A review of tonight's “Fargo” coming up just as soon as I find a human foot in a toaster oven…
Episode 1 of this strange new Coen-adjacent adventure kept things relatively simple. We got to know the perpetually bullied Lester, got to appreciate Lorne Malvo's role as a homicidal bringer of chaos, got to appreciation the relationship between chief Vern and deputy Molly, then saw how the murder of Sam Hess triggered all sorts of problems and additional violence. It's not the 1996 movie in microcosm, but it's a small enough story that one might wonder how Noah Hawley intends to get 10 episodes out of it.
With “The Rooster Prince,” Hawley makes very clear that he's got many weeks of material here, as he introduces several major new characters and plot threads. Sam Hess's murder is the inciting incident, but there's an awful lot more going on here.
Because the murders of Sam and Vern were essentially a way for Lorne to amuse himself in between jobs, we only got a few clues (like the phone bank operating out of the back of the real estate office) as to how Lorne's business actually works. Here, we get to witness him assuming a new identity – and, as he did with Gus Grimly at the end of last week's episode, he scares a civil servant into ignoring his law-breaking with a calm but purposeful monologue – and then meeting up with a new client, obnoxious supermarket mogul Stavros Milos. It's Oliver Platt giving the same basic performance he always does, but there are certain character actors you want for that reason. Only Luis Guzman can play a Luis Guzman role, just as only Platt can convey quite this level of comfortable self-satisfaction. And in Lorne's crude but simple response to the threats of Milos' security chief Semenko, we're reminded again that the most intimidating thing about our chief villain is how little he seems to be intimidated by anything or anyone. Lorne just goes about his business (even in the bathroom), knowing that he can't be stopped.
But though Lorne has moved on from Sam's murder – it was just a thing he did to amuse himself (like the recordings he appears to keep of other saps like Lester whom he provoked into embracing their inner gorilla) – the rest of the show has not. Because Sam was connected to organized crime in Fargo, his death requires both an investigation and a proportional response, and that arrives in the form of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, the hitman duo played so indelibly by Adam Goldberg (an alum of Hawley's “The Unusuals”) and Russell Harvard. Note that Wrench wears a buckskin jacket that looks very much like Jon Voight's famous look from “Midnight Cowboy,” while Goldberg has in his career played various uptight urban Jews who evoke the young Dustin Hoffman. That Wrench is deaf – and that Numbers can communicate with him so well, including various crude signs that I imagine are not taught in an ASL For Beginners class – makes the partnership more than a pastiche, and their ruthlessness in dealing with the Lorne Malvo lookalike from the strip club(*) marks them as potential trouble for both Lester and even Lorne going forward.
(*) The spoken word song playing as they dump the guy below the ice is “Full Moon” by Eden Ahbez.
Wrench has his identifying piece of wardrobe, and of course Lester has that ridiculous orange parka, which is always a loud introduction to such a quiet, panicked man. We see here that he's continuing to struggle with both a fear of getting caught and at least some level of guilt about bashing Pearl's skull in with that hammer, with the buckshot wound in his hand – which the cops somehow have not noticed, even though it would instantly blow holes in Lester's story about being passed out in the basement when Vern was killed – functioning as his equivalent of “out, damned spot.”
And Lester has good reason to be nervous, given that Molly Solverson(**) is still convinced he had something to do with the murders of Pearl, Vern and possibly Sam. Though we learned last week that Vern viewed Molly as his successor, in reality obstinate veteran Bill gets the job, and he of course refuses to view Lester as a suspect, eventually pulling Molly off the case altogether when she refuses to let go of the most obvious theory of the crime.
(**) Hawley loves his colorful, descriptive names on this show, no? Even though certain characters aren't even referred to by name in the scripts at this point.
And we get to spend more time with our other beleaguered cop, Gus Grimly (see above note). We heard him talking to his daughter on the CB radio last week, and here we get to meet Greta, played by Ramona Quimby herself, Joey King. Between these two episodes, we quickly have a sense of what a simple existence Gus leads: just him and his daughter and occasional glimpses of the sexy Orthodox Jewish woman across the way.(**) But he also seems troubled by having let Lorne go, and it seems clear that his path and Molly's will be crossing as the story continues.
(**) For those wondering, no, it is not unusual or against tradition for such a woman to wear underwear like that. Jewish law is very encouraging of a healthy sex life between spouses; what she's doing wrong, by law, is letting another man see her that way (and not appearing to mind that he's seeing her).
Greta tells her dad that her school did an assembly about bullying, and so far that's been a big theme of “Fargo.” Lester wanted Sam dead for the way Sam treated him in high school (and then again as an adult), Wrench and Numbers push around anybody who causes them problems, and of course Lorne Malvo is the baddest, calmest bully of them all – just one who occasionally gets his kicks encouraging nerds to rise up against their own bullies.
So much happening. So much of it fun. And we're just getting warmed up.
What did everybody else think? And if you're a fan of the wide spectrum of FX and FXX shows, how did it feel to have Glenn Howerton turn up as dumb, spray-tanned personal trainer Don?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org