Series premiere review: ‘Fargo’ – ‘The Crocodile’s Dilemma’

I reviewed FX's “Fargo” in advance this morning, and I have a few specific thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I get more familiar with the ham…

“It's a red tide, Lester, this life of ours.” -Lorne Malvo

As I said in my advance review, the early passages of “The Crocodile's Dilemma” feel a bit too much like Noah Hawley playing mix-and-match with familiar elements from the movie just to see how we would react. So it's a male police chief, for instance, who is about to become a parent, and when two cops arrive at a crime scene by a snowy stretch of open road, it's the man correcting the woman's investigative technique, rather than good ol' Marge Gunderson telling Lou that she doesn't agree with his policework. Lester Nygaard isn't introduced arranging the kidnapping of his wife, but Martin Freeman plays him with an emasculated desperation that is sure meant to evoke William H. Macy as Jerry. And even though Lorne Malvo isn't really like any of the movie's characters, at first blush you can see some of the laid-back cruelty of Peter Stormare's Gaear. And by having Lorne murder Sam Hess without actually getting Lester's say-so, it almost seems as if Hawley is trying to water down the whole idea for TV and give us a sympathetic protagonist sucked into a life of crime against his will, and a more traditional police authority figure to investigate the whole thing.

But then Lester hits his wife in the head with a ball-pein hammer, and Lorne kills Vern Thurman with Lester's shotgun, and things take a very different turn from there.

In some ways, it's bringing the show closer to the movie – it makes Lester more like Jerry, and puts Molly more firmly into the Marge role – but having seen additional episodes, I was pleased to see that the show very rapidly veers off into becoming its own thing, and is simply incorporating certain archetypal elements that were so terrific in the movie into this very different story.

And in the meantime, we have Lorne Malvo, a shit-stirrer of a very high caliber. He has absolutely no reason to get involved in Lester's business, and even less to cause trouble among the staff at the motel, but it's clear that he takes pleasure in the chaos he can cause, and in encouraging beta males to embrace their inner gorilla, just to see what happens. Billy Bob Thornton is always a pleasure to watch, but the understated mode he's in for this role is perhaps the best use of his particular talents and screen presence.

I imagine I'll have more to say in upcoming weeks as the story becomes more complicated – and I will do my best not to hint at some of the big surprises coming up – but this week, I'm mainly interested in what you guys have to say. The show only goes up and up from here, but did you see enough in the first episode to want to continue? Was it too much like the movie? Not enough? If you've never seen the movie (and it is on Netflix Instant, if you haven't), how did this play to you?

Have at it.