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Fargo, Ep. 1.02, “The Rooster Prince” a strong, philosophic second hour

Fargo, Ep. 1.02, “The Rooster Prince” a strong, philosophic second hour

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Fargo Season 1, Episode 2 “The Rooster Prince”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

 

Underneath the murder non-mystery, the Biblical parallels, and the small-town atmosphere of Fargo is a study of human behavior. Specifically, an examination of the paradox of “good and evil”, exploring the inherent absurdities of this concept – and more importantly, how we identify ourselves with one side or the other – in the most innocent of civilization’s constructions: Anytown, USA. It’s all in the episode titles; like “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”, “The Rooster Prince” is a symbolic of some philosophic idea – in this case, a Jewish story about a prince who went insane, thinking he was a rooster.

The title is really reference to multiple characters, people in Bemidji who may adopt a certain persona, but certainly don’t look or act the role they’ve assumed. Some of these are played to comedic effect – the new police chief obsessed with a ridiculously superficial “drifter theory” leading the way there – and some of them are a little more dramatic and/or mysterious in nature (so where did Stavros Milos’ money come from, anyway?), but they’re all attached to the episode’s titular idea.

In a nutshell, “The Rooster Prince” is about the search for true self: when the afflicted prince removes his clothes and hides under the table, he is only “healed” when another man removes his clothes and assumes the identity of a rooster along with him. As the story continues, this “other man” (often written as a sage of some sorts) convinces the prince to slowly adopt human traits, like wearing pants again or eating human food. The man convinces the prince by playing to his base instincts and senses: when the man points out how cold it is in the barn they’re staying in, the Rooster Prince suddenly realizes he’d like to have a shirt to wear, regardless of whether it’s something a rooster is supposed to wear or not.

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Everyone in Fargo has their own sage of sorts; take Milos’s soon-to-be ex-wife, and her trainer Don Chumph, for example. When we meet Don, he’s convincing the ex-wife on how good her ass looks from her “difficult” workout, playing to her confidence and manipulating her perception of herself (if he thinks she looks good, who else wouldn’t think she looks good? He’s a personal trainer – he’s supposed to make her think she looks good, for gosh’s sake!). As Lorne notices, Don’s got plans of his own, attempting to swindle money out of an ugly divorce – he’s not quite the bronzed, enthusiastic bro he initially appears to be (again, there’s no fooling the Devil – why would you even try?).

Lucky Lester’s got two sages: on one shoulder, he’s got Lorne, pointing out just how absurd a human being he is for letting the universe shit on him. He convinces Lester – a man of perpetual inaction – that he’s a man of action, a man who is able to fix his washing machine (ok, maybe not) and murder his wife without a second’s thought. He encourages him to embrace the darkness inside himself – and on the other shoulder, there’s our new captain Bill Olsen, who all but tailors Lester’s scapegoat story for him, trying it on for size himself, and finding it simple, and cozy: Bill paints Lester as the victim to Lester, allowing him to act out his growing “frustration” with Molly’s harassment that eventually gets her booted from the case. In fact, Bill might be the ultimate prince: not only is he fooling himself with his “I’m the captain who knows it all” bit, but is trying to convince Molly and Lester of false truths.

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This isn’t really the case, of course: the real Rooster Prince is and always will be Lester, a man who is already learning to adopt the life of an innocent man when he is anything but. He knows how to feign concern (and thanks to the wonderful acting of Martin Freeman, we get a clear distinction of what faux anxiety and real anxiety feels like), and he makes his best attempt at crying and feeling bad about his wife’s death, without successfully shedding a single tear, letting out some lame moans before the cops arrived at his door, interrupting his “mourning” session. Even though we don’t see Lorne interact with Lester at any point, his lessons to him ring true: Lorne is a man who cuts through the bullshit of civilization and what’s assumed to be good and evil, instead taking the most pragmatic, straightforward and predatory approach to every conflict in life. Lorne accepts what Lester is unwilling to do: we’re predators parading around in sheep’s fur, pretending we’re quiet, amicable animals, when it’s really conflict and fear for survival that drives us.

You see, Fargo‘s small-town setting is not just an easy way to inject lots of regional, dialect-related humor into the show – ok it is, but it’s really so much more. Bemidji is, essentially, a snapshot of the most idyllic form of American life, where neighbors are friendly, all the kids get along, and nobody’s got anything interesting to talk about except the same old bullshit. In a way, it’s the Rooster Prince of the entire human race: and Fargo posits that once one of these happy little lemmings gets a taste of the adrenaline-soaked world of straddling the line between life and death (or controlling it, something society tells us is not in our hands), things slowly start going to shit.

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In a nutshell, Lester’s infected hand is symbolic of the show’s entire thesis on human behavior, complete with its Biblical tints: the shotgun pellet in Lester’s hand is the seed of evil planted by Lorne with his friendly eyes and shit-stirring smile, igniting the infection of Lester’s soul he seems to welcome with open arms (he’s not too concerned about the infected palm, after all, or he’d be in the ER, regardless of the legal implications). By challenging Lester’s foundation of who he was by offering him an opportunity for vengeance, he allowed Lester to scrape away the “good” person he prided himself on being his entire life, uncovering the darkness waiting to seduce and envelop him underneath. He placed that seed of doubt in Lester’s mind; and like the hand wound, that idea, that vision of seeing the Devil dressed as himself (again, the pilot’s imagery of Lester and Lorne wearing the same dark grey jacket, Lester with light shirt underneath, Lorne with dark) has implanted itself in Lester’s subconscious, where no “topical solution” is going to stop it from spreading.

Yes, Fargo might be a show overly concerned with the anger inside middle-aged white men (again: what dramatic show on television isn’t?) – but with such a rich visual and symbolic palette, “The Rooster Prince” builds on the strong foundation of “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” in fascinating ways. Add in the ingenious dialogue and consistently quirky and fully-formed (male) characters – like Adam Goldberg’s Mr. Numbers, my single favorite character on the show to this point – and you’ve got a very familiar show, but one exploring the themes inherent to the genre in many rewarding ways.

 

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Other thoughts/observations:

– a few of the many other Rooster Prince situations in this episode I enjoyed: Molly and her father, Mr. Numbers (and the silent Mr. Wrench) and the unfortunate man who fit Lorne’s general description – and my favorite, Lorne’s interaction with the mailman. Oh, and don’t forget Lorne convincing Milos of his talents: “Write anything you want” he tells him after asking Stavros to sign his book, “you’re the writer.”

– “Highly irregular is the time I found a human foot in a toaster. This is just odd.”

– Gus Grimley sits and talks to his daughter (played by Joey King), pointing out that sometimes, doing a good thing to stop a bad person can have bad consequences. Who (and why) the fuck is she talking to on that radio this week?

– Adam Goldberg has always been one of my favorite character actors, and Mr. Numbers is a dynamite role for him. He’s a lot of fun throughout the series – and gets a great introduction here, both with his sign language skills and his unique choice for disposing of unwanted bodies (itself a callback to the complicated, churning machinery of Fargo‘s iconic climax).

– we get our first look at Stavros Milos, a character whose importance will slowly come to light over the next few episodes.

– Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench were sent from Fargo to investigate Sam Hess’s death. Apparently they weren’t kidding about the “competitive world of regional trucking”.

– “I’ll need to see some ID.” “No.”

– next week’s episode is titled “A Muddy Road” – which means these reviews aren’t getting any less dense in the near future. You’ve been warned!

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— Randy