reagan. But we soon see that it’s not the movie, but deleted footage of the actors waiting in the cold for “Dutch,” Reagan’s Hollywood nickname from long before his presidential years. This introduces the one thing we know about this season: there will be a massacre at Sioux Falls (Lou Solverson describes it in Season One, and this season focuses around the younger version of his character) and that we are just waiting to see what happens next. Nice element, though there is no way 1940s film producers would have allowed this much wasted film, especially on location. Pretty Good.
The local trucking gangsters are the Gerhardt family. It’s evident that the three sons are all jockeying to be the next boss as their parents get older, which is exacerbated when father Otto suffers a stroke while threatening to grind the bones of his enemies and use the powder in … we never find out (stroke), though I imagine “my coffee” was where he was going with that. Jean Smart plays Floyd Gerhardt, the family matriarch who will have to sort this all out amid the encroaching pressure of an outside mob, which we learn about later in the episode.
Side note, “Gerhardt” is the same name as a former irrationally popular fullback for the Minnesota Vikings named Toby Gerhardt. A midlevel runner, he nevertheless drew big applause any time he scored a touchdown, usually as a decoy for Adrian Peterson. When Gerhardt left the team for bigger money in Jacksonville he was touted as a potential feature running back in fantasy football, but quickly flamed out and is now a middling backup/fullback, which is really what he was all along. Seems like poetic symmetry to me. Pretty good.
I like that as the family discusses money problems like wolves around a carcass one of the mobster boys is seen pulling chunks off of what appears to be freshly baked cinnamon monkey bread. Also “cleave your skull” is a particularly delightful phrase delivered in a Minnesota accent. Oh, ya!
The Gerhardt’s youngest boy Rye (Kieran Culkin) is the chief change agent in the season premiere. He knows he’s least likely to take over the business, so he’s already making plans to break out on his own. He’s clearly a screw-up of a high magnitude (his big plan is to invest in sophisticated new typewriters sold by one of the small town rubes who owes his family money). The big murder in a small town diner outside Luverne, Minnesota, is caused when his shake-down target embarrasses him, and he shoots everyone in the diner.
Some notes about that diner scene. On the whole it’s a pretty good representation of a Minnesota diner of this era (I know this because they pretty much still look like that). That said, I noticed that when Rye asks for coffee the waitress pours him a cup from the orange pot, which is typically the color used for decaf. I’m not saying that pouring decaf when ordering regular is a reason to shoot someone, but I am going to put that out there as a possible motive for why the waitress didn’t make it, particularly for the second kill shot to the head as she dragged herself across the highway. Could Be Worse.
Minnesota sheriff’s deputy uniforms are essentially unchanged since 1979. I’d expect they’ll be the same 30 years from now. Oh, ya!
The protagonists are Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), his cancer-stricken wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti), and daughter Molly, a young girl who we know grows up to be the central figure in the original Fargo TV story. His police partner and father-in-law is Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), an easy-going fellow who seems to be more in touch with his feelings — in that he is willing, briefly, to acknowledge that he has them. Pretty Good.
The most cardinal sin of the entire episode occurred when Lou (Wilson) referred to something as a “casserole.” In my notes, I wrote “Noooooooooooooooo!” In Minnesota, most would call it a “hot dish,” though I am willing to acknowledge that near the state line there might be variation on this. Interesting.
Nick Offerman plays Karl Weathers, a local lawyer and conspiracy theorist. Though an Illinoisan by birth, Offerman’s midwestern ways are so natural that he almost stands out for his lack of effort on the accent. It’s not quite Minnesotan, but it’s real. Pretty good.
The other key characters are the young married couple the Blomquists, Ed (Jesse Plemons) and Peggy (Kirsten Dunst). We see Ed play the Midwestern straight man, hoping one day to own the butcher shop where he works and that maybe Peggy could own the hairdresser place where she works. Peggy has other ideas, though. She’s looking to “fully actualize” through self-help programs. Oh, and by the way, she ran over the murderer from the diner by accident. Oh, yeah, he’s still alive, requiring Ed to struggle with him in the garage before stabbing him to death with pruning shears.
Now, before you ask how could someone run a guy over, drive home with the body sticking out of the windshield, and park in the garage (minding the yellow tennis ball dangling from the ceiling to indicate how far to drive into the stall) before serving tater tots to her husband for dinner, consider this. I know a couple that would probably handle this the exact same way. I won’t name names, and no, it’s not my wife and I, but I definitely know people who would do this. They haven’t … yet … but this is how it would go. Oh, ya!
Side note: I don’t know if pruning shears would have been sitting out in a Luverne garage that time of year. Too early to start planting inside. Could Be Worse.
“Waiting for Dutch” was a remarkable premiere, foretelling a story perhaps more complex than last year’s, but certainly rich in meaning and intrigue. Noah Hawley has earned my trust as a writer and producer, so I’m just looking forward to the experience.
Aaron J. Brown is a northern Minnesota author and radio producer. He wrote “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,” an earnest, humorous look at the people, history and culture of the unique rural-industrial landscape of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He is the producer, writer and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio, an ultra-local traveling comedy and music variety show. A columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, his work also appears in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and The Daily Yonder.