Fargo Season 1 was undoubtedly a delight of a show and thankfully was received as such; garnering critical acclaim, Emmys and Golden Globes for its dark, slightly oddball humour, gritty atmosphere and Martin Freeman's inexplicable Minnesotan accent.
When the first episode of Season 2 aired last night it had a very tough act to follow, coming on the heels of one of the best received shows of 2014 and working with a highly anticipated all-star cast. It did not disappoint, being immediately met with overwhelming critical acclaim, making it somewhat of a Holy Grail show for American TV. We're only one episode into our new story and it's already being described as a "perfect show", a title perhaps well deserved.
Narratively there's not much to connect Season 2 to the first, so having watched the freshman outing isn't a necessary prerequisite for viewing (but you should do it anyway, you'll be better for it). The two stories are loosely connected by Season 1 characters Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and her retired cop father Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine).
Molly is 6 years old when Season 2 kicks off in 1979 and Hollywood's busiest everyman Patrick Wilson portrays a younger Lou, a State Trooper just home from Vietnam who gets caught up in the aftermath of a triple-homicide at a Waffle Hut diner (delightfully Coen-esque). There's tensions simmering just below the surface of Lou's marriage to Betsy (Cristin Milioti) who is currently undertaking chemotherapy. Betsy's father, local Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), pops up in the diner scene to lend a sympathetic ear to his son-in-law as they stand in the midst of a bloodbath - the bloodbath that becomes the triggering incident for the local drama that will follow.
Fargo Season 2 certainly proves that there's no need to slow its momentum as it moves easily into this new story, weaving together multiple characters and sub-plot strands into an easy coherent narrative. Following the delightfully absurd opening scenes denoting the deceptive nature of cinema we're introduced immediately to a classic patriarchal power struggle: rival brothers - Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson) and Rye (Kieran Culkin) - all competing to be the one to inherent the throne of their father Otto (Michael Hogan), the head of the Gerhardt crime family.
During a rousing rant about grinding the bones of his enemies, Otto suffers a comically timed stroke - opening up an avenue for a hostile takeover by said enemies, a rival syndicate based in Kansas City. Otto is down but not out, and the power is passed to his wife Floyd (Jean Smart). We don't see much of Smart this episode but Floyd promises to be so much more than the wife of a powerful man (not least because she's one of the few credited as a main cast member). Of the new power vacuum Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) briefly considers her; "His wife Floyd. She's tough but, you know, a girl." If Fargo has taught us anything however, it's that you should never underestimate strong women.
Rye Gerhardt, the small-fish little brother, tries to prove himself by attempting to blackmail a judge and true to his nature manages to screw it up, brutually murdering three people; the judge, a waitress and a chef in The Waffle Hut diner.
Distracted by the steak knife in his back and strange lights in the sky he stumbles into the road and ends up spread deer-like across the bonnet of Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst)'s car. Here is a scene reminiscent of 2007's Stuck which in turn was based on the true story of Chante Mallard, a Texan nurse who struck a man with her car and drove home with him stuck in the windshield, leaving him to die in her garage. The UFO-like lights are an odd genre addition here, though presumably we'll discover their nature and purpose as the series unfolds.
Jesse Plemons is much more rounded out than in his Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights days as Peggy's husband Ed Blomquist, almost unrecognisably so. In turn Dunst is unsettlingly ditzy and manipulative as the slightly one step removed from reality Peggy, who is hiding a terrible secret in their garage.
Like Lou and Betsy there's tensions in this marriage; Peggy is a hairdresser with bigger dreams, she wants out of the cold little town where Ed's largest desire is to take over the butcher shop and have Peggy pop out a brood of children. At dinner they discuss the issue, Ed wondering out loud why his wife doesn't seem to want to sleep with him, but this line of conversation is interrupted by the thumping in the garage that Ed is forced to take care of, bloodily.
First episodes are always tricky in crime dramas as the various threads of the web are laid out, but Fargo Season 2 pulls it off very well. Admittedly the bloodbath in the diner doesn't seem quite so intense after Freeman's put-upon Lester Nygaard snapping and killing his abusive wife, or Billy-Bob Thornton's quietly chilling Lorne Malvo giving Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) the choice to live or die, but it's a polarising incident regardless and it draws the threads of the web together nicely.
The Gerhardt family aside, it feels as though there's higher stakes of innocence here, as Ted Danson said;
"The savagery is being dealt with by these earnest, innocent, decent people who are just not fully equipped for the hell that’s going to descend on their heads. So that’s fun to play as well. How does this innocent and ill-equipped, earnest person come out on top?"
Whilst Lou might not be the singular centrepiece of Fargo Season 2, we know a little of him from Season 1 that lays down the basis for this current mystery. Carradine's jaded, retired Lou spoke to his daughter of a very bad thing that happened in 1979 when he was a trooper and it is this big bad that Season 2 is going to chart, denoting Lou's transformation from the fresh faced Wilson to the tired Carradine.
As such Lou's friend conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman looking not quite right without the handlebar moustache), delivers some of the best lines in the episode, one in particular I feel will become very relevant as the season unfolds:
"Just watch, this thing's only getting bigger."
Fargo Season 2 Episode 2, Before The Law is set to air October 19th on FX.