“Before the Law” gives us our first real introduction to one of this season’s best characters, Mike Milligan (played charismatically by Bokeem Woodbine). He works as an enforcer for Joe Bulo of the Kansas City syndicate and is sent to Luverne to start to move in on the Gerhardt’s operation.
There are two scenes in particular that stand out as being breakout moments for Mike Milligan: In one, he interrogates someone using a creative method of torture involving a tie and a typewriter. In another, he gets into a quiet but tense confrontation with Ted Danson’s Hank Larsson. Both scenes are excellent; both provide Woodbine an excellent showcase in which to display his obvious screen presence.
It’s an episode full of tense confrontations; in another of the episode’s scenes, Lou very nearly catches Ed grinding up the body of Rye Gerhardt (in a meat grinder – the scene is reminiscent of the woodchipper from the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film, and the basis for this series, Fargo).
The tension of these scenes can be credited to solid writing and even more solid directing – this week’s episode was directed by series Executive Producer and showrunner, Noah Hawley. Hawley does a remarkable job, putting this season’s regular use of split-screen to good use (especially in the incredible opening sequence set to Bobbie Gentry’s “Reunion”).
The Gerhardt’s corner of the show is pretty phenomenal this week. After Milligan stops by and offers matriarch Floyd Gerhardt a deal to buy out the Gerhardt crime family’s operation, Dodd steps in to try and wrestle his mother’s status as ‘boss’ away from her. This leads to yet another fantastically directed, extremely tense confrontation scene wherein Dodd and his mother negotiate boss-hood, each sitting at opposite ends of a long table.
It’s a great episode for both Jeffrey Donovan and Jean Smart. Donovan gets to be extra scary this week – we know now that if you cross Dodd, you get your ears cut off. Smart exudes confidence and calm wisdom, she’s a small but essential part of this huge ensemble.
This is a really fun episode – I liked it more watching it the second time around – and a really promising way to kick the season into high gear. While there are still weak links (Kirsten Dunst’s casting is inexplicable), overall Fargo is one of the better shows on TV right now.
Fargo (2×02) “Before the Law” Rating: 8.5/10