The pilot episode of Fargo gave us a whole lot of Coen, a buffet of weirdness and that magnificent violence we've come to expect from something with the sibling auteurs' names on it. It was, for better or worse, a very well crafted homage to the original yet had some definite legs to stand on. The second episode, titled "The Rooster Prince", does two things very well. The first? It seems to be settling in to the fact that it is a TV show and also different from the original film. The second is that we're getting another small piece of the puzzle.
What has kept me riveted so far is that we know more than Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) but less than Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) or the two new characters introduced: Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard). It is just a small keyhole in which we can glimpse the inner machinations of this weird and wonderful plot as it carefully unfolds. The mounting intricacies coupled with the downright odd nature of some of the main characters makes for compelling television.
I'll go ahead and say it right now. Billy Bob Thornton is already, very easily, making the case for an Emmy nomination. The Mephistopheles nature of the character is one that has to walk a careful line. He enjoys sowing the seeds of chaos everywhere he goes and truly relishes the brutal savagery he inspires or commits. He is both darkly comic and unnerving. This is some of the absolute best work Thornton has ever done and I keep finding myself wishing for more time with the character.
He has a similar feel to Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardiem's terrifying murderer character in No Country for Old Men) in a few ways. His interactions with "normal" people tend to resemble an alien observing a human sort of way about them yet, unlike Anton, he is not completely off the deep end. The shark's grin and dark eyes are one thing but this is a fellow with a sense of humor though it is as black as the gallows. We're also given an idea of what he actually does (He fixes things) for whomever he works for (Not quite sure yet). He is in Duluth to help out the supermarket king of Minnesota, Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt). Someone is trying to extort him and, well, its time for Mr. Malvo to do his job.
Molly, insistent on the idea that this is just more than coincidence, presses forward with her investigation into Lester's involvement with the triple homocide. The Minnesota Nice is starting to fall away and, instead, the ruthless detective is starting to show through. Alison Tolman accomplishes more with just a simple glance and a quirk of the lip than many other actresses working today. She is hamstrung greatly by the newly appointed police chief Bill Oswalt and his rather clueless approach to police work. It is this clash of incompetence and polite behavior with real investigative follow-through that offers an interesting contrast to watch unfold. Tolman's presence on-screen is immense and she is really starting to flourish within the skin of Deputy Solverson.
The influx of new blood in Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, both company men sent by whomever, to find Lorne, adds yet another interesting wrinkle to an already twisting narrative. Goldberg, with his clearly inaccurate sign language to the deaf Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), appear far more by the book than Lorne Malvo's devil-on-the-shoulder routine. The seek vengeance for the murder of one of the crime syndicate's own, it seems, but mostly it all feels like just another day at the office. It just happens to involve kidnapping, a drill and made-up hand gestures.
That weirdness I mentioned earlier is on full-display here and feels very Coen in its way. It doesn't, however, feel like further re-tooling or aping of the original. It is starting to feel like a TV show, really, in the best way possible. Not many shows on TV right now are pulling off this interesting mix of strangely believable and outlandish. The Minnesota shown here is far more than just the powder white of snow but rather immutable shades of gray.