Fargo 2×01 ‘Waiting for Dutch’: Godot’s arrival

Fargo 2x01 Cover

It’s no mistake that Fargo starts its stellar second season by referencing both Carter and Reagan. We view our history as Americans in smaller chunks, and presidential figures evoke a certain image or impression of what the country was in a certain time. Carter’s speech at the beginning speaks to the identity crisis that people were contending with after Vietnam had wrapped and up the Cold War was in full swing. Carter didn’t seem to be solving the unsolvable, the mystery of our unhappiness, so we turned to a man who asserted that he would change things: Reagan. But, as we know, Reagan didn’t fix anything. We look to a figure to change our lives for us, and we wait for that change to happen, but it never does. We don’t see the insurmountable forces behind us implementing the status quo because we don’t want to. We pretend that everything is okay, that change will come eventually, and then we get back to our lives.

Fargo 2x01-1

Source: FX

It’s the reason that the season opener, “Waiting for Dutch” (a clear reference to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”) starts out with a scene from a fake Reagan film that has an actor and a crew member waiting for Reagan to be ready for his scene. They stand around, talking about nothing, smoking cigarettes, and then the scene just cuts. Because, while they talk up Reagan, this paragon of hopeful future change, they waste their lives conversing about nothing. It’s what Fargo is all about, dissatisfaction with falseness and loss of control, only to have the world smack you down when you try to break free. In the movie, Jerry Lundegaard tries to take back power by having his wife kidnapped and held for ransom, but that only drags him further. In the first season of the show, Lester Nygaard tries to take back power by killing his wife, but that only ceded power to Lorne Malvo, who continued to manipulate him.

Fargo 2x01-2

Source: FX

This season of the show continues along the same lines, with Rye Gerhardt, the youngest of the Gerhardt syndicate in Fargo, trying to assert that the world should take him seriously. Of course, when the world doesn’t, and the judge he tries to persuade treats him like a pitiful bug, he lashes out and murders her, along with two other bystanders at a 24-hour Waffle Hut. Fargo has always been about those disillusioned by the status quo lashing out against it, and it has always been how the status quo is inevitably reinstated. When Gerhardt commits the triple murder, he sees a UFO outside of the restaurant, and he follows it until a car runs him down. The world always has a way of setting everything back into balance, and Fargo emphasizes this through elements of magical realism.

Fargo 2x01-3

Source: FX

Even look at the women in the show. Peggy Blomquist is a pretty housewife for a goofy, chubby guy named Ed (played by a fantastic Jesse Plemons), and it’s clear that she’s feeling dissatisfied with the life she has with him. The same goes for Floyd Gerhardt, who now has to step up and be the boss of the Gerhardt crime syndicate after Otto Gerhardt has a stroke. Brad Garrett’s hilarious character, Joe Bulo of the Kansas City Crime Syndicate, says it best when he says that “she’s tough, but you know, a girl.” Women in the Fargo universe, unless they commit to being secondary to the men in their lives or assert a compromised role of dominance (usually through law enforcement), are ultimately angry at their fate as people completely without agency. Peggy ends up hitting Rye with her car, and Ed has to kill him as a result. We see how, in involving her husband in her criminal acts, she begins to assert some sort of control. Now, they’re both on the same level, criminals trying to avoid detection. Outside of the confines of the law, everybody is equal.

Fargo 2x01-4

Source: FX

For a show that simply shouldn’t have been good, Fargo has a fantastic start to a second season, basically defying all expectations of what anybody thought the show would be. It extends its reach farther than the first season, making everything bigger and better, taking the first episode to spread around the exposition equally in order to keep from becoming tedious and boring. We’re introduced to the Gerhardt crime syndicate, down two members (Otto has a stroke and Rye is murdered), so only Floyd and her two sons Bear and Dodd are left. We’re introduced to Lou Solverson, the father from the first season, as well as his wife Betsy and his father-in-law Hank Larsson. We’re introduced to the dim-witted married couple Peggy and Ed Blomquist, who are now criminals after killing Rye. And we’re introduced to the Kansas City Crime Syndicate, where Joe Bulo schemes to take down the Gerhardts. It’s a massive cast and already characters feel familiar and fun, all of them interesting people who are either enforcing the status quo or desperately trying to subvert it. But it is a phenomenal first episode in that the exposition never feels thick or boring, instead firing through four sets of characters at a breakneck speed, setting up the crime story of the season by burning through murder after murder. It’s endlessly watchable and darkly hilarious.

“Waiting for Dutch” couldn’t have done a better job of setting up what looks to be a season better than the first. The 1979 setting not only switches gears from the first season, but offers a smart backdrop to the usual Fargo themes that run through all of the movies and seasons. Because everybody here is looking for a change, for Godot to arrive, but he never does. People lash out against the status quo, but they’re met with a big nothing, a darkness that swallows them whole and restores the world to what it “should be”. Of course, those that disrupt the false ideal world of the small-town Midwest will be punished. And it’s depressing to consider these themes with such seriousness. But that’s what Fargo is for. The brutal realities of our world are a little easier to swallow when they’re being washed down with blueberry waffles, donuts, and Hamburger Helper. Enjoy.

So what did you think of the season premiere of Fargo? Was it a lot of fun? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • George Liapes

    I loved the premiere and can’t wait for an even better season. I’m impressed you managed to make so many analyses about the characters and story that I didn’t notice, and enriched the characters in the process. Fargo was one of my favorite shows of last year, what did you think of the first season?

    • Michael St. Charles

      I loved the first season! Fargo was also one of my favorite new shows of last year, though it was edged out by The Leftovers, which is still my favorite show on TV right now. It’s crazy how many great shows came out last year; I’m going to be reviewing Transparent when that comes back, another new show that I absolutely adored.

      I’m curious to see what the second season does without a “Big Bad”. The first season centered all of its insanity around Malvo, but the second season doesn’t really have a character like that. I’m sure it’ll be a good thing, but I wonder how that will play out, not having a tremendous presence like Thornton as Malvo to center the show around.