Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo Episode 2

FX Networks

As noted in my review of the pilot last week, the second episode of Fargo promised some more references to various Coen brothers movies, namely Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading. The former was in the form of Oliver Platt‘s “Supermarket King” character. He owns a chain of stores called Phoenix Farms and wrote a book called “American Phoenix.” I guess showrunner Noah Hawley didn’t want to go too on the nose by naming him Stavros Phoenix, though. Instead, his last name is Milos. As for the latter homage, there wasn’t much to it other than Glenn Howerton playing a personal trainer. Meanwhile, there were allusions to The Hudsucker Proxy (the man scraping the name off the police chief’s office door) and I’m gonna say A Serious Man, as the scene with Colin Hanks spying on his orthodox neighbor undressing reminded me of a scene from that film.

The Easter eggs are fun but also a little distracting, particularly because I’m looking for more in every scene and wondering whom each newly introduced character might be based on. Has there been a deaf guy in any of the Coens’ movies, for instance, or is deaf actor Russell Harvard playing a wholly original part? Was the blackmail note a direct reference to The Big Lebowski or is it supposed to be just the stereotypical ransom sort seen in countless movies? The hunt might have been more consuming this time, because there wasn’t a whole lot going on in a focused manner in this episode, titled “The Rooster Prince.” We met some new people, got to know Hanks’s officer Grimly and his daughter (Joey Kinga little more, Martin Freeman‘s Lester weaseled through his interrogations by Deputy Molly (Allison Tolman) and Billy Bob Thornton‘s Malvo took a new assignment — and a dump.

More than the eggs (mostly my personal issue, and maybe in part to do with all the actual Easter eggs eaten a few days ago), the big thing that bothered me in this episode was the reminder flashbacks. These are brief cuts to moments we’ve already seen previously as a pointed reminder of something we need to realize is important to the present moment. I tuned in just late enough to not know if FX runs a “previously on…” reel ahead of Fargo episodes, but even if it doesn’t, the two flashes back to the pilot — one showing how Lester got a Macbeth-ian hole in his hand and one showing Grimly when he pulled over Malvo — were unnecessary. And yet they were still far more excusable than the reminder of something that happened in this very episode, as if we wouldn’t make the connection between brownish markings on a piece of paper and the bronzer incident a few scenes prior.

Fargo isn’t a show that should be so passively watched that it requires hand holding in the form of that sort of device. It’s a show that has episode titles based on classic paradoxes and parables, where afterward we want to figure out the relevance. The pilot is called “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” which is also an Ancient Greek story involving a crocodile with a riddle for the father of a boy he’s kidnapped. This episode comes from the name of a Jewish mashal involving a prince who has gone crazy, thinking himself to be a rooster. Why are both titles about sons? Does it have anything to do with the various sons in the show? There’s Hess’s two boys, Lester’s brother’s kid and now the son of the Supermarket King, which would indicate he’s the Supermarket Prince. Are we meant to think this minor character is actually significant enough to have this episode named in reference to him?

Speaking of the kid (he’s played by Gordon S. Miller), he likes to tell really bad jokes, which work perfectly in an episode that is as consistently silly as last week’s was consistently dark. From the start, we’ve got the two new hit men, Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers (Harvard and Adam Goldberg), who communicate in a wacky, over-expressive form of sign language. There’s Howerton’s tan ham of a fitness instructor (who may also be the blackmailer?), the absurdity of there being a Malvo lookalike at the strip club and the cartoonish way he’s slid into the frozen lake at the end (the one murder this week), pretty much any scene featuring Bob Oedenkirk and of course the bit where Malvo sits down on a toilet and proceeds to do his business in front of Milos’s head of security — the gag here is that as he’s being told to “pack up his shit,” he’s actually unloading a literal one.

And in a way, this episode is doing the same thing, letting us know that the show is just getting started with the unloading of its shit and just barely stirring it up. As with most second episodes, it’s a transitional installment that requires some patience as more is poured in than is flushed out. In “The Rooster Prince” we got two new guys searching for Malvo and yet still aren’t sure where Grimly is headed in that investigation or how his daughter will figure in (one thing worth noting is that daughters in Fargo are as bright as sons are dim). We got a whole new subplot that so far seems too far removed from the initial story of Lester and Malvo’s unfortunate acquaintance. And the deal with Deputy Molly harassing/interrogating Lester can only go so far with eight more episodes to go.

The first of the eight, as in the next episode, is called “A Muddy Road,” which might seem a new sort of title compared to the first two. But it’s actually in line with them, as it’s the name of a Zen Buddhism parable, or koan. It doesn’t have to do with sons, however, and so it shall be fun finding its own interpretative connection to these characters and the escalating mess they’re all involved in.


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