[Review] - Fargo, Season 1 Episode 2, "The Rooster Prince"

Courtesy of MGM Television

Last week, I was as impressed as I was confounded by Fargo. Impressed because of the way the series was able to take the Coen style and craft an excellent homage to the brother's work. Confounded by the completeness of the episode, leaving nine left to head in a direction I couldn't immediately discern. Not that that is a bad thing; I love it when a series is able to pull off a change in direction, and isn't weighted down by drawing out a plot that can't sustain itself. So, in a lot of ways, this second episode is the one that Fargo needs to pull off, to create an identity for itself, and establish some forward momentum. Unfortunately, they stumbled slightly on dismount, and that's going to cost them points.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that lack common sense but make up for in self esteem.

My biggest complaint about the premiere was that they crammed what should have been two episodes worth of material into a single extended pilot. The pilot was so interested in setting up a sequence of events, that many of the characters weren't fully developed to the extent that was necessary in order to pull off this second episode. Here, the writers shifted gears, and the events of last week are looming large over folks, but the characters become the focus. We're expected to follow them on an emotional journey now, but because we weren't intimately familiar with them before the slaughter happened, it all feels slightly disassociated.

For instance, Lester. He's undergoing intense emotional trauma, as he attempts to maintain composure in the aftermath of his actions. But between his mood swings and attempting to dodge sensible questions from the police, he mostly comes off as a bad guy. He is a selfish coward who did a horrible thing and is on the path to getting away with it. Because we didn't get to know Lester as well before he bludgeoned his wife to death with a hammer, it's nearly impossible to feel sympathy for the guy. We saw a glimpse of a life that didn't turn out the way he was hoping, but even for a villain protagonist, he isn't that appealing. Certainly not as appealing as Malvo, who continues to be the show's best attribute.

Last week I identified Malvo as a corruption, a kindred spirit to John Goodman's Charlie in Barton Fink. This week brought Malvo back down to earth, presenting him less a force of nature and more as just a really weird guy with a way for words and a tendency towards direct confrontation. Which made me realize, as Lester was running away from Molly in the pharmacy parking lot, that Malvo had nothing to do with Chief Thurman's murder. Malvo's fetish-like listening of the phone-call Lester made to him that night establishes that he really did call him. But Malvo showed up so quickly, acted so briskly, and disappeared into literal thin air.

Everything that happened after Thurman entered the Nygaard home happened exclusively between Lester and Thurman. Malvo was never there. Lester shot the chief, and he imagined that it was Malvo, his post-trauma brain trying to break itself as softly as possible. The key, I think, is the single buck-shot wound in his hand. No one else has seen this wound. He keeps it hidden, and the hospital appears not to have tended to it at all (they certainly would have noticed it while he was unconscious). This wound will continue to fester and rot as his guilt increases, the corruption that Malvo represented in the pilot having moved into his hand and gone bad. That wound will drive him crazy, Tell-Tale Heart style.

Elsewhere, the show actually became a television series, rather than a short film. More of what happened in this episode felt like on going stuff, rather than one-off events. Two representatives of Fargo appeared, wonderfully played by Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard, to hunt down the man who killed Sam Hess. With Molly chasing Lester, and these two civilized goons chasing Malvo, it's only a matter of time before these two lines cross, and the show hasn't been shy about spilling blood. Malvo got on with his life, taking a blackmailing chase at the behest of Oliver Platt, who is always welcome. But the story is oddly and harshly divorced from the rest of the narrative. Malvo is the most interesting character, trapped in the least interesting facet of the story. Which is just cruel to the audience.

The show suddenly needs to forge it's own identity. The aping of the Coens worked last week in isolation, but this week, with everything muted slightly, it seemed very much like pale imitation. The character's quirks were toned down slightly, the absurdity of the environment was reduced to cookie-cutter character type (another oblivious wife and 'touched' son). The direction, the production, the writing all seemed very Coen-lite rather than anything that has it's own voice and identity. To the point where it was grating. Bob Odenkirk's character is frustratingly obtuse, the sort of character that lacks the spark that makes them tolerable. As if someone had cobbled together all of the worst Coen characters, stripped them of their intrigue and meaning, and hoped they'd play just as well. Hopefully, by next week, the show will settle into its own existence, without having the need to siphon an identity off the memory of the film any more. 
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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