Fargo: "The Rooster Prince"

Still disappointed, still intrigued. My thoughts on the second episode of FX's new series follows, minus a plot summary.

Given the very limited response to my recap of the pilot - and the fact that even the couple of regular swho commented didn't sound like they were going to be watching Fargo regularly - this may be the last post I'll do on the series. After all, this is a basketball site, right?

So... another extended length episode. I don't mind slightly longer "hours" but only for series that have earned it by demonstrating that they can tell a tight, compelling story in a regular commercial hour. Then, when story dictates a need for a few more minutes - and a network is will to accommodate - by all means, go long. But starting out with two longer episodes reflects a lack of discipline to me.

Not unrelated, it also felt like there are too many story threads in the air. I am not often one to complain about complexity, but I will if it results in lack of focus. Martin's worried about being caught and Molly is trying to catch him; that is the core story. Malvo is off on another adventure, which is entertaining, but a whole new can of worms. Colin Hanks' police officer seems interesting, but his tale is very much at the periphery right now. And we also have the two new characters trying to avenge Sam Hess's death.

Perhaps setting all these balls in motion will pay off with fantastic collisions of the various narratives. Let's hope so.

As long as I am complaining, it was a bad sign to see that the open is the same tired "This is a true story, etc." graphics. I am already tired of it. No title sequence beyond that, no "previously on." I can live without those, though in general I appreciate it when they are well done (see another FX series, "Justified," for example).

The characters still feel too simplistic to me - everyone is either a good person or a bad person, with very little middle ground. Most of them are not very bright. What makes shows like "Breaking Bad" or "Justified" crackle is the clash of smart, willful leads - Walter and Gus, Raylon and Boyd. If we get to a point where it's Molly vs. Malvo, then Fargo may benefit from that same dynamic - but I am not holding my breath.

We start off with a couple of new characters, a swarthy gentleman and his deaf mute partner and some silly fake sign language. This felt very forced and writerly, trying too hard and not half as clever as the show thinks it is. And they find a red herring who looks very, very much like Malvo - who's not the most normal guy you'll every see. Again, contrived. Unless Malvo modeled his look after this guy (Lenny) as part of his plan to throw off anyone looking for him... but if that's true, that requires an even bigger stretch of disbelief.

And the episode ends with this duo disposing of Lenny in a scene that had no emotional weight - we don't know Lenny enough to care about him, despite the spooky song being played. And the ice auger in the middle of snowy nowhere felt like an obvious nod to the original Fargo's wood chipper.

It's a thin line between homage and rehash. Did Oliver Platt's supermarket king feel too "Nathan Arizona" for you?

Speaking of Platt, I will say that I like the cast quite a bit (and the production values, too: cinematography, editing, music are all solid). Platt is a welcome addition. Bob Odenkirk is featured much more here than in the pilot. His Minnesota accent is pretty bad, but thankfully he doesn't look much like Saul Goodman and he's good in this role.

There is some needed warmth in this episode, courtesy of two father/daughter scenes. Colin Hanks and his teen daughter, Molly and her ex-cop dad. These both felt more genuine than the rest of the episode.

Billy Bob's impish glee really gives the series its spark, though we have to wait a while before he makes his appearance this episode. But it was worth it, if only for the hilarity of Malvo's response to threat's from the supermarket chain's head of security - he calmly sits on the toilet and starts reading Platt's autobiography.

Hot dish! Dairy Queen! I'm getting hungry...

In a nation where a significant chunk of it is under snow cover for a significant period of time, it's refreshing to see a television series so situated in white landscapes. So few things on TV seem to take place above the Mason Dixon line between December and March - other than Christmas episodes.

I enjoyed the off kilter scene where Hanks is in his old brick apartment building, undressing. The way the windows look into each other between units was very well shot. The exhibitionist woman next door appears to be Jewish; not sure why this was emphasized. Any thoughts?

In fact, any thoughts on anything about this episode? Don't be shy...

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