Based loosely on the 1996 film, this week’s premiere of Fargo features excellent performances, attempts at accents and a few murders just for show.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the premiere of FX’s Fargo for months now for many reasons.
For one, as a fan of Martin Freeman, thanks to his roles in Sherlock and The Hobbit franchise, I’ve been excited to see what he would do with this character. Freeman expertly plays docile Lester Nygaard, a small-town insurance salesman with a bad case of “Minnesota nice,” who gets in with shady drifter Lorne and has his life changed forever as a result.
Secondly, full disclosure, my father’s whole family is from Minnesota. Actually, we lived in Brainerd for a while when I was a kid, the town in which the 1996 Coen brothers movie mostly took place in. FX’s series changes the location to Bemidji, but the gist is the same. So, while excited, I was also wary of how the show would portray the people there, and worried it would drift into cartoon-y territory in a way that I remember thinking the movie did at times when I first watched it.
I needn’t have worried. Fargo on FX has a lot of the same feel as the movie, but it also somehow strikes a more serious tone at times. And, in any case, the performances mostly make up for some of the minor complaints that I have. Let’s get started.
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Setting the Scene
Fargo opens on a scene of Lorne driving a car in the middle of the night when he hits a deer. When he does this, the guy he’s got in the trunk just so happens to escape, mostly naked, into the nearby woods. This sets off a chain of events that sets the scene for the entire series.
We’re also introduced early on to Lester Nygaard and his nagging wife, who pesters her husband in their very first scene together about his shortcomings. He doesn’t get much more respect in his professional life, where he’s a less-than-stellar insurance salesman who doesn’t make enough from his sales to buy his wife a fancy new washing machine when theirs starts to act up.
Early on, we also meet an old-school bully of Lester’s, Sam Hess, who messes with Lester in front of Sam’s two dim-witted sons to embarrass him. Their altercation leads to poor Lester smacking his own head into a window, and he’s left with an injury from their little chat that leads to him ending up in a hospital waiting room.
Lester just so happens to sit next to Lorne in the waiting room, and the other man asks him what happened. Lester claims it was a “misunderstanding,” but Lorne sees right through his BS. In their conversation, Lester gives up the guy’s name, and Lorne suggests that Lester should show Sam “what’s what.”
Basically, what you need to know from that scene is that Lorne offers to get rid of Sam for Lester, and Lester doesn’t exactly say no to his offer. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the guy ends up dead before the end of the episode.
The Bemidji PD
We also meet Molly and Vern, police officers for the Bemidji police department and important players in this first episode. Molly finds the car Lorne abandoned on the side of the road, and together they find the man who was in Lorne’s trunk, frozen and mostly naked in the woods.
Molly will surprise us all, I think. She doesn’t seem cut out for the job at first, but clearly has potential when Vern lets her know he believes in her and her abilities. Vern seems pretty settled into his work, and happy in both his line of duty and at home with his pregnant wife.
Bye Bye, Sam
Lorne approaches Sam in his garage after speaking with Lester, and after he basically calls the guy’s sons idiots, they have a brief confrontation and Lorne leaves. But he doesn’t stay away for long.
Later, when Sam is visiting a gentleman’s club, he gets a private room with one of the girls and the two have sex. In the middle of the act, however, Lorne stabs Sam in the back of the head, and he drops dead, onto the girl. That’ll kill the mood.
Meanwhile, Lester and his wife visit his more successful brother and sister-in-law and their son, and Lester has it thrown in his face how inferior he is in comparison. He and his brother Chaz have an argument at one point in which his brother tells him to shape up and stop being such a screw-up, and according to Lester’s wife in the car after, Lester went off and smacked the guy in retaliation.
Meanwhile, the police investigate Sam’s murder, and Lorne continues to creepily manipulate everyone around him just to see what will happen.
I have to say, as much as I initially tuned in more for Freeman’s performance, I am absolutely blown away by Billy Bob Thornton. As my roommate said while we were watching, “He even has dead eyes.” He’s chillingly perfect in this role in a way that is hard to describe, so you should really just watch it and see for yourself.
Molly starts to put two and two together regarding the victim she and Vern found in the woods, and tries to connect it to the scene of Sam’s murder as well. They head to Sam’s house after, and we meet Sam’s wife, played by Kate Walsh, and experience her mixed emotions in regards to her husband’s untimely death.
While she’s being questioned, one of Sam’s sons gets a phone call. He thinks it’s his dad’s estate attorney, but it’s really Lorne acting as such. He tells the boy that his father left everything to his younger brother, Moe, so while his mother is being questioned, Mickey leads his brother outside and starts to beat him with a hockey stick. Molly tackles the kid to stop him, but damn if the kid doesn’t get some good whacks in first.
After Lester hears about Sam’s death, he meets up with Lorne at a restaurant and promptly freaks out at him. Lorne reminds him that he never really told Lorne not to kill Sam, so in a way, Lester is responsible for the man’s death, and he wants to know how Lester feels about it.
“You’ve spent your whole life thinking there are rules,” Lorne tells the other man. “There aren’t.” He tells Lester that he has to start stepping up to all the people walking all over him in his life, and this is definitely not going to end well, is it?
Lester goes home after speaking with Lorne and decides to fix that washing machine his wife has been complaining about. As it turns out, he actually breaks the thing, and she is not pleased. She starts to belittle him viciously, telling him he’s not even a man and insulting his skills in bed, so what does he do?
Smacks her on the head with a hammer, of course!
His wife falls to the floor, head cracked open from Lester’s blow and a second smack across the face, and instead of stepping back and taking a deep breath, Lester starts to beat the living daylights out of her! All the while mumbling, “Aw jeez, aw jeez!” under his breath.
He’s covered in blood after the attack, so he strips down, re-dresses and calls his buddy Lorne at the motel he’s staying in for help. Lorne agrees to come over, and Lester practices how he’ll confront the man when he gets there.
But it’s not Lorne who arrives first. Having heard from Molly about Lester being seen talking to a man about Sam before his tormentor’s death, Vern goes to Lester’s house to ask him a few questions. He made a stop at the hardware store for paint for the nursery he and his wife are preparing, and he makes the visit when he’s on his way home anyway.
Lester is obviously nervous when Vern is questioning him, and before long, Vern spots the trail of blood leading to Lester’s basement. He looks in the basement as Lester babbles from his place kneeling on the floor about only just getting home, and sees the wife’s body lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
Lorne comes to Lester’s rescue, and shoots Vern when he turns back to the main floor. Lester gets hit in the hand by some sort of bullet ricochet or something, and while not seemingly important at the time, I think it will prove to be so later.
Lorne goes downstairs just as Molly knocks on Lester’s door, and when Lester looks, his sketchy new friend is gone, and his wife’s body is still there. Thinking fast, he throws himself into the wall in the basement to fall unconscious and appear innocent in the entire ordeal.
Molly finds Vern dead on the floor and calls for further police presence, before walking to the basement entrance and looking down to see Lester, out cold, and his wife dead beside him. Later, when she looks in the back of Vern’s car, the other officer still had the paint he had picked up for the nursery waiting to be delivered.
The One That Got Away
Lorne is driving through Duluth after escaping Lester’s house and is stopped by a police officer. He basically tells the officer that if he doesn’t drive away and go home to the daughter he can hear chattering to her father over the police radio, something very bad will happen to Officer Grimly.
So Grimly decides to let Lorne go, and I have a feeling that will come back to bite him later.
Molly’s on the Job
At the end of the episode, Lester is in the hospital with a hole in his hand, and Molly declines an offer from her father to work a safer hostess job at his restaurant instead. She heads back to work after chatting with her father, and I personally feel better knowing the perceptive officer is on the case.
While I had some personal reservations about FX’s Fargo series, I finished watching this episode feeling satisfied with the story told and excited to see where it will go next.
Was it a bit long? Yes, but it’s the premiere episode and I sort of expected that. Were the distinctive Minnesotan accents perfect? No, but I don’t know that anyone else will notice as much as I did that Freeman and a few of the other cast members kept dropping out of the ones they attempted. Call me nitpicky, but it did take me out of the story at times.
But all in all, I say definitely give FX’s new series a shot. If you can handle a little blood and a dead-eyed Billy Bob Thornton, this might just be the Tuesday night television choice for you.
Fargo airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX.
(Image courtesy of FX)