Fargo: 201 “Waiting for Dutch” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It’s safe to say that the first season of Fargo was something of a surprise hit – met with cynicism from announcement, the loose take on the Coen Brothers movie scooped up critical acclaim and awards by the bucketful last year. With that unlikely accomplishment in the bag, showrunner Noah Hawley now faces a new challenge – could he possibly match the terrific first season, with the shadow of True Detective’s tumultuous sophomore outing hanging over it?
Waiting for Dutch dispels those concerns with ease. The season premiere was just about the perfect blend of old and new – using many of the archetypes and motifs that made the first season so great, but adding in plenty of new ideas and elements to the mix. The result of this is a premiere that feels comfortingly familiar and invigoratingly new at the same time, assuring viewers that Fargo is in no current danger of dropping the ball any time soon. Waiting for Dutch was a more expansive premiere than the first season, introducing a diverse and intriguing cast of characters, viewed through a wider lens than Lester Nygaard’s tale was initially.
An element Waiting for Dutch shared with its first season counterpart is a crime that starts it all – here, it’s an attempt to intimidate a judge that goes horribly wrong. It’s shot with Fargo’s typical, blackly comedic panache, with several darkly funny touches such as the judge’s blood mixing with her vanilla milkshake, giving this crucial scene the unique visual identity deserves. It’s topped off with a classic touch of the utterly bizarre, as Rye spots what would appear to be a UFO in the sky. Normally, this would be a jump-the-shark moment that violates any kind of believability – but this is Fargo, where a rain of fish once killed two people, so the UFO instead feels like a thoroughly welcome touch of Fargo’s unique brand of surrealism. Perhaps the most clever thing about the scene, however, is how it ends – as soon as this bizarre object has flown off, we come crashing back to reality with a thud as Rye is unceremoniously taken out by a car. It’s the kind of abrupt juxtaposition between the normal and the insane that Fargo does so well, and it’s a clear statement of intent early on that Fargo, now a far more assured show, is content to push the boundaries of what a crime drama can do further and further.
Just like in season one, we have the just, benevolent cop at the centre of it all – but this time, it’s father Lou rather than daughter Molly due to the 1979 setting. Lou is instantly a warm and likeable character, with Patrick Wilson giving an endearing portrayal of a humble guy who just wants to do his job for entirely pure reasons before heading back to his loving family (including young daughter Molly, in a nice little moment of continuity). Once again, it’s great to see Fargo presenting lead characters that aren’t without their flaws, but are generally just kind-hearted people who lack almost every characteristic of the popular but now slightly edious anti-hero. Because Lou is so likeable on a basic level, it’s easy to forgive the lack of complexity he’s afforded at this point – if Fargo has gotten us to root for Lou within one episode, then it’s probably earned the extra time to truly turn the character into a complex, multi-faceted entity.
A couple of intriguing wildcards here are the Blomquists, Peggy and Ed – a simple couple with very different aspirations who become tangled in something far more complex than either of them could understand. The idea of an unassuming person entering a complex world was essentially the point of Lester’s story in season one, but Peggy and Ed feel like an entirely different take on the idea here. Ed, a simple and slightly dim man with the desire to acquire his own butcher’s and have ‘a litter of kids’ (his words, not mine) is closer to Lou than anything – he’s clearly a good guy with pure intentions, which makes it almost painful to watch when Ed becomes, accidentally, a murderer. Jesse Plemons (still a dead ringer for Matt Damon) is perfect casting for the role – there are shades of his childishly psychopathic Breaking Bad character in Plemons’ performance, with Plemons really making it believable that Ed’s not cut out at all for a life of crime. Kirsten Dunst, meanwhile, brings plenty of surface-level ditzy naïveté to the table alongside intriguing hints of a hidden streak of cunning in a compelling and thoroughly unpredictable performance. Peggy and Ed are introduced in a slightly clunky manner, with dialogue that heavy-handedly spells out their conflict with each other, but there’s no doubt that they’re both hugely intriguing characters that have a lot of promise for the episodes to come.
There’s one thing that season two already promises to do differently to season one, and that’s the portrayal of numerous crime syndicates, including the titular Fargo syndicate. In season one, they were a pretty nebulous group, only briefly sighted before their unceremonious massacre at the hands of Lorne Malvo – yet Waiting for Dutch seems to promise a deeper look at the crime families, with an intriguing power struggle in the Gerhardt family set up here. The idea of family members backstabbing each other in order to reach the top is a fairly conventional idea, but Fargo seems to be putting its own unique spin on the idea by blending it with an intriguing subversion of 1970s perceptions of gender. The statement by a Fargo syndicate member that matriarch Floyd is, despite her skills, ‘just a girl’ is a loaded one, and it certainly appears that Fargo is taking advantage of the time period (and all the antiquated views that came with it) for a tale of gender politics that’s still notably resonant today.
What really makes Waiting for Dutch sing, alongside all the great character work, is the stylistic uniqueness of it all. Season one was sleek and modern as befitting of the 2006 setting, but this premiere sees Fargo having a little fun with the visual opportunities that the time period affords. The use of split screens lends much of the episode a kitsch feel that only heightens the clever juxtaposition with the brutal violence of events such as the diner massacre and Rye’s death, reinforcing the blend of violence and humdrum Midwestern normality that runs through this episode like a stick of rock. It’s all a little arch and tongue-in-cheek, but, based on this superlative premiere, Fargo has earned the right to have as much freedom as it pleases.
Waiting for Dutch is a hugely encouraging second season premiere that rubbishes the notion this show could undergo a sophomore slump by weaving an already complex tale of ordinary citizens and crime bosses and bringing even more unique character to events than ever before.