FARGO: “Before the Law”

Covering up a crime can be a real grind.

Some thoughts on tonight’s Fargo before I go watch the new The Force Awakens trailer another dozen times…

Ain’t this a miracle…that two men can stand on a lonely road and talk calmly and rationally, while all around them people are losing their mind?

–Mike Milligan

Not a whole lot of forward movement this week, especially considering the show’s nearly 90-minute run time. Is that too long for a weekly series, even one in a limited run? There were almost certainly some scenes that could have been trimmed or excised completely, yet Fargo is so meticulously constructed, removing one piece of its sprawling narrative could lead to it collapsing like a Jenga tower. For what it’s worth, I was never bored as it elegantly dissolved from plot thread to plot thread, buoyed by its typically superb music choices. (Tonight: Burl Ives, and a lovely symphonic selection as Ed Blomqist worked that my Shazam app identified only as “Fargo – FX Networks.” Thanks, Shazam.)

Part of Fargo‘s style, and part of its charm, is the way its characters speak to each other. I don’t just mean the accents, either — beginning with the chilling final scene of “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” and continuing through Lorne Malvo’s reign of terror, much of the series’ dialogue is storytelling in and of itself. Characters speak anecdotally, in metaphors, and sometimes in parables. Ann Cusack’s judge treated Rye Gerhardt to one before he filled her with bullets. In “Before the Law,” Floyd Gerhardt recounts how her father-in-law built the family empire “from a shoeshine box.” Larsson talks about oysters, and later about hangings.

But it’s the charming gangster Matt Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine, with sideburns sharp enough to kill) that best exemplifies the arched speaking pattern of a Noah Hawley character, whether comparing the Gerhardt sons to lobster claws (though which is the pincher, and which is the crusher?), reciting a letter he once wrote about a faulty coffee maker, or waxing poetic in the middle of Larsson’s traffic stop. When Malvo was accosted by the weak-kneed Gus Grimley, he frightened the officer away with a story that hinted at the sociopath within. Milligan doesn’t want to reveal quite that much, but he does seem to want Larsson to know that he and his associates (the brothers Kitchen, who even pull out their IDs in perfect unison) are up to no good, and there’s nothing the Luverne police can do about it. Who among them can be trusted? Did we all not come from the sea?

And yet, with all the posturing going on this week, no one died. Sure, Rye’s business associate got his tie stuck inside a typewriter, while Rye himself was ground into kibble, but that’s as far as it went. Larsson’s encounter with the goons from Kansas City felt incredibly dangerous, and I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. It’s too soon to lose Ted Danson, at any rate.

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Though no one other than the hapless Blomqists yet knows what happened to the youngest Gerhardt, the noose around them is beginning to tighten. Now three different factions are looking for Rye: Dodd and his lieutenant, Hanzee Dent, who needs Rye to be the swing vote in the brewing war against his own mother (because he’ll be darned if his boss is a woman); the Kansas City syndicate, who figure he would be the easiest to manipulate as they attempt to buy out the Fargo family; and Lou Solverson, though he doesn’t entirely know it yet.

It’s Lou who gets closest to the truth this week, coming across Ed’s butcher shop while he’s in the middle of Sweeney Todd-ing the body, complete with gruesome close-ups. The sudden knock on the door makes Ed’s cleaver miss and lifeless fingers go flying, but the guy is soon able to wriggle out of danger with Lou none the wiser. (Too bad Lou didn’t have his wife with him on that trip, whose discovery of Rye’s revolver outside the diner hints at where Molly’s investigative prowess might really have come from.)

Yet with every closeup on Jesse Plemons’s freckled face, we’re wondering what kind of a toll his wife’s misadventure is taking on him. The figure that stood in front of his fireplace in his tighty-whities and knee-high socks looked more like a chubby, scared boy than a man. When he waits for the opportunity to sneak his dead body into the shop, the cinematography directly evokes when Lester watched his new wife go to her doom, but it’s only an echo. Even as Ed shoves Rye’s leg into his grinder like Peter Stormare’s wood chipper in Fargo the film. (Turns out Kieran Culkin’s Buscemi-stache was prophetic after all.)

And Peggy’s looking rattled too, getting her fake alibis mixed up in front of her boss (Elizabeth Marvel), who’s fortunately too tipsy to really notice (though she does playfully call her a “bad girl”). Because Peggy was late for work, she missed the talk of the triple homicide at the diner. Is she still utterly clueless as to just who she ran down? The truth is just underneath the surface, but few have the wits to really interpret it. “Is he listening to me?” Dodd complains of the man he’s interrogating at the top of the hour. “You cut off his ears,” Hanzee points out. The devil is in the details; no coincidence that the most dangerous characters in this particular universe are meticulous to a fault. Dodd, as of now, just looks like a fool, too impatient to wait for his inheritance.

The biggest mystery of all is that UFO from the premiere, and just what Hawley’s game is by including it. Though it didn’t make another appearance this week, “Before the Law” closed with the original opening from War of the Worlds, that famous H.G. Wells prologue that describes how humanity has been watched for decades by a malevolent alien civilization now “making their plans against us.” Is it another of Hawley’s extended metaphors, or something more fantastical? We can perhaps point once more to Mike Milligan, who speaks for all alien invaders when he visits the typewriter store that he’s told is “not really open”: “That’s okay; we’re not really customers.”

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