[This is a review of Fargo episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Now that Fargo has set up the basic structure of the series and introduced most of the key players and their relationships, the story is afforded an early opportunity to better explore the dynamics at play within them. This pertains especially to the idea of Bemidji and the surrounding areas being thrown into a state of imbalance by the chaotic arrival of Lorne Malvo, who continues to blow through the Upper Midwest like a skinny, bearded squall, perfectly content being the only one finding humor in his antics, let alone the chaos that erupts around them.
After upending the town of Bemidji and quickly leaving it in his rearview, Malvo is off in Duluth this time around, investigating a blackmail plot against Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt), the Supermarket King of Minnesota. Malvo's initial inquiry into the situation introduces Stavros' soon-to-be ex-wife Helena (Allegra Fulton) and her incriminatingly bronzed personal trainer Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton).
But his investigation also puts him at odds with Wally Semenchko (Barry Flatman), Stavros' head of security, who stops by Malvo's hotel to tell him to back off and winds up with an incredibly unsubtle, non-verbal assessment of what Lorne thinks of Wally – or anyone else, from what we can tell at this point.
Meanwhile, the chaotic void left in Bemidji by Malvo's exit is promptly filled by Adam Goldberg's Mr. Numbers and his hearing impaired, fringe-loving associate Mr. Wrench, played by Russell Harvard. The two have been tasked by the unseen "they" in Fargo to punish the person or persons responsible for killing Sam Hess.
The pair's investigation sees them quickly land on Lenny, a drunken misanthrope with a big mouth and an even bigger knife hidden under his jacket. Despite his physical resemblance to Malvo, Hess associate Bruce Gold (Brian Markinson) figures he's not the guy and Lenny simply winds up under the ice of one of Minnesota's ten thousand lakes.
The arrival of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench hints at the larger world of Fargo and, apparently, in Fargo, that was briefly suggested by Malvo's phone call late in the premiere. The scale of Noah Hawley's storyline is still being established, as 'The Rooster Prince' also finds time to check in on Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) and his daughter Greta (Joey King), while the two enjoy some fast food and a conversation about the concept of right and wrong.
The whole thing gets a bit tricky once Gus suggests there's "more than one right thing" in terms of handling certain types of situations or people, and sometimes he has to put being a dad before being a cop. The whole exchange is tempered by Gus' neighbor's opening her robe to him as he watches her from his bedroom window. So far, the most distinct thing about Gus is the interesting gray area he seems to find himself most of the time.
It's a strong second episode that works in terms of both breadth and depth. As interesting as the new characters and avenues being explored are, the show is unsurprisingly at its best when it's focused on ground zero – that is: Lester Nygaard and the-should-have-been-promoted Molly Solverson. Here, grief becomes an interesting component of the Lester/Molly dynamic as Lester encounters a contradiction within himself by briefly (and privately) grieving over the wife he killed, while still doing whatever he can to avoid being punished for it.
Meanwhile, Molly finds solidarity with the recently widowed Ida (Julie Ann Emery) regarding the investigation into Vern's murder, which Bill stubbornly believes to be the work of a drifter - or drifters - who also killed Pearl.
Interestingly, neither Ida nor Molly express grief outright (an extension of that Minnesota niceness?), nor do they directly confront Bill on his poor instincts as a lawman or his tendency to let reverence for the past dictate the present – even allowing it to stall Molly's interrogation of Lester.
Aside from the great performances and the gorgeous presentation, what makes the episode so strong is the suggestion that there's something greater going on than just murder and funny accents. Bill's regard for things of the past, like grape Hubba Bubba, and Lester's inability to remain conscious at the sight of blood, hints at an old, outmoded style of thinking, or that the ground around Bemidji isn't the only thing that's frozen and seemingly unchallengeable.
Fargo continues next Tuesday with 'A Muddy Road' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Chris Large/FX