5   +   3   =  

‘Before the Law’

In the latest edition of Fargo’s varied collection of body disposal sequences, last night’s episode ‘Before the Law’ saw Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons) put his butchery skills to good use as he carved up the corpse of massacre perpetrator Rye Gerhardt. Of course Blumquist doesn’t know what he’s dealing with here, as we found out when we saw Gerhardt’s family conduct business in a most grizzly manner. It’s was all well-trodden Coen brothers territory, and did little to alleviate fears of season two being a pale imitation of its predecessor.

By referencing itself so glaringly – Blumquist’s disposing of Gerhardt in a meat grinder is a mirror of the sticky demise of Steve Buscemi’s character in the 1996 film – Fargo inadvertently highlighted what is wrong with this season. It’s trying too hard to be Fargo, and in doing so, bears little resemblance to Fargo at all.

Though the aesthetic of many scenes smacked of Coen-esque cinematography, with prolonged shots of awkward exchanges and cuts perfectly timed to fit the beat of the music (opening with Reunion by Bobbie Gentry was a nice retro touch), so many other factors felt distinctly ‘off’. From Lou Solverson’s awkward exchange with Ed, as he asked to buy some bacon midway through the body disposal process, to the scenes of tension between the members of the Gerhardt clan, the episode still lacked the surreal humour and tongue-in-cheek wit of last season. Every scene was fine, did the job, moved the plot forward a little, but the episode rarely entertained thoroughly and definitely didn’t feel like Fargo.fargo-season-2-episode-1-1Even the deadpan dialogue of the butcher shop scenes which provided last week’s episode’s only laughs already seems worn out. “Never trust anything that comes from the sea” warns the butcher, to which his daughter replies “We came from the sea”. This kind of mundane humour never translated well in writing anyway, but in its first season Fargo could have one character recount a story about a man whose skull was crushed by a hailstone as he drank a milkshake and have the other ask “what flavour?”, and use its own surrealist logic to make it feel like it was a scene of optimum importance to the episode. Now it just feels like forced fun.

Ed’s wife Peggy struggled to keep up appearances as she tried to resume normal life after the trauma of mowing down the killer, and already it seems as if the lady in knitwear’s poorly woven plan is being swiftly unstitched. Hopefully as this continues we might see her personality unravel too, because though her and her husband’s actions are pretty crazy, she seems to be wear the same bland expression on her face all episode. Where last week we thought we might see her dark, scheming side come out, ‘Before the Law’ had her seem pretty useless at everything.fargo-season-2-episode-1-3One actor that did shine was Bokeem Woodbine, whose character Mike Milligan seems to be the only one currently bearing that blend of gentlemanly courtesy and psychotic malice that made last season’s characters so compelling. Also, those sideburns are a wonder to behold.

Otherwise it’s all a bit of a shame, really; Fargo has a top quality cast this season but isn’t getting them to do an awful lot. The first episode last week was satisfactory but hardly set things alight, and this instalment did very little to build upon such a mediocre foundation.

Structurally sound and serving a basic purpose, ‘Before the Law’ was perfectly amicable and inoffensive. But that’s just not what this show should be about. O Malvo, where art thou?

★★★

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