Truth is so much stranger than fiction. And much uglier.
Midnight Special. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier, Sharon Garrison, Allison King, & Sean Bridgers. Faliro House Productions/Tri-State Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated PG. 112 minutes.
When it comes to independent films, Jeff Nichols is a writer-director I’ve admired now for a few years. Shotgun Stories in 2007 was a great little movie that tackled the flawed masculinity inherent in Southern blood feuds as it examined two sets of half brothers in the aftermath of their father’s death. It also starred the wonderful character actor Michael Shannon, whom many have grown to love as of late particularly. Later, in Take Shelter again starring Shannon, Nichols took us into a highly psychological world that bent the limits of reality, begging us to wonder whether or not the events onscreen were real, or if they were just manifestations of the lead character’s troubled mind. Mud was an interesting, subtle look at people on the fringe, how they come together, and how they survive.
But now, teaming once more with Shannon alongside a slew of other wonderful talents from newer (Adam Driver) to classic (Sam Shepard), Nichols breaks out with an emotionally charged, intelligent, slick thriller that runs the gamut of family drama and adventure to science fiction. Midnight Special is a lot of things. Above all, it is engaging. In a day and age of remakes – some good, a lot terrible – big budget blockbusters without any soul, Nichols’ films are continually a ray of light. This is no different. There are many things to enjoy. And if I can suggest anything, go in without knowing anything. Even the plot. It won’t ruin things if you do, but the beginning is even more tense and filled with excitement if you’re relatively clueless.
And for that reason let’s just dig right in.
The plot is a lot of fun. Despite knowing from trailers that the film is heavily science fiction, there’s a very raw human drama to the opening few scenes. It doesn’t stop there either. As Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) rush Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) around from one place to the next, under cover of night, all we know of the situation for sure is that there’s a massive hunt for the boy, an amber alert, everything. So if you had no better idea it’d seem like a truly distressing situation. But slowly, Nichols lets the information trickle down. What starts and continues as a human drama also takes on elements of a larger, more complicated, complex universe that Nichols has created.
We’re introduced to people from The Ranch, the men dressed in suit and ties, the women dressed like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They all seem to have a strange fascination, or rather obsession, with little Alton. And the gravity of everything is so evident. Not only are Roy and Lucas transporting Alton extremely secretively, to the point of gunning down a cop early on, it seems the father is dead set on protecting the boy. There are a ton of things happening, too. In a movie that’s just a little shy of two hours in length, Nichols packs a good punch. All the different aspects of the screenplay are pretty well fleshed out without having to be too full of exposition. Plus, things get real action oriented past the half hour mark, which then takes the pacing to another level. The first thirty minutes are a nice, effective slow burn that picks up steam quickly heading forward.
When we finally start to see more of Alton and his powers, the whole movie gets infinitely more interesting. More and more, scene after scene, Nichols reveals further bits of the boy’s abilities. Yet there’s a cryptic nature to them until late in the game. We’re never cheated, but Nichols definitely draws it out. Expertly. The suspension and tension as the plot moves on at a steady pace really will get your heart rate up, in the best kind of sense.
Alton: “What‘s Kryptonite?”
Lucas: “It‘s the only thing that‘ll kill Superman”
Roy: “It‘s made up”
There is never enough Michael Shannon. He’s a talented actor whose work is consistent. Even in movies that aren’t so great (i.e Man of Steel, The Iceman, Premium Rush), his talent makes things more interesting, more credible. He can really disappear into a lot of different roles, which is why he’s best deemed a character actor. His strength is that he’s got the handsome look, though there’s something odd about him, too. He has an affable quality, then there is a dangerous, strange side to him that can come out just as easily. Here, he plays a devoted, loving father pushed to the limit. He is a father under special circumstances. So there’s all this conflict in his character, but above all he is a father who wants to protect his son, no matter what the cost. And he’s forced into a blind faith, all out of love for his boy. A great performance, well written role.
The rest of the cast are equally as excellent. Edgerton is a fantastic talent (also a good writer) and he plays well off Shannon. They’re very believable together, which is honestly something I never predicted beforehand. What I like is that Edgerton has the same kind of qualities as Shannon, except in a different way. He is at once that manly, tough-looking kind of guy when he wants to be, at others he has a sensitive quality. In addition, Kirsten Dunst is good here as the mother of Alton, estranged from Roy. I’ve long said she is a solid actor, having recently given a complex performance in Season 2 of Fargo. She adds an extra, intriguing aspect to Alton and Roy, as a family. That brings us more of the family drama that makes Midnight Special a more interesting science fiction themed film than many others out there.
When the action gets pounding the film never lets up. There are moments where it’s a chase movie, others the guns start to fly. Sometimes we get wild expressions of Alton’s powers. All the while, the cinematography by Adam Stone captures everything so naturally, and in turn beautifully, even in the moments of pure speculative fiction that happen throughout. Add to that some really great synthesizer score from composer David Wingo, and those moments of tension where things are tight, the pulse is pumping, they become more intense. Sometimes it’s a semi-homage to the 1980s, but most of all it is simply an effective bit of electronic music that serves to augment a film; like any good score should.
This is all around an excellent film in terms of its visual components and its sound, not just the score but also the design. There are too many moments to list really. But Nichols, as director, crafts Midnight Special into a beautiful piece of work aided by these two artists.
Absolutely a 5-star film. There are so many derivative science fiction works out there, in movies and literature. It’s nice to see Jeff Nichols take the initiative and make something different. He lets everything flow out organically, never pushing the plot too much or too far, but rather just allowing it to unfold. The science fiction, though utterly central to the story, is not always the most interesting element. The family, the cult at The Ranch, the relationship between father and son, the relationship between best friends Lucas and Roy; so many things take precedence over the presence of a little boy with sort-of-super powers. Everything comes together here and Midnight Special takes its rightful place near the top of the best list of modern science fiction over the past couple decades. Nichols turns this into something completely unexpected. By the time it’s over, you won’t know what hit you.
Season 2, Episode 4: “Fear and Trembling”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Steve Blackman
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
This episode begins with a flash to 1951 – Moonbase Freedom starring Ronald Reagan (not an actual film) plays in a small movie theatre. On the way there, a boy and his father rattle along in a truck. Over top of the scene Count Basie plays, “Topsy”. A man named Kellerman (Kai Lennox) sits waiting for the father. Ends up with dear ole dad about to be shot in the back of the head, but then the young boy ends up knifing Kellerman in the back of the skull. Turns out, this is little Dodd and papa Otto back in the day.
Otto: “Like the heads of Easter Island”
Otto: “Not a sound”
Back in their current timeline, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is teaching his nephew Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) the ways of the Gerhardt clan. They end up at a restaurant where Dodd tasers a man violently, getting Charlie to join in on the action with a few punches. Nice bonding. Surely Bear (Angus Sampson) is going to be REAL happy with his brother showing his son – someone he wanted to be away from the family business – the dirty, gritty ropes. Not just that, we get a bit of Devo’s “Too Much Paranoias” to boot. Jam.
At the same time Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) accompanies his wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) to the doctor where they have an extremely frustrating conversation. Essentially, she’s asked to be part of a trial for an experimental drug, but naturally there’s no guarantees she’ll get anything real. Possibly just a placebo, like “a Smartie – you know, a Smartie.”
Then there’s Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) who are trying to go about their lives. In fact, among all the madness they’ve become involved with – re: Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) – they seem to be gunning for a baby. Or at least Ed is, anyways. Their problems are plenty, and it’s not as if they’re going away any time soon.
Ed: “Today’s the first day of the rest of our lives”
Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is more and more a character I’m interested in. At first, he seems like the typical bad guy, the silent man waiting in the wings to do crazy things. But then we see him at the crime scene, we watch him check out tire tracks and look into the sky like a clairvoyant. Though, he isn’t. Just a smart man who has obviously spent his life around these types of nasty situations. Clearly we’ve seen this already last episode in “The Myth of Sisyphus“. We’re just expanding further. He tracks down the Blomquist car at a garage, where a very Coen-ish type mechanic character gives up a little too much information about Ed.
Then we get a glimpse of Hanzee’s character. Is it true? He talks about being a Tunnel Rat during Vietnam, after the mechanic mentions being in the war himself. Very brief, before Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) interrupts and shoes Dent off.
Mr. Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) has ended up in bed with Simone Gerhardt (Rachel Keller). Shit. That can’t be a good idea, can it? She’s clearly not too worried about her family, especially not daddy Dodd whose fists are a little too liberal around the house. But still, Milligan certainly isn’t making things easy for himself. Then again he doesn’t feel like the type of guy who cares about things being easy; in short, he’s a bad motherfucker. Or, at the very least, one cool cucumber.
Lou heads over to the garage where Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) is on the scene. They get the scoop on Hanzee, though, you can be sure Lou doesn’t exactly feel right about any of it. He has a brief flash to his run-in with Ed at the shop recently, which will come to bear later on.
The Gerhardts, lead by mama Floyd (Jean Smart), head to a big meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett); Milligan is curiously missing, no doubt held up by Simone. Then Floyd lays it all out on the table – they will not be backing down: “Partnership, not a sale,” she tells Joe. But it’s evident Floyd is one tough lady. She tells Bulo a little bit about her hardships, then makes clear: “We’ll fight to keep what’s ours ’till the last man.”
However, as we could’ve already assumed, Bulo isn’t too keen on taking the offer straight up. He wants assurance the Gerhardt boys will follow mom’s orders. Floyd tries her best to assure Bulo this will be the case, though, Dodd makes a scene. We’ll see how things go from here.
As if Otto Gerhardt (Michael Hogan) hadn’t been through enough with his stroke, Milligan had to go and make things worse. He wasn’t still with Simone. While Floyd met with Bulo, Mike and the Kitchen Brothers killed the men transporting Otto around. I thought they were actually going to kill Otto off, but Mike simply gave him a Godfather homage: “Joe Bulo says hello.” Then at the table, word reaches Bulo and the counter offer is rejected. Things are about to get even more dark and violent than ever before.
More Blomquist drama. Poor Ed. He wants to buy the shop so bad, the meat shop where he works, but Peggy’s been less than upfront with her unsuspecting husband. He’s trying his best to get things straight with her. Peggy went and dipped in when Ed thought they were clear on the money situation – even worse, Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) pushes her into being an independent woman, which is great, but Ed isn’t even being a bad guy. She’s basically fucked them and Ed only wants to buy the shop so they can be better off – instead, Constance is telling her what to do while trying to make it appear as if Peggy is living free.
Then in the background, Hanzee rolls by giving them the eye; Ed meets his gaze briefly, you can almost see it shake him.
A little later Mr. Dent strolls into the Blomquist garage, alone, quiet. He knows the ways of murder. He rubs the floor, smells it, and then looks up to find bleach on a shelf nearby. There’s an amazing presence Zahn McClarnon displays, as Hanzee walks around the house and examines everything, flicking his Zippo open to have a look here and there, even finding what looks like Rye’s belt buckle in the fireplace among the ashes. Over top of the scene plays “Song of the Earth” played by the Philharmonic Orchestra, a piece by Gustav Mahler.
Perhaps the most tense of all comes when State Trooper Solverson goes to see the Blomquists. They feed him a nervous, awkward story about what happened with the car – and Ed happens to spy, out the corner of his eye, the fireplace has been moved around a bit. Uh oh.
Yet Lou seems to want to help. At least in the sense he gives them the benefit of the doubt. He goes into a story about war, the look in a boy’s eyes after he’s been shot – the sort of unaware sense, not realizing yet what has happened. Lou’s identified that look in Ed and Peggy. He straight up knows, even bluntly stating who the man was they hit. All the same, the Blomquists keep up the charade. A very great moment comes when Ed looks up at a painting on the wall – a picturesque landscape of a farm, the ideal, the dream they hope to attain – and you can see he’s just not willing to let go of the hope that they can get out of this without admitting to what they’ve done. But Lou knows, and he tries telling them to be careful anyways.
At Ranch Gerhardt, the boys are wondering what mama Floyd wants to do about Bulo and the coming onslaught. “It’s war,” she tells them defiantly.
But what I love most about this moment is how they cut from one strong woman to another: Betsy. She’s sitting at the kitchen table staring down her experimental drugs, about to go to war herself. Nice little shift. Plus, there’s a good little scene between her and Lou when she goes out to find him on the lawn. He laments about how “we used to know right from wrong” – we, the society. It’s strange because we don’t often get such a strong and righteous type of character like Lou. Yet in the Fargo universe, we do get those characters. They come into such incredible contrast with the darker, more malevolent characters at play. So, to see Lou dealing with his wife fighting cancer, as well as watching the world he knew and loved slipping away bit by bit, now with seemingly normal and moral people like the Blomquists covering up murders, it’s a tragically exciting situation character-wise.
Every week I’m left craving more. One of the best shows on television, ever. Next episode is “The Gift of the Magi”, directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
Stay tuned for another one. Looking forward to it!
Season 2, Episode 3: “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Bob DeLaurentis
Starting with the last episode, “Before the Law“, Noah Hawley & Co. have been instilling this season with a great bit of existentialism. For those who may not know, “Before the Law” is a story told to K in Kafka’s The Trial. So immediately with the name of that episode came other implications. Now, with this 3rd episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” moves slightly from strictly existentialism to Albert Camus and absurdism; the name of this episode is one of Camus greatest essays.
Keep thinking back to certain moments. Particularly I’m reminded of the previous episode when Sheriff Larsson (Ted Danson) sits talking with Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), how they talk about the war coming home with them, as if searching for meaning, some reason why violence – terrifying violence – is right at their doorstep. And this is where Camus certainly comes in: there’s an absurd aspect to the human want and need to define life’s meaning, to find something they can point to and say “THIS IS IT!”, because life merely unfolds however it wants and there’s nothing else to change or stop it. Life just happens.
This episode opens with a strange moment. Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) pets a rabbit while remembering seeing a magician as a young boy, pulling one out of a hat. Then he snaps its neck off-screen, walking back towards the Gerhardt house. “Yama Yama” by Yamasuki begins to play, which is pretty great. Another montage to start things.
Then the Gerhardts have some visitors. They’re “talking about the Kansas City Mafia“, Floyd (Jean Smart) tries to lay things out as the matriarch in charge while her husband sits near catatonic after a stroke. Her son Bear (Angus Sampson) continually backs her up, while constantly eating. Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) wants to go warring, but Floyd does not. Their visitors agree if any trouble comes the Gerhardt way, they’ll “cut the god damn nose off their face“.
At a small restaurant of some sort, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) is late for a meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett). They have a quirky conversation about hair, soft water, and Agree shampoo. They also talk about whether or not the Gerhardts will be killed, or whether they’ll be offered more money. They’re still looking for Rye (Kieran Culkin). Good luck.
Over in Luverne, Minnesota, trusty Lou Solverson (Wilson) chats over radio with Sheriff Hank Larsson (Danson). Their chemistry is continually awesome. A new dynamic comes into play for Lou in this episode. Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) is working the case on the other end. This fella doesn’t seem quite right. He’s askew in some sort of way. Not sure how yet, but definitely sketchy. Either way, he and Lou end up together for a little while throughout “The Myth of Sisyphus”.
Hank: “Over and out… I guess.”
Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) finds herself sweating it out at the salon where she works. Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) is coiffing Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti), as father-in-law Hank walks in with a wanted poster for – you betcha – Rye Gerhardt. Then Betsy reminds Hank of the shoe in the tree at the diner, they talk about a hit-and-run situation after the shooting. But slyly, and maybe a bit too ballsy, Peggy jumps in to say “that just don’t make sense“. Somehow, the do-goody Dudley Do-Right in Hank agrees, assuming no good citizen would just run a man down then drive home “with a Gerhardt in the your windshield and cook dinner“. So darkly, hilariously ironic. The absurdity of it all.
Naturally, Peggy rushes to take husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) home from work. It’s almost nerve wracking to watch her stumble around, so close to getting them caught.
Skip Sprang (Mike Bradecich) – former partner on the down-low of Rye – ends up running into Solverson and Schmidt. He’s more than obvious about being nervous; Lou points out he’s a “squirrelly little fella“. In fact, Lou spied him heading over to the office of the judge who Rye killed at the diner. So, this is another man unaccustomed to crime, just as the Blomquists, who will eventually run himself into trouble all because of his own sloppy nature.
Skip runs straight to Rye’s apartment. Instead of Rye – obviously – he finds Simone Gerhardt (Rachel Keller), who is a bit of a problem child for her father Dodd. Hanzee looks after her a little, but Mr. Dent is definitely slightly psychotic. He is way too comfortable with blood all over his hands. I love his presence, though. Hanzee is a mysterious type of character.
But it’s bad news for Skip. He ends up getting taken back to Papa Dodd and the clan.
Simone: “Whaddya say, red man – should we have some fun?”
Hanzee: “You betcha”
Peggy drags out to the woods with their beat up car. She uses a plan one of her uncles came up with after smashing his car while drunk. After the car is taken care of, Rye is already ground up, Peggy believes they’ll be “free“. Nothing goes as planned, but eventually ole Ed gets it right. I feel so bad for him. He’s been pulled into such a mess by Peggy, who continually leads him down the path she thinks is best. Yet at the same time, Ed simply goes along because he loves her. To death.
Lots of other stuff happening at the Gerhardt house. Young Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) wants to have more of a hand in things, but Bear would rather him go back to school and stay out of what’s about to go down. So it isn’t just Dodd who has trouble with his children.
At the same time, Solverson and Schmidt show up at the Gerhardt ranch. This is an amazing scene. Patrick Wilson brings out the inner badass of Lou – “Am I the only here who’s clear on the concept of law enforcement?” But it becomes clear quickly Ben Schmidt knows the Gerhardts a little too well; Floyd comes out and even asks about his mother. After things start to get slightly tense, Lou has to lay down the law and stand his ground. Dodd shows up to toss more fuel on the fire, but Lou does not back down. Not in the slightest. Great, great tension here. I honestly didn’t know how things would turn out! Clearly we all know Solverson doesn’t die – he was already in the first season as an older man. But still, that’s the master strokes of this show and its power: you can already know something, or think you know, and it will find a way to surprise you.
But wait – there’s more Lou Solverson badassery.
He goes to check in on Skip, the squirrelly typewriter salesman. Rather than finding him, he comes across Mike Milligan, accompanied by none other than the Kitchen brothers, Gale and Wayne (Brad & Todd Mann). There’s a bit of a stand-off. Except in the Minnesota plain speak style. Another quality scene, almost better than the previous with the Gerhardts. Won’t spoil too much more here. Though obviously, Lou does make it out. A tense scene with lots of style.
Milligan: “So, where’d you say you saw old Skip?”
Lou: “At your mother’s house. I think goin’ in the back door.”
A chilling end to this episode, definitely the most disturbing bit since the opening shooting at the diner. Dodd and Hanzee put Skip in a dug out hole, making him lie down. Then they back up a dump truck full of asphalt with which to bury him alive. Although it seems like Dodd’s about to let him live, once Skip reveals Milligan was looking for Rye, there’s no hope ultimately. The asphalt covers him, he’s dead. Now it’s clear Dodd is taking the reigns, ordering Hanzee to kill anyone who gets in their way.
Very excited for the next episode, “Fear and Trembling” – another philosophy title. This time from Soren Kierkegaard’s text of the same name, a great read for anyone interested in philosophical thought.
Stay tuned, Fargo fiends! We’ll be back for more next week.
Season 2, Episode 2: “Before the Law”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “Waiting for Dutch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
After the incredible opening episode, Fargo moves further into Season 2 with “Before the Law”.
This episode begins with more of the stylistically awesome editing, loving the splits-screen and how they use it at various intervals. Nice montage to start with Bobbie Gentry’s “Reunion” playing over top. We see glimpses of almost all the characters here and I thought it was a good way to start things off.
Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s stroke. A Gerhardt nephew, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) – whose father is Bear (Angus Sampson) – helps his grandma out with “the bank“. Out in the barn, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is viciously interrogating some poor guy with his partner in crime Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Meanwhile, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) have also come in from Kansas City to see the Gerhardt clan.
Plenty of things happening. Seems there are troubles within the family, let alone anything else outside of their ranks. Dodd wants to be the boss of the family now that patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) is temporarily – and most likely permanently – out of the picture as figurehead. However, even his brother Bear believes their mother is the proper candidate. A tense little scene where we see how there’s not much real love in the Gerhardt family, it’s all about politics and hierarchical structure. Not saying they don’t love one another, but more that their family is built around an empire. It’s more a business than anything.
Dodd Gerhardt – with his right hand man Hanzee – is not letting his mother’s newly found leadership get in the way. They’re plotting something, planning. We’ll see exactly what that is sooner than later.
Floyd: “That’s what an empire is – it’s bigger than any son, or daughter.”
One big pot of jumbo going on here. So many complexities happening. I haven’t even mentioned the fact of Rye (Kieran Culkin) having been killed in the last episode by Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). The rest of Rye’s clan think he’s off either getting laid or doing something else just as trivial, in their eyes. I keep wondering how this is all going to come together, a big SNAFU of epic criminal proportions.
Heading away from the Gerhardt home, Bulo and Milligan have a conversation about their job. Seems they’re going to try divide and conquer among the Gerhardt boys. The first suggestion from Milligan, Rye, is obviously not going to work out.
Usually I find Ted Danson sort of… tedious. I’m already loving him in this season of Fargo. This character has a good deal of depth off the bat. Hank Larsson (Danson) and Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) are very believable together as father-in-law/son-in-law buddy cops. Added into that situation is Lou’s wife, daughter of Hank, Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti). I think the three-way dynamic between these actors and their characters is beginning very strong. Look forward to seeing more of them with each passing episode.
I feel bad for Ed Blomquist. Peggy really did him dirty with the whole accident and not telling him. What did she think would happen? What was Peggy planning on doing? Very clear Ed loves his wife, if not he wouldn’t stick by her so closely. Her transgression has really put them both in a terrifying place. Not only that, Ed has to deal simply with the fact he took another man’s life. Regardless of how it happened, what went down, he still killed someone. Cannot be easy to live with.
Really, though, I’m sure Peggy will be the downfall of them both. At least in terms of public image. She is so nervous looking and her disposition is totally off when around others, so I can almost see it coming right now. She’s too edgy while Ed appears level headed and focused on making sure they don’t get caught.
Milligan pays a visit to the shop where Rye had previously been conducting his business with Skip Watson (Mike Bradecich). He’s tracking down the youngest Gerhardt. A real great scene here, which shows the solid acting abilities of Bokeem Woodbine; an underrated actor. He pulls Watson’s tie into one of the IBM typewriters, looking for information on the Judge killed over at the diner in “Waiting for Dutch“, then follows up with a little story about writing a letter to General Electric and some questions. It’s such an expertly written scene, something I’m coming to expect from Hawley.
Jesse Plemons is someone I think is also underrated. After his turn on Breaking Bad, playing a very unlikeable character (though he played him well), here he gets a bigger role, as well as one with even more under the surface. Watching him clean up the mess his wife made, first the car and bleaching the garage floor then in his underwear burning bloody clothes at the fireplace, you can tell he’s even come a long way just since Breaking Bad. The Blomquists story is a part of this season I’m already super invested in personally and I’m sure there are going to be more little tragedies for them the further we go.
One of my favourite scenes of the season already comes when Lou Solverson goes over to the diner. He heads inside to have a look at the nasty crime scene. Outside, his daughter and wife play in the snow. Then when the little one picks up a deflated balloon, Betsy ends up finding the shiny silver revolver Rye used in the murders. Sort of a bittersweet moment because it’s awesome she found the gun, also sort of darkly funny the way Lou was inside with all the blood and death, as his wife and daughter are just outside, having fun in the angelic white snow. Perfect sort of Fargo moment of juxtaposition.
Right afterwards there’s an intense scene. Milligan and his henchmen are pulled over by Larsson. There’s a bit of messing about, with Milligan playing games briefly. Honestly, I was completely on edge from the moment Larsson stood in the road and their car showed up. Ted Danson has such an outstanding degree of suspense in his own eyes, such a burning stare throughout the confrontation, you’ll find it very hard not to fall in with how tense things feel. I actually let my breath out slightly once the scene faded into the next. Wow.
Still, I’m most interested in Ed and Peggy. More so Ed, though, as he’s carrying the major brunt of the entire situation on his shoulders. Just watching him smolder alone in his car, at the meat shop, at home, it’s almost unnerving. Because you don’t know how regular, everyday people will be affected by murder. It can lead certain people into a dark descent. Will Ed be one of those? Will he crack under the pressure, or keep it all together in order to protect himself, his wife, his potential family down the road? One thing I know is that it’s totally fun watching the dark drama play out in front of us. The spirit of the Coen Brothers Fargo is continuously alive and well.
Feeling like a broken record, again there is trouble for the Blomquists. Co-worker Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) ends up finding the stolen toilet paper she’d mentioned earlier, to Peggy – in Peggy’s house. The smallest sort of thing, but in these murder cover-up situations, aren’t the smallest details almost most important? Even worse, now more people – Constance – are seeing the car, the damage, so their dirty secrets are starting to filter out. In a small Minnesota town, secrets like theirs, or any secrets for that matter can easily make their rounds through the locals. The more I see Peggy onscreen, the more I feel she’s going to do something even more stupid than she originally did and the secrets will start flowing like waterfalls.
Larsson and Solverson have a nice little conversation nearing the episode’s end. Not only are the idiosyncrasies of these two characters revealed a little more, their talk about “convergence” and “callback” is important. Fargo is a show based around those ideas, that one situation will remind you of another, that things come back to bear on all things relevant; ultimately, the bad keeps repeating, calling back to other bad things, and so on. There’s more to their conversation, mostly concerning the diner crime scene. However, I think a good deal of their dialogue lent itself to the idea of history repeating itself, at least in part.
Larsson: “Sometimes I wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with ya.”
Ed Blomquist finally finds himself in a tight situation. About time, really, in terms of this season’s plot; may as well get things going full steam. As Ed chops and grinds the body of Rye Gerhardt at the shop, putting it through the machinery like he might a bunch of sausages, et cetera. Amazing shot where he chops fingers off, they roll to the floor and one slips under the door out into the shop! I couldn’t believe it, such a gnarly moment. Plus, the suspense goes up with Lou Solverson out at the door, knocking away. Extremely tense – Lou wants bacon (get it?) for when Betsy wakes up, so naturally Ed invites him in while he cuts off a few pieces. Two excellent actors here bouncing off one another. Great writing. This is typical – and awesome – Fargo type fare, with the music really riling things up, the acting on point and a hairy situation playing out. Kept me on edge for the entire few minutes of the scene.
“The Eve of the War” by Jeff Wayne begins to play over the final shots. So fitting and beautiful and dark at once.
Cannot WAIT to see and review the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Stay tuned, fellow Fargo-ites!
Season 2, Episode 1: “Waiting for Dutch”
Directed by Randall Einhorn & Michael Uppendahl
Written by Noah Hawley * For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Morton’s Fork” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Before the Law” – click here Another show I loved in its first season, I’ve decided to review Fargo going forward (I’ll retroactively go back and do Season 1 soon). All new characters – some of them, anyways. All new situations, locations, and more!
Season 2 opens with the old school MGM lion and logo. Furthermore, there’s a black-and-white clip from Massacre at Sioux Falls, and an awkward exchange between actor and director of the picture. Awesome beginning – “Look I’m a Jew, so believe me, I know tribulation.” – I was laughing so god damn hard. Plus mentions of Reagan (his nickname = Dutch), as well. Dig it, and I’m super curious where this Reagan stuff is going to head. Perhaps we’re going to see some parallels with Reaganism and crime, some kind of other similar comparison, I don’t know. Either way, the writing is pulling me in right from the start.
Now we move into an old clip of President Jimmy Carter giving a speech from the Oval Office, mixed with cuts of some new characters and even other news pieces on John Wayne Gacy and Jim Jones. There’s not only great selection of news pieces and shots of a few new characters – including those played by Kieran Culkin, Jeffrey Donova, Bokeem Woodbine and more – the editing here is downright stellar. Gives things a chaotic tone from the start.
Heading off from there, Dodd Gerhardt (Jeffrey Donovan) and his associate Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) meet in an alley with Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), putting the fear of violence in him. Rye is under the thumb of his brother meant to be collecting money. Obviously the Gerhardt clan is into nefarious shit, though, poor little Rye feels left out of the race for the throne. They’ve got another brother, Bear (Angus Sampson), but I guess Rye is the one wearing “the short pants” until he proves he’s a man and can handle the family’s business properly. Seems like the young brother might be an underachiever, in terms of organized crime.
Back at the Gerhardt house, mama Floyd (Jean Smart) alerts papa Otto (Michael Hogan) there’s a little money short at the moment. But during their talk, Otto has what looks to be a stroke, gripping the table before falling to the floor.
Out on a run for collections, Rye obviously has things going on the side. Apparently he’s going in on IBM electric typewriters with a business partner. All it involves is forgetting debt owed to Rye’s family and tailing a judge (Ann Cusack).
There’s a great use of the split-screen in this episode with lots of nice cuts between Rye and his family, all doing their own thing. Over that Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun” plays. Then we’re right back with Rye alone, he’s followed the judge into a diner after taking a bump of coke in his car. Slick, Rye. He slides into the table across from her. He tries convincing her to change her mind about a case, to which she reels off a big story about Satan and the Biblical Job. Bit ridiculous, but no in terms of writing – I think it shows how cocky a woman this judge is. Then she sprays bug spray in Rye’s eyes, so he blasts her away. Whoa. He kills a cook and a waitress afterwards simply out of fear and surprise. The judge isn’t all dead yet, she stabs him in the back before getting another bullet. I’ve ruined enough, so I won’t fully spoil the rest… this sequence is a rough doozy.
Safe to say there’ll be a bit of nasty trouble gearing up for the Gerhardt family?
Game changer comes quick when Rye wanders into the snow packed road looking at lights in the sky and gets smashed by it car. It only drives away with him adorning the hood like an ornament.
Now we’re back with a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) – previously played in Season 1 by Keith Carradine – and his wife Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) tucking their child into bed. Lou gets called into work, naturally because of the shooting at the small diner. This is one of the immediate things – aside from this series’ amazing overall aesthetic – I love starting into Season 2, how we’re getting a link to the first with Solverson and this crime. Not just that, Patrick Wilson is a solid actor in my book, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does with this character.
Added to Wilson, he gets to play off Ted Danson who features as another police officer, from the state, Hank Larsson. They each do great Minnesota accents and their chemistry is actually incredible. Would never have imagined these two together. Their relationship actually, for whatever reason, reminds me of the cops from the Fargo film. Such non-chalance and oddly humorous chemistry.
Hank: “That’s a shoe, all right.”
Lou heads down to Bingo with a couple of his buddies, including Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman). I loved this bit because Offerman is usually a certain type of character, here he’s a sort of anti-government conspiracy theorist yet not totally mad or anything just super serious really. Lou’s wife Betsy recently started chemotherapy, so it’s even worse now with this recent shooting – guaranteed he’ll be away a bit working while she’s trying to deal with her illness. Or is Lou the solid type he seems? Will he put aside work and be there as much as she needs? We’ll see, it’s a tough situation for them both, a devastating disease for Betsy to fight.
Meanwhile we’re also introduced to Ed Blomquist (Jesse Plemons) and his wife Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) who have a fairly regular life. Ed works down at a butcher shop, bringing home some meat that was paid for but not picked up. Peggy cooks up a nice meal in their cute little kitchen, then they sit down together for a bite. Only there’s a little tension between husband and wife – babies, sex, all that stuff.
The kicker being Peggy was the one driving the car that hit Rye after his shooting. She tries to explain it away the accident by saying it was a deer. Except it might’ve worked if Rye weren’t still alive in the garage, barely, and trying to stab Ed. Luckily, Ed fends him off but ends up stabbing him to death. His wife really did him bad on this one. A nasty chain of events is about to start unfolding and I can only imagine all its repercussions. The Gerhardt family, regardless of their disappointment with Rye, are going to be pretty torn up about this when it comes to light, which obviously means Ed and Peggy Blomquist are going to find themselves in a sticky situation. In addition, the cops make this a vicious triangle. So many things that can, and no doubt will, go terribly wrong.
End of the episode was good with a cut from the Gerhardts all surrounding Otto, now lying quite still in bed and the sounds of when he first stroked, to a shot of Ed and Peggy tossing Rye into their deep freeze.
Nice quick intro to Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) who briefs a team of people on the Gerhardt family’s business. Apparently the family is poised to be absorbed by a larger corporation. This whole thing is pretty shady and ominous in ways, love the very last couple shots and the music kicking in, solid finisher.
Stay tuned for the next episode with me – “Before the Law”. Loving this season already, I hope many of you are, as well!