Lester (Martin Freeman) is still reeling from having killed his wife and giving himself a traumatic head injury to cover up his part in that murder and the one of the police chief. Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is sure he's involved somewhere along the line in those murders as well as the earlier murder of his childhood bully, Sam Hess. However, she faces increased resistance from the new Chief (Bill Odenkirk) as well as Lester himself. In Duluth, Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) is tormented by his inaction when faced with Lorne (Billy Bob Thornton) and is attempting to justify his continue silence. Whilst all of this is going on, Lorne is sorting out a blackmail problem for local supermarket magnate, Stavros Milos (the wonderful, needs-to-be-in-more-scenes Oliver Platt).
The second episode of Fargo widens the playing field considerably, furthering the action in the little town of Bemidji alongside that of the Duluth subplots. It means the cast of characters increases and the plots are becoming slightly labyrinthine. As such, this episode is taken over slightly by the need to establish these various narrative strands and develop the characters within them. In doing so, it loses a little of the humour and darkness that made the opening episode such a joy, but the macabre atmosphere remains and there's a level of knowing throughout Fargo that ensures it is still enjoyable.
Much of this comes from the arrival of two men from Fargo, Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard, respectively). Clearly a nod to Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi's characters from the original Fargo film, Numbers and Wrench are cut from the same cloth as Lorne. Calm and disquieting, they also do very little to impose on those people around them and yet impose they do. In a nice nod to their cinematic counterparts, Wrench is deaf and the pair communicate in sign language (often at the expense of characters also in the conversation) in contrast to the verbosity of Stormare and Buscemi. This silence that exists between them, operating on another level of communication to the rest of Bemidji, builds up the enigma that is Fargo in this series.
The widening narrative also offers expansion in other areas. The first episode was tasked with place setting, introducing the characters, their surroundings and their backgrounds for the audience, as well as simultaneously aligning and distancing itself from the Coen brothers' film. Now that the characters and world in which they operate has largely been established, Noah Hawley becomes a little more ambitious in creating a work that is both satisfying at the level of plot, but also one that is multi-layered and explorable on a thematic level.
Violence is endemic in this society and something which the residents of Bemidji (and the wider Minnesotan area) don't seem to be all that aware of. Adam Bernstein's direction collaborates brilliantly with the characters' obliviousness by utilising the background to demonstrate just how surrounded by violence and death these figures are. The background of Lorne's meeting with Stavros about his failing marriage is a man butchering animals. During the conversation between Lester and his brother, Lester's nephew is seen playing with a gun on the stairs in a moment of supposed normality. Throughout these two episodes, there has been a constant juxtaposition between violence and domesticity, just like this one. Lester's murderous act takes place because he can't fix the washing machine. The Hess boys fight outside the family home. The presence of Lorne may have been the catalyst for actual violence occurring, but it's clear that Bemidji has always had its issues.
With this emphasis on the clash between violence and domesticity, there's also an intriguing depiction of gender roles going on here, particularly Gus looking after his daughter whilst having to take big moral decisions and Molly Solverson, striving to work hard in an environment everyone keeps telling her she shouldn't be in. Molly is consistently belittled and reminded of her gender by those around her, even her father. Allison Tolman's performance is excellent, capturing both the optimism and cynicism necessary for this role. Molly is extremely determined to catch her man, yet is constantly at war with the system around her that decides she isn't supposed to get that far ahead. Following Frances McDormand in the Marge Gunderson type role is no easy feat, but Tolman has that same steeliness about her character that made Marge so wonderful.
It may not have been quite as dark or bizarre as the first episode, but The Rooster Prince still maintains that macabre gallows humour and great performances that kicked it off. It's exceeding my expectations so far and I'm sincerely hoping it's a momentum that can be maintained right the way through.
You can reading Becky's review of the previous episode, The Crocodile's Dilemma, here.
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