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Fargo, Ep. 2.02, “Before the Law”

Fargo, Ep. 2.02, “Before the Law”

Fargo, Season 2, Episode 2, “Before the Law”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Noah Hawley
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on FX

“Before the Law” really feels like Fargo digging its teeth into season two: While the season premiere was a wonderful re-introduction to everything that makes Fargo the amazing, unique unicorn it is, “Before the Law” dives much farther into the world of Luverne, Minnesota and the people inhabiting it. Some of these come from the smallest of notes, like a brief glimpse of sweet Betsy alone in her chemotherapy chair, or the sight of Dodd’s victim out in the hay shed. However, none of these moments hold a light to the arrival of Mike Milligan, who arrives on the scene like a flash of lightning, immediately energizing any scene he’s in, be it of comedic or dramatic intent.

See, Mike Milligan is a man stuck between the old world and the new. He understands his job places him at the forefront of the plight of society—but seeing as civilization is undeniably headed for a downfall in his eyes, this isn’t exactly a hypocritical position to take. He’s an active participant in the world going to hell, though immune to the rhythms of its chaos, which makes him the perfect yang to Hank Larsson’s yin, two men who’ve seen enough of the world to know how low it’s willing to sink, and thus, can’t really be blown away by anything.

His presence feels like the catalyst of season two. Sure, Rye’s killing spree and subsequent death is the event that brings all these desolate threads of story together, but Mike Milligan’s approach to the changing post-Vietnam world feels directly aligned with the show’s eccentric, extremely dark personality, a style that is accentuated heavily in this episode, from homage shots calling back to the iconic wood chipper (this time, it’s a meat grinder), to the tense exchange Mike and Hank exchange in the middle of nowhere, “calmly and rationally, while the world around them goes nuts. Unlike Malvo’s sense of overbearing evil that can’t be controlled by any earthly presence, Mike feels like a man swept up in the same cultural wave as everyone else—difference is, he’s just not the type to be phased by such things.

Mike’s introduction is the backbone of the episode and from there, Fargo begins laying out its various story threads for the season, chief among them the power struggle forming in the Gerhardt family, and the Kansas City syndicate bearing down on them in the form of Mike and his two Jewish hitmen, who are completely silent (again, another homage to season one—this time around, however, neither of them speak). Dodd wants control of the family, and parades himself around like a spoiled little child when his mother tells him no, that he needs to stay in his place and let her handle the family’s transition before she hands over what’s left to the eldest son. Knowing there is a massacre in Sioux Falls waiting to happen, it’s clear this “transition” isn’t going to go well, either for the family business or the operation in K.C. trying to apply corporate buyout tactics to the illegal drug trade.

The most ominous moment of the episode, however, comes from Hank Larsson, while sitting on the front of the Waffle Hut steps with Lou. The two of them talk about war, what people see over there, and what happens when that war never actually ends, and how that affects the people coming home. In World War II, there were clear winners and losers: Vietnam only brought the unsettling feeling that we went and killed thousands of people (including a lot of children) for absolutely no reason, since there was no tangible evidence upon returning home that all that violence meant something. It’s a very Myth of Sisyphus moment for both characters (spoiler: that’s the title of next week’s episode), discussing the moments they realized the absurdity of existence, be it the odd similarities in two different suicides or the same baffled looks on men’s faces as they’re blown away by a stranger’s bullet.

And of course, there’s the Blomquist family, who are turning out to be the comedic centerpieces of the season. “Before the Law” digs into the blossoming, self-serving nightmare Peggy is becoming, as she gets more and more in tune with her dark side (Star Wars: as relevant in 1979 as it is in 2015). First she steals toilet paper (by the CASE) from her salon, which her aggressively feminist (and very lesbian) boss knows about; then she casually pulls in her husband as her willing accomplice, doing all the heavy lifting for her—and of course, she’s letting her boss fill her ear about how ugly and misogynistic the phrase “we” is. Peggy wanted to be a little devious, and now she’s getting a full taste of it, or at least, letting her husband get a full taste of it while she walks around, high and shaking from the adrenaline of knowing she’s getting away with something (or maybe just the thrill of doing it; clearly she doesn’t care too much about being caught, given how things play out with her unnamed boss).

There’s so much to love about “Before the Law”, I could write thousands of words around it; it honestly looks like this season is going to be even better than the last, a slightly larger story building to something as otherworldly as a western showdown in a fucking blizzard, or fish rain, or those gleaming lights in the sky (which in the premiere, was just a Get Well Soon! balloon floating around in the night air, reflecting light and catching Rye’s attention as he got slammed by Peggy’s vehicle). With an iconic character introduction and a lot of world building, Fargo‘s second season is off to the races, and I can’t wait to see where this shitshow goes.

Additional Thoughts

  • Why can’t Cristin Miloti get some roles of women who aren’t on the edge of death? First How I Met Your Mother, then this—though I think Fargo will treat her much better.
  • Like the knot of monkey bread he’s eating, Dodd is just a part of the Gerhardt family, and the more he isolates himself from the rest of the family loaf, the easier he’ll be to pick off and eat.
  • Joe Bulo does not understand, or enjoy, Mike’s attempt at a lobster metaphor.
  • That hanging tennis ball is a hilarious image every single time I see it. Just captures the domestication of the Blomquists perfectly, and how empty it feels until there’s a big gaping, bloody hole sitting behind it to bring it some perspective.
  • “Is this why our once great nation is going down the crapper?”
  • The scene where Hank pulls over Mike and the brothers is nearly six minutes long, and as tense as anything I’ve watched on television this year.
  • The score on this show is amazing. Both the original music and the use of Burl Ives “One Hour Ahead of the Posse”. There couldn’t be a more perfect fit for the Blomquists on this show.