Full discretion time: I have yet to actually sit down and watch the movie Fargo. It’s always been one of the movies that remains on my “Must Watch” list but is one of the lone survivors that never gets deleted. Luckily for me, it means that I can watch the show with little to no pre-conceived notions of what I believe it should be like.
Big in scope, morbid hilarity and intrigue, Fargo’s series premiere episode “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” excellently sets up the rest of the season.
The first episode, like all first episodes, is in essence, meant to introduce our characters and hint at where they’re heading. Fargo manages to subvert this simple premise by shrouding the characters in mystery, hiding their motives and in the case of one character in particular, having them be taken over by darker traits by the episodes end.
We’re introduced to the show on an endless highway that Lorne (Billy Bob Thorton) is driving on. The only noise interrupting the calm of the drive is the thumping coming from the trunk of his car which, after hitting a deer and veering off the road, we realize is a man, clad only in his undergarments. He manages to run away as Lorne takes his time to get and look at the deer he killed.
The following character introductions go similarly-we meet the two police officers, Molly and Verne with the former being the seeming understudy with Verne playing the mentor to his younger, fresh faced colleague. We learn about Verne’s home life, his wife and their expected child-a hopeful future.
However, the most prominent character we meet, along with Lorne, is Lester played by an incredible Martin Freeman. At the start it looks like he’ll be playing to type, the exasperated, often put down man. He’s put down by his wife, his customers and after a run in with a bully from his past that leaves him with a broken nose he ends up in the hospital which sets up the first interaction between him and Lorne.
Lorne is quick to call to question Lester’s motives for just allowing himself to be kicked down. He tells Lester that if he were in his position, he’d have killed the man. Following this statement leads to confusion where Lorne believes that Lester had implied he wanted his bully, Sam Hes, to be killed.
First though we need to see more of Lester being beaten down to make his complete shift in character make all the most sense. He and his wife-who continues to berate him-goes to his younger brothers house for dinner where he’s told and shown how his brother out does him. After accidentally breaking a piece of his brother’s gun he gets fed up by the abuse and hits him.
Lorne meanwhile has done what he thought Lester wanted him to do-or what he felt like doing just to cause some trouble in a small town-and went and killed Hes while he was having sex in a back closet of a strip club.
All of this is leading up to yet another meeting between Lorne and Lester after Lester learns of what’s happened and he’s told that today, he’s more of a man for wanting Hes dead. Lorne tells him that Lester has been living his life believing there are rules he’s supposed to be following, and there aren’t. Why is Lorne seemingly so willing to help Lester? The motives are unclear, if there are any at are, and that’s that makes the consequences of his words seem all the more dangerous-there’s weight behind them, but it’s shallow.
We don’t realize how fully Lester has taken his words to heart until later that night when he’s confronting his wife in the basement of his house. He had tried to play the dutiful husband role and had attempted to fix the washing machine for her once again but this time when she turns it on, it breaks. She doesn’t hold back this time and tells him that she was always warned about marrying him, about how a man like him could only grow up to be a loser and there is a viscous intent behind what she’s saying, malice that hits Lester until he cracks. He tells her to stop and when she says or what, he grabs a hammer which she laughs off. Why shouldn’t she? For so long he’s been the doormat. The audience sees the shift in his psyche before she does, the exact moment when he becomes unhinged, before hitting her with the hammer. Blood begins to spill, as she looks at him dumbstruck and before he can second guess himself he repeatedly hits her with the hammer until dead and unrecognizable. Freeman in the scene is wonderful, perfectly showing every thought and every emotion as they cascade over his face.
It’s at this point in the story where everything seems to happen at once, leaving me holding my breath as every new character comes onscreen. Lester calls Lorne but before he arrives, Verne has come to stop by after a tip Molly thought of that could connect Lester to Hes’s murder. He’s quickly derailed when he sees blood in the hallway and finds Molly at the bottom of the basement. Before he can call for help, Lorne has arrived and shoots him and lets him bleed out on the floor.
He leaves when Molly arrives and downstairs as Lester is trying to figure out what to , comes to an idea and runs himself into the wall, knocking himself out so he can’t be incriminated-he’ll only look like another victim.
The episode ends with him waking in the hospital, with Molly mourning the loss of her partner, and Lester causing more trouble.
The episode nearly knocked me over with how much it did with the time it was given. About halfway through the episode I had begun to wonder just how the show planned to stretch out this story for the entire season but, they made sure to takes some unexpected twists that would open the story up for a longer life. I didn’t expect Verne to die so soon and his death was surprisingly impactful, especially as you see the cans of paint he’d grabbed for his child’s nursery. I expected Lester to lose his cool, what I didn’t expect was how wildly violent it would become and how the writers would refuse to try and rationalize it-it was bloody, horrific and scary. I didn’t expect Lorne’s character to be more of a trickster than anything else-sure he’s deadly and dangerous-but he also seems to like to play the puppet master, pitting people together and saving the day only to crush it afterwards.
I’m excited for this show. Its shot with a crisp, cinematic flare has a moody atmosphere and some fantastic characters.