“Had a case once, back in ’79. I’d tell you the details, but it’d sound like I made ’em up. Madness, really.” “Bodies?” “Yes, sir. One after another. Probably, if you stacked ’em high, could’ve climbed to the second floor. Now, I saw something that year I ain’t ever seen, before or since. I’d call it animal. Except animals only kill for food. This was…Sioux Falls. Ever been?”
I don’t think I met anyone who was a fan of last year’s Fargo that had a single complaint. The show was not just a critical hit, but Noah Hawley’s writing captured the spirit of the Coen Brothers’ original film while also making sure to set it firmly in that same universe. Everyone involved brought their A game to the show, not the least of which includes leads Martin Freeman, Keith Carradine, Billy Bob Thornton, and especially Allison Tolman.
And the first season’s run felt self-contained enough that I didn’t think there’d even be a need for a second season, yet here we are. I mean, how do you improve on what was done so well? You build upon and expand the world while also presenting a tale that was hinted at in the first season. So while I was surprised, I’m not at all disappointed with what we got here as the season kicks off to a big start. This is “Waiting for Dutch.”
The season begins with the MGM logo, for some reason, as we start on Massacre at Sioux Falls, starring Ronald Reagan and Betty LaPlage. Sure, I’ll go with it. An actor and some crew members wait anxiously for a man named Gil to put in the arrows. Jenny confirms this, but is sent to find the specific time. There’s also talk of this Ronald Reagan guy and what he’s like, and it turns out that he’s a class act.
Oh, and the set for this film? Word is it may be the actual battlefield, yeah. The crew member thinks that 100 of the actor’s people died in this battle, but the actor, turns out, is from New Jersey.
And then we cut to Minnesota, 1979. As before, at the request of the survivors, names have been changed as we cut through various footage. We’re introduced to two members of the Gerhardts, a crime family. One, Dodd, played by Jeffrey Donovan, and a companion, Hanzee, played by Zahn McClarnon, wait impatiently for the arrival of the youngest brother, Rye, played by Kieran Culkin. Not only is Rye late, but he doesn’t have the money and he didn’t give it to Ollie, like he claims.
Everyone else has paid but Rye, too. Even if he needed the money, Dodd reminds him that you earn for the family, not yourself. But Dodd is the eldest, then Bear, and that’s the throne. Dodd tells Rye that he’s a Gerhardt, but to Rye, that’s like Jupiter saying that Pluto is a planet, too. I don’t get it, either. Rye has ambitions. He doesn’t want to do bullshit collections like some chump, but everybody earns. That’s the law.
Dodd heads off, telling Rye to have the money by tomorrow. If Dodd has to wait again, he’ll cleave Rye’s skull.
We follow Dodd home, where we see his parents: Floyd, played by Jean Smart, and Otto, played by Michael Hogan, going over expenses for the month. But there’s a problem- it’s light. Dodd enters and reclaims his seat from his brother, Bear, played by Angus Sampson.
Yes, Floyd confirms, they’re short, even though the transport dollars went up. It’s the local business- gambling, drugs, whores…all that fun stuff. Neither of the brothers take blame for this, since they paid, but not Rye. Even without his money, though, the family shouldn’t be this short.
There’s another outfit from the south, and Dodd promises that he’s taking care of it. Otto, the iron first of God that he is, wants this matter handled…until he gets a sudden sensation that we call a stroke and keels over and onto the floor.
We then pick up with Rye, who heads by Carriage Typewriters to speak with Skip, played by Mike Bradecich, who is in the middle of speaking with a man who is owed money for his work. Rye needs to speed things up, so he make the logical and safe move of pulling out a gun.
Skip ushers the man out, saying that if his check doesn’t come in the mail, stop by and he’ll write him another one. Skip is worried that the man could call a cop, but Rye isn’t afraid. Guys like that are just big on the outside.
Anyway, Skip shows Rye the miracle contraption he came here to see: a typewriter. But not just any old typewriter. A self-correcting IBM Selectric II electric typewriter with patented high-speed type ball. And they’re not just for women anymore, yeah. And Skip and Rye are the only distributors in the Midwest region…assuming Rye is willing to forgive certain debts owed to his family because of gambling.
Now Rye needs to play his part and get the judge to unfreeze the accounts so the two can start making money.
Following this, Rye spies on and then follows a woman all the way to The Waffle Hut in Luverne, Minnesota. Inside, a waitress, played by Laura Zaluski, serves him at the counter while he watches the judge.
When the restaurant empties except for the employees, Rye confronts the judge, played by Ann Cusack, but she shuts him down before he can make his offer. Whatever he’s selling, she ain’t buying. Rye does manage to say that the judge needs to change her mind on a case. Or? Or she’ll find out, Rye says, as this isn’t one of those check “A” or “B” scenarios.
But then the judge starts telling Rye about the story of Job. The devil came to God and made a bet that he could make Job, this devout man, change his mind and curse God’s name. God said that the devil would fail, but the devil went to work anyway, killing Job’s herds, slaying his fields, and plaguing Job with boils.
Even still, Job’s mind remained unchanged. So, the judge asks, if the devil couldn’t change Job’s mind, what makes Rye think he’ll change hers?
As Rye talks about a man who needs to get his hand on some typewriters, the judge pulls out a can of bug repellant. This can go two ways, she says. The man can get out or she’ll squash him like a bug. Rye doesn’t leave, so he gets a face full of bug spray.
In response, Rye takes out his gun and shoots not just the judge, but the cook and waitress as well. The judge isn’t killed by this one bullet and manages to stab Rye in the back, but Rye finishes her off with a few more shots. After composing himself and removing the steak knife from his back, Rye pilfers the cash register until he hears a bell.
The waitress, with every bit of strength she has, hobbles out of the restaurant. Rye fires but, to his surprise and my amusement, he’s out of bullets. But he quickly reloads and shoots the waitress in the head.
His dark deed done, Rye is soon distracted by some bright lights floating in the night sky. In fact, he’s so distracted that he doesn’t realize the oncoming car until it’s too late for him to get out of the way. The driver, instead of doing the sensible thing and getting out to survey the damage, soon drives again as if nothing had happened.
After that intense sequence, we cut to a family home. Dinner’s finished on the table, the TV is still on, and a father reads bedtime stories to his daughter while the wife answers the phone. This father, turns out, is Lou Solverson, played by Patrick Wilson.
His wife, Betsy, played by Cristin Milioti, tells him that the phone call is for him- a murder case. So Lou is forced to cut short his bedtime story with his daughter, Molly, played by Raven Stewart.
So Lou receives word of the triple homicide at the Waffle Hut and prepares to head out, but not before making sure that Betsy is doing well after her thing today.
Lou arrives at the restaurant and meets the man who called in about the killings. Hell, this man just came by for some blueberry waffles. He was nice enough to put his coat on the waitress. It seemed only right.
Inside the diner, Lou finds the other bodies, as well as the cleaned out cash register. Not long after this, Lou’s partner, Hank Larsson, played by Ted Danson, enters. Hank recognizes the dead chef as Henry Blanton- got the single-season touchdown record in 10th grade that still stands today. Nothing on the waitress since she’s not as famous, but the car outside has North Dakota license plates.
Hank asks about Nancy and Lou informs him that she’s doing well, yeah. He got her a kit of recipe cards. So every night, the Solverson family eats delicacies of the world. She even put a soufflé on the table last night- perfectly good casserole- and lit it on fire with a kitchen match. This reminds Lou that Hank is invited to dinner tomorrow night.
Outside, the two follow the tire tracks, though connecting this to the shooting would be jumping to a conclusion. Based on the number of bodies, there may be one car too many in the parking lot. Lou replays the scenario: the shooter has a wound from the steak knife, two blood trails led out of the restaurant, one of the waitress, and the other to the road. Why not take his own car? Unclear at this time.
Then Hank notices a shoe in the tree. As for this investigation, it’s a local matter. And, of course, any help the State police can provide. Lou then bids Hank farewell, promising to meet him tomorrow night at six.
At a butcher shop, Ed Blomquist, played by Jesse Plemons, prepares to head out for the night. Noreen Vanderslice, played by Emily Haine, is more focused on her book. Bud Jorgenlen, played by Eric Keenleyside, gives Ed some meat to take home. Fella by the name of Boolie Hendricks paid, but never picked it up.
We then cut to bingo! B8, to be specific. Karl Weathers, played by Nick Offerman, speaks about the Military Industrial Complex and conspiracy theories. His companion, Sony Greer, played by Dan Beirne, isn’t buying it or just uninformed. Lou Solverson joins them, and he’s also familiar with Eisenhower’s speech.
But then, both he and Karl have both been to war. Lou explains that he’s in uniform because of the murder. Though Hank thinks it’s botched robbery, Karl thinks the powers that be want us to believe that.
When Lou shares that Betsy had her chemotherapy today, Karl is upset. It’s unacceptable that a woman in her prime with a daughter should endure that, but if John McCain could hold out for five and a half years against Viet Cong thumbscrews, Betsy can beat this cancer bullshit in her sleep.
Ed arrives at home for the night. In the kitchen, cooking up a storm, is his wife, Peggy, played by Kirsten Dunst.
Back at House Solverson, when Lou arrives home, Betsy asks about the murders. Lou, after responding that Betsy’s father called, proceeds to drink milk straight from the carton, even though they have glasses. Also, young Molly made an ashtray for her father, even though Lou doesn’t smoke. It never hurts to start.
We cut back to Ed and Peggy having dinner and talk about their day. Peggy is preparing for a seminar that her friend, Constance, is taking her to: Lifespring. It’s supposed to help her re-examine old reflex patterns that keep her life from working. Sure, the two are doing great, but Peggy wants this for her as a person. Well, Ed mentions Bud asked him if he’s interested in taking over the butcher shop since Bud may be retiring at the end of the year.
Wouldn’t that be great? And maybe Peggy could take over the salon one day, unless they had a litter of kids. They’re trying, Peggy admits, but it takes time. There’s only one way to make a baby, Ed acknowledges, and they tried last weekend.
A thud in the distance gets Ed’s attention. Peggy pretends to accidentally knock over her glass of water. All of a sudden, she wants to try that baby making thing right now. But Ed is too distracted by the noises and heads to the garage.
He finds their damaged car, complete with blood on the hood and a gaping hole in the windshield. Well, didn’t Peggy tell him? She kinda hit a deer. Well, insurance should cover it. But Ed hears more noises. What, did she bring the deer home, too?
Ed checks in the darkness and finds a man. Rye rushes at Ed and a fight breaks out. In his tired state, Rye does manage to put up a fight, but Ed ultimately stabs him and puts him down for good.
Peggy tries to explain herself, as she honestly thought he was dead. The episode then flashes back to earlier that evening when Peggy struck Rye outside the diner. She indeed did get out to check, but soon got back in the car and drove home, even as Rye bled into the car. As for why she didn’t go to the cops or hospital, Peggy’s defense is that the man ran into the road. What was she supposed to do?
Realizing that people will be looking for this man, Ed still wants to call the police, but Peggy looks at the big picture here: she hit a man- hit and run. And Ed stabbed him with a gardening tool. The cops won’t believe whatever they say. Peggy assures Ed that she was careful, as she took the back way home.
Yes, a man is dead, but this is why Peggy believes that the two of them have to clean this up and tell people that she hit a deer. They’re gonna have a life here, gosh darn it, and start themselves a family. If word gets out, all they want is over. They could go to jail and then there’s no shop, family, or kids.
Back at House Solverson, Lou reflects while Betsy reads. The two decide to turn in as the Solversons bid each other a good night.
The Gerhardt family waits at Otto’s bedside…
Ed and Peggy bury the body in their ice box.
We then cut to a shady presentation in Kansas City regarding a Northern Expansion Strategy. Leading this strategy is Joe Bulo, played by Brad Garrett. He explains to a mystery figure that the main component of their Northern expansion strategy involves the absorption of the Gerhardt Family Syndicate, headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota.
The Gerhardt family controls trucking and distribution for the entire Northern Midwest. Otto took over for his father, Dieter. Not in the report, but of relevance to this meeting, Otto had a stroke at the family compound in North Dakota. So who is in charge?
Well, there’s Floyd, and she’s tough, but she’s a girl. All three sons want their shot at the throne, which the boys in Research think provides a tactical opportunity for them to move aggressively to acquire or absorb their operation. And if they can’t, and the current business owners resist?
And season begin. This is a good start to the season and continuation of Fargo’s story. It sets us in familiar territory with a small town and small town folks who find their lives about to be upended by tragic circumstances that they feel they can control, but are much bigger than they imagined.
Creator and writer Noah Hawley penned this premiere and he shows just as much respect and affinity for the Coen Brothers’ film here as he did with the first season. The dialogue feels authentic to what people in a small town would say. There are a lot of anecdotes and stories told by characters that tend to just end, but they don’t feel like abrupt pauses. The story keeps moving and the conversations can resume later.
A theme I glimpsed that’s been carried over from the first season is that of good versus evil, and the temptation to go against our natural instinct and do wrong because we’ve been wronged. Temptation can be powerful, but if you have the will to outlast it, you’ve proven to the forces of darkness that nothing can weaken your resolve.
That’s why Job, despite everything the devil threw at him, never once even considered cursing God’s name, and that’s why God saw him as a most faithful servant.
When we serve a higher authority, we hope to be rewarded for our efforts. Those rewards may not come when we want them, but trying to force them to happen could spell disaster. Rye was that kind of opportunistic man looking to make something of himself. He was the youngest brother, wasn’t great at money management, and wouldn’t get a shot at the throne. So he took a shot outside of the family business and got in too deep, leading to reckless actions that resulted in the deaths of four people, including himself.
We weren’t given many details of Rye’s personal situation, and that’s fine because, at the end of the day, he was part of a larger story. Like Lester Nygaard, Rye is motivated by desperation. Kieran Culkin is good with what material he’s given. He looks similar to Steve Buscemi in the original film, but that could be coincidence. I’m so used to Culkin from Scott Pilgrim that it was a nice change of pace to see him in something radically different.
Family struggles were prevalent in this premiere. There is no perfect family unit here. Sure, we don’t have husbands and wives clawing at each other, but what innocence we see is a cover for something bubbling under the surface. The Gerhardt family is on the verge of unraveling due to a power trip and is unaware of larger forces at work ready to liquidate them.
Ed and Peggy are not just having trouble making a baby, but their futures aren’t in sync. Ed wants to take over the butcher shop and sees Peggy pursuing a route that he wants. But as we see, she wants something different in order to better herself. And this seemingly ordinary couple finds themselves wrapped up in a larger crime now that they’ve covered up a murder. Nothing yet indicates that Ed and Peggy are inherently bad people at heart.
I mean, Peggy should have gone to the authorities and had the matter solved there, but by covering it up and bringing the body home, she got her husband involved. Because they could both get in trouble, Peggy aligns her priorities with Ed’s so they operate on one accord. If one of them gets carted off to prison, then there’s no clear future for either of them. Going forward, if they aren’t careful, there still may not be a clear future for them.
The closest we get to a family with any sort of stability are the Solversons, but we know they’re going through a rough patch right now with Betsy going through chemotherapy. Even still, she and Lou make the most of what they have.
The fact that Hank is Betsy’s father is something a lot of shows would set up early and potentially have as a conflict with the husband, but here, by the time we know this, we’ve already been introduced to Hank. The reveal of him being Lou’s father-in-law feels like an afterthought, which I like because the show doesn’t shine a spotlight on that.
I like Patrick Wilson in this role and he makes for a good Lou Solverson. He’s not trying to do exactly what Keith Carradine did in the first season, but these two don’t feel like different characters. And this younger Lou is just as sharp on details as his daughter would later be.
Much like the first season, this new season thus far doesn’t feel the need to remind you that it’s in the same universe as the film. In fact, the Solversons are the only link we have right now to the first season, which many, myself included, believe will lead to a major payoff from the first season. Back then, Lou told Malvo about a case in Sioux Falls, 1979- a case where the bodies could be stacked high enough to reach the second floor.
Now we’re in that time period, but even without that connection, this season is strong enough to stand on its own. It retains the dark humor and spirit of the Coen Brothers, and while there’s not a lot of violence, what violent scenes we do get are intensified by how sudden and graphic they are.
And then you’ve got little quirks like the lights in the sky or the random shoe. Whose is that? Will it factor into the investigation at all? And is the Military Industrial Complex at play here?
“Waiting for Dutch” was a strong premiere and return for Fargo. Whether in direction, writing, violence, questions raised, and overall consistent tone and feel, it excelled in every area and made for an effective start. It set up the mystery and introduced some of the players involved, but, for the most part, kept them separated while Lou Solverson prepares to get to the bottom of this murder investigation. Welcome back, Fargo.