The second episode of “Fargo” Season 2, entitled “Before the Law,” aired last night on FX. What follows is a Minnesota-centric review that contains spoilers.
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, corporate mob looking to expand. Events draw in innocent bystanders and noble cops to test the mettle of every character, each 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 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 elements.
“Before the Law” takes up the action as the “ma and pa” Gerhardt crime syndicate adjusts to the new reality of an invalid patriarch. The corporate “Kansas City” mob is muscling in, hoping to buy them out or perform a hostile takeover. Mother Floyd Gerhardt is taking a decisive move toward running the business herself, with the support of her second son Bear, while oldest boy Dodd believes he is next in line. Their younger brother Rye is dead in a freezer, but they don’t know that yet.
First off, though not a Minnesota detail, I must say I really enjoy the new way Noah Hawley is framing these episodes. This one played almost like a perfect recreation of a ’70s crime noir movie — images constantly repeated, blended together and reinforced throughout the episode. Given how complex this year’s plot could be, this approach allows everyone to keep up without constant exposition. I’m a fan.
As Bear Gerhardt is torturing some poor sap at the onset of the action, he is lecturing the man (who has no ears) about his granddad’s World War I experiences. Yeah, he was on the *other* side. This is a good reminder of the cultural controversy of the early 1900s in Minnesota when many questioned the loyalty of German immigrants during the war. Most German-Americans served their new country. But according to our story here, the Gerhardts weren’t those kind of Germans. A nice ominous detail. Oh, ya!
As the dog was eating the severed ears in the bucket my wife noticed that none of the Gerhardts were wearing ear protection even though it was a cold winter day. Hey, guys, there’s more than one way to lose your ears! Could Be Worse.
Jean Smart is fantastic as Floyd Gerhardt. Perfect combination of mob toughness and classic Minnesota passive-aggression common to the mothers of our species. Oh, ya!
I didn’t quite get why the Luverne police station was flying two American flags and a Minnesota flag. Up north, we typically fly a Canadian flag or a POW/MIA flag in that third slot. Not sure if the POW flags were as common right after Vietnam or not. Could Be Worse.
Fans of Season One got to see young Molly unwittingly participate in one of her first crime scene investigations as she and her mother’s snowman operation turns into Betsy’s uncovering of the murder weapon. Pretty good.
So, we have Ed and Peggy Blomquist. They’ve decided to cover up the fact that Peggy ran over Rye Gerhardt as he was fleeing the murder scene at the Waffle Hut. In some ways they are the most boring characters, but then they keep doing the most interesting things. Peggy is the nice lady with the ability to do bad things, while Ed is the good man who would nevertheless do anything to keep his world intact. This combination makes these two an absolute wild card in this storyline.
That said, Ed Blomquist looks more like myself without a shirt than I’d care to be reminded. Normally, that’d be OK — a useful detail perhaps — but something about the way Jesse Plemons looked in the firelight as he burned evidence of the crime made me think he was wearing some waxy prosthetic Minnesota fat man suit, rather than being an actual fat Minnesotan. Either than or it’s weight he packed on top of an otherwise healthy body. It lacks the comfortable lumps — the likeness of an old pillow — of the kind of lifelong physical neglect that Minnesotans tend to employ. Interesting.
The scene between Lou and Hank, in which the father-in-law and son-in-law share frank memories of war and crime scenes, was well done. It establishes their goodness but also the darkness that they have seen, and will see again.
The episode closes with the opening monologue from Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” What a fantastic way to frame the coming battle between the Kansas City and Fargo crime organizations, and the innocent world of Luverne and what we all know will be the coming slaughter. Oh, ya!
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.