Fargo, Season 2, Episode 1, “Waiting for Dutch”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Michael Uppendahl and Randall Einhorn
Airs Mondays at 10pm (ET) on FX
With the first season of Fargo, Noah Hawley and company did something unheard of in television: they took an iconic American film and turned it into a better TV show, adapting the dark, twisted humor of the 1995 Coen Brothers classic into a show that both felt abundantly familiar, and wildly original. Fast forward 16 months from the end of “Morton’s Fork”, and we’ve finally arrived at the highly-anticipated second season premiere, and all signs in the early episodes suggest Fargo is not only back, but better than ever (for more thoughts on the first four episodes, check out JJ Perkins’ terrific season preview).
“Waiting for Dutch” opens with an iconic Jimmy Carter speech, one that re-examined what American identity meant in a post-Vietnam world, where the Greatest Generation were watching their sons return from war a lot more fucked up than they did, facing a world where gas was scarce, the economy was in a downturn, and a decade of social unrest and inter-generational dissonance had led to a general disillusion with the American government. Jimmy Carter’s speech includes this important line:
“We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and the loss of a unity of purpose.”
If there’s a theme to Fargo‘s second season, it’s found in the ideologies underlining that idea. Fargo is about extraordinary moments that redefine ordinary lives stuck in stasis, and instead of a single Lester Nygaard running around, “Waiting for Dutch” presents us with a number of people living out their lower middle-class fantasies, most desperately searching for a change, or at least a clear path forward. Nobody more so than Rye Gerhardt, youngest son of the Gerhardt crime family, a short, dim man searching for respect and prosperity in the family business, a major organized crime operation run by their father, Otto.
The first half of “Waiting for Dutch” mostly sticks with Rye, as he’s admonished by his older brother Dodd (“Everybody earns”, he snarls at his brother) and then tries to release the frustration from the constant emasculation he feels in the world. He pulls a gun on someone thinking about buying a typewriter (Rye’s plan to make some side money) and then later, uses that gun to great effect when he murders a judge, a waitress, and a line cook in the local Waffle Hut, his murder spree only ending when housewife and blooming feminist Peggy Blomquist runs him over and drives home with his head bleeding on her leather bucket seat.
Peggy is the show’s second Lester, and her husband Ed the unfortunate third, and since Ed finishes off Rye’s worst day ever with some stabbing in the garage, they’re left as the centerpiece for moral corruption this season. And this is where the identity of Fargo begins to re-surface: The ambiguity of their conversation immediately preceding Ed’s discovery of Rye is the ideological backbone of Fargo. Disinterested in having children, Peggy and Ed’s dreams for the future are in wild dissonance, the two of them ignoring the ugly elephant in the room and letting tension build in their relationship as passively-aggresively as Rye with his older brothers. And when a primal animal feels threatened and domesticated, it’s only a matter of time before they strike out, throwing themselves and everything around them into chaos.
Peggy and Ed hiding Rye’s body is the first step toward this: Without the Devil around to help clean things up, the moral corruption of the Blomquists is telling. Peggy convinces Ed to play along when she tells him his future as meat shop owner and proud father (two things she could really care less about, focused on “actualizing” her own life over Hamburger Helper and tater tots) would be over before it even began if anyone found out what happened. And that’s probably right, though now, considering Rye’s place in the larger context of the story, that premonition is going to come true in the most horrible, ironically hilarious ways possible (I can only assume—after all, this is Fargo).
Rye’s death, like the death of Lester’s wife, is the catalyzing moment of the story and from there, Fargo paints a world that’s ready for change, closing on a crime syndicate in Kansas City ready to take down the Gerhardt family empire, reeling after the sudden stroke of patriarch Otto and the disappearance of Rye when the business needs him the most. Peggy and Ed—like Lou Solverson and his father in law, Hank Larsson, the cops investigating The Waffle House shootout—likely have no idea what they’re walking into, where a generations-old crime family finds itself at a crossroads, right before a corporate-minded crime syndicate heads north to acquire and/or liquidate the assets of the family empire, which finds itself in a power triangle between the three remaining members of family.
Alas, moral corruption is the name of the game again on Fargo; however, with the wonderfully-applied world of 1979 encompassing the story, the show gains a new cultural cache even its first season couldn’t approach. “Waiting for Dutch” is an impeccable introduction to those ideas, be it the shifting socio-cultural climate, the hangover of the war for ‘Nam vets, or the rise of second-wave feminism. There couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to Fargo‘s second season, which looks to be as hilariously depraved and impeccably written as the first season, albeit with the added cultural pathos of how the world of 1979 bled (often literally) into the world of Fargo (the film) and into the present day, where the crime syndicate still rules, the Solverson family line is intact, and America still hasn’t figured out her purpose in the modern world (beyond more war and corporations, that is—two themes neatly introduced within the hour). In other words, Fargo is back like a motherfuckin’ rocket, and better than ever.
- I wonder if Creative Typewriters is the storefront location for a certain insurance company 40 years later.
- The judge Rye shoots talks about God and the Devil making a bet for Job’s soul before getting murdered, which immediately made me think of when it rained fish in season one. Then Rye went outside, saw a UFO, and I got excited.
- Lots of things are stuck in this episode: Ed and Peggy’s relationship, the money spigot for Rye’s business (also Rye in Peggy’s windshield), and the blood clot in Otto’s head that kills him.
- The theme of red on white (the show’s visualization of ultimate moral corruption) finds beautiful new heights with the image of the judge’s blood mixing and swirling with her milkshake.
- Love the split-screen device this episode uses. It not only presents the parallels in individual perspectives, but also isolates characters in their own head space (like when Betsy stands alone in the room next to Molly’s, listening to Lou read her a story and clinging onto each moment).
- “Well, this is a deal.” Ted Danson is the fucking man.
- If you listen to Lou read to Molly, you’ll hear him surprised to find the word “ejaculated” in the children’s book. “Well, this is a funny one, isn’t it?” he says to little, adorable Molly.
- Nick Offerman appears as conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers, a character I can’t wait to see more of.
- “Didn’t I tell ya? I hit a deer.” Nice try, Peggy.
- The KC syndicate is certainly overlooking Floyd Gerhardt: “She’s tough. But she’s a girl.”
- Milk does taste different in a glass!
- Ed’s inability to grasp the basic tenants of feminism is hilarious.
- Love the conversation between Lou and Hank about Betsy’s cooking. It’s little touches like these that make Fargo‘s world feel so alive.
- Welcome back to Fargo reviews! I’m thrilled to write about this show again.