‘Fargo’ recap, episode 2: Leaving Minnesota

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson (Chris Large/FX)

Quick recap:

Deputy Molly looks for Chief Vern's killer, while Fargo mobsters arrive in town to look for Sam Hess's killer. It doesn't go well for either of them, because said killer has moved on to a new gig in Duluth. There, Officer Grimly has begun wrestling his severely overmatched conscience. Meanwhile, Lester is just trying to mind his own business and get away with an entirely different murder.

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Real Good?

It was going to be hard to top last week's bang-up premiere, and the sophomore episode wisely doesn't try. Instead, we get a deliberate (not to say slow) exploration of the fallout from the opener's violence. We also meet plenty of new characters, and get a little more violence. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in mood. I give this one 3½ North Stars.

Minnesota bona fides

Most of the heavy lifting of establishing the setting has already been accomplished, so that's not really the focus this week. Good thing, too. There's the pile of dripping boots by the front door at Chief Vern's wake, and an ice auger that's put to a highly illegal purpose, but that's about it for demonstrating the episode's Minnesota provenance.

The cast is starting to show a little variation from the pilot's Scandinavian homogeneity, in the form of a Greek-American supermarket mogul (Oliver Platt) and Officer Grimly's Duluth neighbors, whose level of Jewish orthodoxy is beyond my area of expertise to determine. Still no black, Hispanic, Asian, or even Native American characters, though. Let's not go crazy here, after all.

One will always be on the lookout for "Minnesota nice" on this show, and this week it's provided by Deputy Molly. Even when she's insistently trying to ferret out the gaps in Lester's story, she's apologetic and respectful towards him. A cop on any other TV show would be sweating Lester in the hot box, or whatever the expression is.

Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo (Chris Large/FX)

Talking Minnesota

Martin Freeman's accent seems to be settling down nicely, and he gets better and better at saying "real good," no doubt because of all the practice he's getting. The classic "Fargo" accent among the rest of the cast is either fading or getting less noticeable. I did like the ironic touch of how the heaviest Scandinavian accent in the episode belonged to the strip club owner.

One moment that rang false was a police sergeant using the French pronunciation of the word "foyer," purely in service of a gag where he had to immediately define the word "foy-AY." We pretty much just say foy-urr up here, right?

Bemidji's old Carnegie Library
Bemidji's old Carnegie Library. (Photo via Flickr/Jasperdo)

Looks like home

Aside from the glances at a roadside sign welcoming us to Bemidji and an overhead shot of the city's water tower, we could be in any small town that has signs in English and snow in winter. Especially since both sign and water tower are fake.

Duluth fares worse, featuring a nearly-empty post office that looks like a church cafeteria and employs non-uniformed staff. This is a major Midwestern seaport, not a rinky-dink backwater with a volunteer postal service. Most egregiously, the first scene includes a discussion of how this fictional version of Bemidji doesn't have a library. Oh, for dumb.

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard -(Chris Large/FX)

Full recap

Lester's out of the hospital, pretty much just trying to keep his cool and play the bereaved widower. Temporarily moving in with his brother's family, he seems to think he's gotten away with killing his wife, other than that pesky wound on his hand. Deputy Molly, however, wants to follow up on the conversation that Chief Vern went to have with Lester about the creepy guy at the ER the night Vern was killed, and the discussion Lester was heard having with the stranger about the late Sam Hess. Deputy Bill -- now Chief Bill, even though Vern had told Molly the job would one day be hers -- agrees, but only reluctantly, and is only too eager to let his childhood friend off the hook when Lester falsely claims not to have seem Sam since high school. Molly disregards Bill's orders to do the same, until Bill angrily -- angrily for Minnesota, that is -- takes her off the case. He seems convinced that the murders were random acts by the marauding drifters that famously terrorize the Itasca region.

For now, Lester's major problem is what to do with the bloody hammer he hid in the works of his broken washing machine, which the cops didn't find. But something tells me Molly isn't going to let this go.

Meanwhile, the guy who killed everyone but Lester's wife last week is making his creepy, dead-eyed, discomfiting way around Duluth. After picking up his new assignment at the post office, he goes to meet his new client: that supermarket millionaire, who has received an anonymous blackmail letter demanding an oddly specific amount. His next stop is the client's soon-to-be-ex-wife, where he quietly discovers that the ex-wife's new boyfriend/personal trainer uses the same kind of bronzer smeared on the blackmail letter. There's also a grown but not-all-there son in the picture, who spends too much time on camera with both parents not to be important later. At the same time, the client's full-time security chief doesn't appreciate having his toes stepped on, so the killer demonstrates exactly how intimidated he is by nonchalantly dropping his pants and parking himself on the toilet right in front of him. We all remember that lesson from Dale Carnegie.

Colin Hanks as Gus Grimley (Matthias Clamer/FX)

Also in Duluth, Officer Grimly makes a connection between the man he recently allowed to drive away from a traffic stop and the crimes over in Bemidji. He keeps this to himself, however, being a single dad with a teenage daughter that he didn't want orphaned. There's also the fact that his neighbor has commenced flirting with him from across the courtyard, and if he'd gotten killed that night he never would have gotten to see her at her window in her underwear. Seems like the universe is telling him something.

Sam Hess having been connected and all, a couple of goons representing the Fargo mafia have shown up to look for Sam's killer. One communicates exclusively through sign language, and the other is Joey's creepy roommate from "Friends." They visit the scene of the crime and soon meet a guy who matches the description of the real killer, who also happens to be a nutty jerk who's into knives. So they stuff him in their trunk. And when he turns out to be the wrong guy, they simply drill a hole through the surface of a frozen lake and just drop him right in there. No harm done, except of course to the nutty jerk who was into knives. And, one hopes, ice fishing.

Next week: Molly tries to get herself back on the case.