Fargo season 2 began last week to rave reviews, and with our introduction to Peggy, Lou, Ed and the Gerhardt crime family, it quickly became apparent that the sophomore season has big ambitions, intricately weaving a vast web of characters and story arcs right from the beginning. With that in mind I'll be recapping every episode of season 2 shortly after it airs, which of course means you can expect spoilers, as well as plenty of speculation about where things are headed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Episode 2: "Before the Law"
The premiere gave us a lot of very striking visuals to feast our eyes on, and ep 2 immediately resumes the habit with some lingering shots of a slab of raw meat at the butcher's shop - which, given what we know of this series' brutality, serve as a reminder that more blood will likely yet be spilled in this season of Fargo.
The omens aren't great for the Gerhardts either. In a ten-minute opening segment we see Floyd (Jean Smart) make the decision not to hand the reigns of the family business over to eldest son Dodd, who's far from thrilled by that decision. There's a sense that Dodd is too impulsive to rationally take the lead at this moment - his preferred method of torture is to cut a man's ears straight off - but the division in the family created by Floyd's decision to play boss is bound to weaken the unit at a time they really need to stand united.
Next up, a quick trip to the Solversons' place sees Sheriff Larsson (Ted Danson) learn that one of the victims of the triple murder at the diner was a judge in Fargo, whilst also giving us a much clearer understanding of the dynamic between Larsson, daughter Betsy and stepson Lou. It should be said at this point that Fargo's score does a really great job of complimenting the series' tone, at turns menacing and eccentric.
Whilst Peggy tries to present a picture of normality in town, back home Ed (Jesse Plemons) seems to be struggling with their deception, which makes for an interesting role reversal of the trope in which it's usually the man who's forced to keep it together whilst his wife loses sleep - just another example of how Fargo is guided by real characters rather than overdone stereotypes. Again, the show proves itself vastly capable of striking imagery with the sight of Ed stood, in his pants, burning his clothes in the fireplace.
One of the few obvious drawbacks of Fargo is that, in balancing such a large, talented cast of actors, none of the characters seem to get enough screen time per episode - at least not until their stories begin to interweave. For my money, the most enjoyable characters in these first two episodes have been Betsy (Cristin Milioti) and Lou (Patrick Wilson), and I'd like to spend more time with them - perhaps there's a certain level of poignancy to their happy family dynamic given Betsy's cancer diagnosis at the horribly young age of thirty-something.
Whilst Betsy stumbles across the murder weapon from the diner scene, Sheriff Larsson encounters Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and his two silent henchmen on the back roads of Fargo. Charming and softly-spoken, Milligan has the distinct feel of somebody lifted straight from a cult classic '70s blaxploitation film, and to my mind he's a more interesting antagonist than the Gerhardts. Larsson tells the men to be on their way, but you can't help but feel he's just made the kind of enemy no man should aspire to make.
Peggy, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate her slightly unnerving ability to keep calm under pressure, when Peggy's work friend - although that would appear to stretch the definition of "friend" somewhat - pops in to use her toilet and catches sight of the battered car in the Blomquists' garage. She seems like the kind of woman who'd have no qualms about using that kind of intel to her advantage somewhere down the line, so Peggy had better keep her wits about her.
From hereon in the tension ramps up considerably, and in the episode's most shocking sequence we find Ed grinding Rye Gerhardt's flesh into minced meat at the butcher's shop - just as a curious Lou Solverson knocks on the shop window. The sight of a stray finger tumbling under the crack in the door right out into the shopfront, unobserved by the butcher himself, should be comical but actually sends the episode out on a horrifying high.
So, what did we learn in this episode? Probably the main takeaway was that there's not a weak link among the women of Fargo, all of whom are holding things together in some way. We also saw a contrast in the importance of being united (Lou and Betsy), as opposed to divided (the Gerhardts), in the face of external conflict - and sooner or later, that empire is bound to topple.
Is season 2 of Fargo a match for the series' debut run? Will Floyd keep the Gerhardts together, and what threat does Mike Milligan pose to peace in the county? Will Peggy and Ed get away with murder? Share your thoughts in the comments and come back next week for our episode 3 recap.