“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?”
“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
– H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds
“Before the Law” ends with that quote from H.G. Wells’ sci fi classic about invaders from mars, and it raises a lot of questions about the world of Fargo. Who is watching these people go about their lives, hiding crimes, taking over rival mob operations, and struggling to comprehend their changing world? The quick answer is us, the audience. But that’s too easy.
Instead, the quote serves as a warning to the characters themselves. They’re being watched, not by some meta-overlords, but by each other, even if they don’t know it. Everyone in Fargo believes their actions exist in a vacuum, hidden from one another, when they aren’t. Each step they take, every body stuffed in a grinder, every snowman a young Molly goes to make, has a ripple effect that touches on these separate lives. They’re part of the same world, even if their ignorance blinds them to the fact. They’re going to collide one day, sooner rather than later.
What “Before the Law” gets across so well is the slow boil. Not much may have happened in way of actual plot development, but we get the distinct impression that the web that these characters are trapped in is being drawn closer together.
Some, like Lou and Hank, are aware of this external force. Fargo isn’t afraid to showcase its time period, not necessarily in aesthetics or costume, but in the changing mind of middle America. The two cops ponder if people brought World War II back with them. Floyd Gerhardt is aware that the world is becoming “more corporate” by way of a rival gang’s buyout. Mike Milligan knows the absurdity of two opposing forces meeting on a lonely road, despite the chaos around them.
The first season of Fargo focused all of this chaos on a single character, Lorne Malvo, brought to life by the giddy Billy Bob Thorton. Season two spreads its chaos around and throws characters in the thick of it. Everything is…off. This constant examination of the state of the world is a perfect reflection of the events taking place around them. Hank warned us these events were horrific in the first season. We’re given the impression it’s going to be even worse in reality.
Fargo is so clear in its representation of its characters that it drips down even to the simplest of actions. Take, for example, the moment where Dod changes his seat to the head of the table, directly across from his mother. Little moments like these make Fargo stand out better than any other TV show on the air.
Also clear is its ability to balance multiple characters without losing sense of the plot. I talked about this in my episode one review, but “Before the Law” proves it can keep it up. Character actions speak much louder when you can understand why they’re doing them, and so far Fargo manages to balance each thread with absolute mastery.
Everyone is watching, if not for others, than for themselves. We’ll see how long these characters can keep to their tiny bubble. We were already given some friction with the excellent scene on the road between Hank and Mike. Perhaps next time we’ll see what happens when those bubbles burst.
Odds and Ends:
- Yeah, that meat grinder is probably a direct reference to the wood chipper from the film.
- Mike Milligan may not have the same type of role as Lorne Malvo, but he’s just as an enticing villain thanks to his off-kilter vernacular and bushy sideburns.
- I suppose it’s possible that the H.G. Wells quote might have referenced the alien sighting from the first episode but…the jury’s still out on that one. It’s a testament to the show that it can make the inclusion of extraterrestrials still feel somehow grounded in the larger themes and plot. Minnesota is a weird place.
- “Now I’m going to go ahead and guess the boys are an eleven and not a two, which would make them toddlers.”
- I know it was an hour and a half with 59 minutes of screen time, but man those commercials can really kill the pacing sometimes.
- How good was it to hear those sleigh bells again?
- You also all probably missed the first ten minutes because of some other obligation, but go back and rewatch them. Great use of split screen and visual rhythm.
Steve hopes winter doesn’t come too soon. Follow him on Twitter.