“The Rooster Prince,” Fargo‘s second episode, finds itself in the unenviable position of establishing what the show will be. The show’s pilot was surprisingly self-contained in an emotional sense. What I mean is, I would not surprised if an actual Coen Brothers film ended in fashion similar to the Fargo pilot. Creator/writer Noah Hawley left enough loose ends to pick up in this episode, but several of the characters are in drastically different positions.
Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is now trying to stay as many steps ahead of the local police as he can, in regards to the deaths of both his wife and the police chief. Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is on to him, but new chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) appears to be more than willing to take Lester’s cover story at face value. Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thornton’s eccentric hitman, Lorne Malvo, has moved on from whatever his business in Bemidji was to take on a new case from a grocery store magnate (Oliver Platt), though a couple of fellows from Fargo, North Dakota (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard) are hot on his tail, seeking retribution for yet another crime he committed.
The number of names in the above paragraph alone show just how much is going on in the show – and it’s only the second episode. It is a testament to Hawley’s writing that we are able to keep all of these moving parts straight. I didn’t even mention the characters played by Colin Hanks, Glenn Howerton, and Keith Carradine, who all get one or two scenes setting them up as big players in the coming weeks. Hawley has somehow found a way to service everyone in his huge cast without allowing the show to feel overwhelming or overwhelmed, something great premium cable shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones have never quite been able to do. Now, obviously it is impossible to say whether Hawley will be able to keep this up, but so far it is very impressive.
That’s not to say the episode is perfect. Thornton’s characterization still doesn’t feel right in a couple places, though I may be growing used to the stilted nature of his performance. On a somewhat similar note, some of the characters seems a little too straightforward. Odenkirk’s Oswalt in particular comes across as particularly one-note, though it may not be fair to make that assessment after two episodes of relatively small amounts of screentime. My only hope is that Hawley finds ways to subvert expectations for characters like Oswalt, though the Coens themselves have often made a career of following less-than-fully-realized characters.
That is both a gift and a curse for the filmmakers. A lot of their most successful characters come from a combination of an underwritten part with a great actor. So while it may not feel right for Odenkirk, when we get similarly minimal roles for Harvard and Goldberg – as a deaf enforcer and his menacing interpreter, respectively – their complete buy-in makes it work.
So far Fargo feels like the series everyone wanted True Detective to be. It is far too early to make grand assessments about the series as a whole, but I am well beyond intrigued at this point. Get ready for some really boring reviews, people. Sorry.