RSS

Category Archives: fx

Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

Atlanta: Season One Review **SPOILERS**

The real world is always a fascinating canvas for a television series, and with the right mix of precision and imagination any show in that particular light could be depicted as more than the sum of its parts while retaining a striking authenticity. But in order for that kind of show to work, it needs to embrace its nuances – which doesn’t necessarily mean following a typical TV show format. For the typical viewer, the greatest challenge in experiencing Atlanta is acknowledging that it doesn’t follow a typical TV show format: anything can happen, and you have to just accept that as Gospel. However, those who quickly come around to this approach and simply go along for the ride will realize that FX’s latest life-chronicling comedy relies on its inherent unpredictability to broaden its thematic flexibility, which lends to its relatively grounded trappings. There is a living, breathing world in this new series that feels just as real as yours or mine, but it’s not confined to a specific tone or a method of storytelling. Atlanta portrays the subtleties of everyday life by playing by its own rules, allowing the viewer to interpret the proceedings however he or she interprets them; that alone is enough to warrant its freshman season a resounding success.

Following the earnest exploits of – ahem – Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover), his cousin and sort-of client Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), and shockingly enlightening realist Darius (Keith Stanfield), Atlanta presents the daily happenings of everyday life under the perspectives of three ambitious African-American males (and one African-American female who I will delve into later) struggling to thrive amidst their surroundings. About three or four episodes in, after their dynamic together is cemented, we get a surreal sense of the world they live in and the hurdles it leaves in their wake. For Earn, his hurdles include making ends meet: he’s a child-caring father with little money to his name, carrying a disposition that appears even smaller than his pockets. Alfred does a particularly better job gathering cash, but his “Paper Boi” hip-hop persona generates an entirely different wave of trouble he combats throughout most of the season. Darius, however, is more or less just there – but in the best possible way imaginable. From his insights to his incredible relatability, he quickly justifies his presence by being far and away more likeable and down-to-earth than anyone else I’ve seen on television in quite some time (a good portion of that is the result of Stanfield’s performance, but the character himself is fantastic all the same).

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand these characters, particularly because a large portion of the season revolves around their perceptions of the real world. For example: “Streets on Lock”, the worthy extension to a rather fantastic pilot offering, is largely a showcase of Earn’s many different deadpan reactions to the endless array of personalities he either bumps into, or, in this particular episode’s case, is confined to a police precinct room with. Despite virtually saying a few lines and resorting to facial expressions, Glover’s performance opens us up to the realization that his character simply does not fit in with the environment from which he’s been brought forth – but the real magic in “Streets” is how it perpetuates this notion through setting. The police precinct plays as much of a character as Earn or Alfred, and through the drag queen, the mentally unstable jailbird, the abrupt police brutality and the number of masterfully-written conversations in-between, we are given an incredibly vivid sense of Atlanta the city through Earn’s eyes.

 

57d9a86d83623-image

 

Through AlfredAtlanta not only gives way to the rest of Atlanta’s underpinnings, but exercises a media outlet that offers some considerably strong social commentary. One of today’s biggest stereotypes in the music industry is the belief that the typical rapper is little more than a tunnel-visioned gang-banger with minuscule disregard for the influence his or her work may have on society; Atlanta both counters and slightly bends towards this through the gradual upswing of “Paper Boi”. In order for Alfred’s hip-hop lifestyle to seem plausibly adjacent to the personality of his everyday ego, the show needs to properly establish that dynamic and “The Big Bang” and “Go for Broke” both expertly parlay the musical talent (Alfred’s mixtape rightfully making waves on the radio in the former episode) and the hustle (Alfred’s drug-dealing shenanigans in the latter) necessary to do so. As a result, his ability to stay afloat financially while his music career continues to ascend doesn’t counteract with the credibility found elsewhere in Atlanta. However, these factors alert Alfred of his surroundings to the same extent that up-selling, exasperating waitresses and evasive club owners remind Earn of the significance surrounding his own monetary progression. The way he reluctantly obliges to take photos with the police officer in “Streets on Lock”, as well as his subsequent attempts to clarify his stance on violence to influential children, are prime examples of the plight he must undergo as a byproduct of his career path. When he’s tussling with a Black Justin Bieber in a celebrity basketball game, or facing a Twitter war with a multi-cultural personality who’s true roots of nationality are undefined,  Alfred also has to fight for and/or defend his reputation in an uphill battle with the media.

Even though this season plays off as more of a collection of individual episodes than a serial story arc, it gives characters like Alfred ample room to develop, with life experiences like these quietly molding into a game-changing moment later on. This is where installments like “The Club” come in. A breathtaking portrayal of the Atlanta club life scene, this particular episode finds Alfred losing his shit, as the frustration of playing second-fiddle to a more popular public figure leads to an act of pure “gangsta” instinct that redeems Earn and rejuvenates the ideal that “Paper Boi” deserves his due. The actual scene that perpetuates all of this is as fascinating as it is hilarious, but that could be said of a couple dozen other brilliant moments throughout season one that help define everyone else. In “Juneteenth” Earn dishes out his own comeuppance to a married couple who’s devoid of any emotional attachment to the culture they label themselves under, and that comes after his inability to handle the situation that sparks Alfred’s “oh shit” moment from “The Club”. For Earn, this scene appears to be his own coming out party, with the unflinching awareness of his personality finally catching up to the heaping load of bullshit he’s taken from society. By confidently speaking his mind to Monique and Craig over quietly filtering his thoughts, he’s proving to the viewers at home that he’s tired of playing a pre-determined role (I.E. showing up to the Allen’s Juneteenth in a pseudo-happy guise with Van just to maintain a certain appearance) and, as with the fast-food clerk in “Go For Broke” and the aforementioned, evasive club owner, being short-changed by others.

Atlanta was certainly in no shortage of wonderful characters this season, but none of which were as brilliantly-conceived as Van. Subverting nearly every trope in the “cranky spouse/budding love interest” comedy book, this woman faced the toughest of obstacles among the four leads (living with Earn, taking care of her daughter with Earn, bailing Earn out of prison, losing her teacher’s job over an admittedly failed drug test), and never before have I seen someone so honestly tackle the lows and continue marching on. Given the unusual living situation between her, Earn and their child, she’s constantly living a life filled with regret and crushed ambitions – but none of that deters from her own personal pride and determination. Van also keeps it real, and the dinner scenes in “Go for Broke” and “Value” are surefire indications that she doesn’t believe in compromise. Zazie Beetz does excellent work here, exhibiting Van’s wide range of emotions with a startling pragmatism – but, again, Van keeps it real, and when the script’s calls for Beetz to react to the absurdity of others we see her at her absolute best. Furthermore, the dynamic portrayed by both Zazie Beetz and Donald Glover is given exceptional nuance through Van’s soft spot for Earn; a negligible character arc centered around the structural fortitude of parenthood that gets a pair of perfect payoffs at the tail end of the season’s final two episodes.

 

01atlanta-master768-v2

 

As I mentioned earlier, Atlanta is a very non-linear television show, and with that approach the show doubles down on enveloping viewers with its unique take on the real world. Whether it’s a casual afternoon stroll through Atlanta’s shady underground markets, or an actual guest appearance from Migos, there’s an innate sense of realism in each scene that’s extremely arresting; every opportunity Glover and company get to characterize this city through scenery or one-off encounters with other civilians is proudly taken. Like most other shows with the TV-MA label, Atlanta‘s also prone to violence, but even those brief instances of death and belligerence are handled carefully enough to feel tangible and immersive. These things come together outside of the main action to not only perpetuate Glover’s view of Atlanta, but to also let us know that this city is as essential as the characters who live in it.

From a interpretive standpoint, this season carries a whole lot more meat than you’d think, and part of that is because of the directional approach allowing for a number of moments that ignite the variable responses viewers probably have while watching Atlanta. Sometimes, we get strange little occurrences like the man in “The Streisand Effect” who’s pleading on the phone before a herd of baby goats, and the white-faced student in “Value” who exudes one of the creepiest smiles a child could ever exude. The rest is either filled with rewarding levity (who can ever forget the “lightsaber”-wielding valet from “Go for Broke”?) or woeful reality (the police shooting in “The Jacket”). Even with repeated viewings, these instances appear to only exist as singular events or images: the show doesn’t even bother giving them much context, and when they do have context the intention comes off as open-ended. (The mysterious outcome of the shooting in the pilot episode is a prime example of this, and I’m absolutely certain that it will be a talking point for years to come.) Ultimately, they simulate the immediate, unorthodox and inexplicable nature of real life, giving Atlanta an added depth that gives it a distinct edge over other offerings in the genre.

 

If there’s any true concern that certain viewers may or should have with Atlanta, it’s most likely its loose narrative structure. Because it relies on a boundless form of storytelling, we never get a crystal clear idea of what the show is building up towards, and I could see that rubbing off on some folks the wrong way. Sometimes, it’s good to just know exactly where things are going, but Atlanta is far more content with expressing its characters and its talking points. The BET spoof “B.A.N.” is loaded with keen pop culture references and sight gags that not only poke fun at the network the show is directly insulting, but provide a strong argument base for some of America’s most undervalued political issues. Alfred may have not gotten paid for his time on “Montague”, but at least he participated in a heated exchange that has him saying things stored in the back of many people’s minds (like, for example, how little some individuals actually care about Caitlyn Jenner, and how laughably insulting they find cross-racial identity crisis). This is also an uproariously hilarious half-hour of television, maximizing the potential of telling many different stories about race, gender, equality and pure common sense through a variety of meta-heavy commercials. Where “B.A.N.” polarizes the Atlanta fanbase is in its lack of narrative progression; you’re either on board with this one-off approach and enjoy it for what it is (like I did), or become innately frustrated with its level of stagnation.

 

atlanta-ep-4

ATLANTA — “The Streisand Effect” — Episode 104 (Airs Tuesday, September 20, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Keith Standfield as Darius. CR: Guy D’Alema/FX

 

Everything this season eventually circles back around to Earn, whose personal plight throughout the season culminates in the reassurance of his “outsider” persona. The reveal that his personal home is a storage room tells us he’s slowly figuring out how to survive on his own, while the slight bit of cash to his name represents a promising start for better things. All season long, he’s had to overcome the adversities society has laid in his path, and the heartwarming catharsis he gets from both Alfred and Van in “The Jacket” bring the character arcs of those three individuals together beautifully. Suffix to say, season two will most likely handle the task of showing us whether or not the new status quo – Earn’s “house”, Paper Boi on tour, Van’s job search – will lead to better things for these folks. Even if it somehow doesn’t, and the entire concept of a narrative is thrown out the window, we’d get to continue exploring their socially conscious misadventures in Atlanta – and still be all the better for it.

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:

Atlanta, if nothing else, is a confirmation of Donald Glover’s expertise and versatility as an entertainer. His vision here proudly exudes social commentary with a raw accuracy, tackling the nuances of race, gender and social stature in remarkably refreshing ways. In addition, the trials and tribulations of life in Atlanta is captured with an authenticity that breathes life and character into both the show’s setting and its character beats. It also helps that the cast is outstanding, with Glover and Beetz in particular giving us honest portrayals of human beings who are constantly navigating their way towards a promising future together. The lack of a true defined narrative may be a bit off-putting for certain viewers, but given the amount of creative freedom as a result it’s hard to argue with the unusual approach this show decides to take.

Personally, I loved just about every minute of Atlanta this season. The show is such a breezy watch, but it doesn’t overindulge in its distinguishing qualities. Every episode offers something substantial the writers have to say, but never did I get the sense that I was being forced to agree with the perspective. Above all else, it’s so darn striking in its execution – regardless of whether the mood is comedic, tragic, or enlightening – that it truly feels like an enthralling escape from an actual real world to one seen through someone else’s eyes. 2016 has been a great year for television in general, but it’s television series like these that transcend our expectations – and prove that shows don’t always need to follow a set structure in order to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9.7

+ Casting, script, and performances

+ Realistic portrayal of Atlanta

+ Loose, non-linear episodic structure makes each episode feel fresh and unique

+ Unexpectedly weird, violent, cathartic moments

+ “B.A.N.” 

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fargo: Season 2 Review **SPOILERS**

Fargo: Season 2 Review **SPOILERS**

Sometimes it’s a chance encounter. Other times it’s the heavy influence of the past. No matter who we are, circumstance and consequence have the power to reign over personal intuition, directly shaping the lives of many of us. And even if we realize when, where or how things went south, and we try to mend our troubles into a life that’s more gratifying; at the end of the day, we just wind up back at square one, pushing a rock up a hill that’s bound to send it tumbling right back down.

Season Two of Fargo, above all else, was a character study that tackled this very idea. From the very beginning, it invited the viewer into its trappings through the inherent tendencies and behaviors of its inhabitants, allowing the juicy, primetime-level stuff to naturally take its course while we learned more about the folks involved. This show has already established how important its chess pieces are to its overarching story before, but it has never been more apparent than it is here, now. And much to the unyielding success of its script, cast and direction, Fargo allows that reliance on characters to craft a story that’s as remarkable as it is unforgettable.

A whole lot of that has to do with where Fargo takes us. As we get more insight into the Gerhardt family, the first half of the season juxtaposes their plight with that of the Kansas City mob, which dispatches the talents of Bokeem Woodbine’s Mike Mulligan, as well as an assortment of other gang members such as the soon-to-be-iconic Kitchen Brothers and Brad Garrett’s brief run as Joe Bulo. These men appear to be the last shred of mid-Westernized brutality and relentlessness: They blatantly strut about town declaring their dispositions and violently taking whatever they seek to claim. In this case, mostly, it’s what’s left of the Gerhardt territory, and given the state of the family head, Otto, who’s physically and mentally incapable of keeping his clan above water, this sort of opportunity hasn’t been more discernible.

Despite Fargo enabling this rivalry to realize itself through blood and sacrifice, the body count isn’t what makes this particular piece to the story so special. All season long, we are made aware of an inherent unbalance of authority within the Gerhardt ranks, and a lot of it is brewed from the very heads themselves. Floyd, the matriarch wife of Otto and mother of power-hungry brothers Dodd and Bear, does all that she can to restore balance, while proving herself worthy of stepping in for her decaying husband. But Floyd never stood at chance at dodging the eventual massacre(s) that ensued in the later half of the season, because both sides involved were inclined to take lives almost instinctively.

 

an-unexpected-offer-fargo

 

This season uses this mob/gang war as a way to shed light on an underlining theme sprinkled throughout the story: the role of the woman in this society. Time and again, we are provided with the effects of a misogynistic path of destruction, led by the very sons Floyd raised and hoped to keep in check. At these points of the season, we know that she was willing to protect her own and sacrifice part of what her family fought for simply to retain their safety. Had her presence left a stronger impact on the family, maybe things don’t get so dicey between the Gerhardts and Kansas City. Perhaps the biggest lost truly is the marked territory Kansas City was seeking in the first place. This leaves us to wonder “what if?”, considering how fragile a women’s voice and opinion is here, and throughout the rest of the season, we slowly watch both depress; Floyd’s efforts to get what she feels is best for everyone is ultimately neglected like a fart in the wind. The show never teeter’s into offensive, disrespectful fodder, though; The men involved here simply refrain from backing down from both what belongs to them, and what they strive to have. Since Season Two consumes itself in the mid-Western trappings of the hundreds of era-related books and films that came before it, the resounding advantage that the men have over their female counterparts here is totally believable.

If the women of Fargo weren’t aiming to keep their homes standing, they were prepared to let them fall apart. Dodd’s daughter, Simone (played by Rachel Keller in one of the most under-appreciated performances of the year) also becomes a victim of her own time period, but the difference between her and her grandmother is that she’s willing to react to it. Much of the Gerhardt’s fall from grace has to do with Simone’s handiwork, conspiring with Mike and exposing her family to its impending threat. Although she does indeed get what she wants, the show refuses to allow her escape from the mess she’s made; her death by Bear’s hand justifying the consequence of dipping into the bloodshed. Some will look at Simone and simply label her a traitor, but look back at her interactions with the rest of the Gerhardt clan deep enough, and you’ll see that she was truly crying out for help. Her inability to relate to or be involved in the family business forced her to become chaotic past the point of forgiveness or saving, and that’s especially sad because at the end of the day all she ever wanted was for them to be proud of her and to give her mutual respect.

The ensemble cast makes this a difficult season to review, because so many characters had plenty of time to shine and I’m almost certain there’ll be at least a couple of people I won’t get the chance to analyze in-depth. Patrick Wilson brings 1970’s Lou Soulverson to life, mixing a winning formula of likability,  fortitude, and earnestness. He makes Lou this era’s model man: determined police officer willing to do whatever it takes to solve a case, and a dedicated father with a heart of gold. However, the insanity that ensues over the course of Season Two only stands to resonate with his time spent in the war, although the show does an impeccable job showing how both have helped him change as a human being once the season reaches its conclusion.

Ditto for the Blomquists, who find that their dreams and ambitions are ultimately unobtainable. Personally, nothing was as heartbreaking as the emotional plight with which they were dealt, and a lot of what made it all so convincing has to with the performances of Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst. Plemons’s Ed is easy to root for, and his commitment to building a future for his family is made clear through the honesty of Plemons’s delivery. You feel for how his world slowly begins to come crashing down, and the perseverance he has to try and reverse his fortunes. Despite him meeting his fate in the finale episode, the spirit of Ed Blomquist is an entity too powerful to leave behind; his motivations mirrored beautifully in a line of dialogue between Lou and Peggy in the masterful “Palindrome”.

Through Peggy, we experience a prodigious transformation from loyal, obedient housewife to deranged, goal-oriented psychopath. The real tragedy of Fargo Season Two manifests here, as her development turns her into Ed’s foil; his intentions of providing a better life for the both of them become overshadowed by Peggy’s insistence to make more of her own. In a journey to self-actualize herself, almost the exact opposite happens as a result, and Kirsten Dunst proves she has what it takes to fully immerse us into this character’s descent. The sheer mental instability that comes to light is brought out perfectly by Dunst’s increasing unpredictability, and the declining state of Peggy’s subjective mind is extremely well-documented as the season wears on. Few characters on television have been as fascinating to watch.

 

fargo-blomquist-1024x643

 

Like I mentioned before, this season was all about the characters, and the ensemble cast put forth was perfectly realized. From the inherent power struggle of the Gerhardt family, to the tragic downfall of the Blomquist couple, each separate arc received both ample opportunity to shine, and equal wealth of depth. A sort of  “no stone left un-turned” approach reigned supreme here, dissecting practically every character’s decisions and motivations while slowly revealing their endgames. The road that brings us to season’s end is never a pretty one or a sure one, but because Fargo carefully pieces its puzzle together with a high regard for consequence and context, it becomes a plausible, engaging one.

Another thing I’ll always take away from my time spent watching this season of Fargo is how each other’s worlds collide, and the absurdity that follows. The overwhelming affect that the Blomquists’ actions have on the mob war is astounding, with every little decision on their part causing fantastic problems for the Gerhardts and Kansas City. Even the police’s engagement in the dilemma grants them unexpected consequences, particularly in the culmination that manifests itself as the Sioux Falls Massacre that’s brilliantly captured in “The Castle”. Such implications are constant reminders that there’s no such thing as a happy ending for most, but most important is how vividly it parallels with the “unexplained” occurrences that help define the 70s. Lou and Hank’s encounters with both mobs were among the most bone-chillingly tense scenes this year, but even those carry an extra layer of perspective, as both men are forever changed from their experiences here (Hank’s revelation in relation to everything that happened this season is especially touching). The season winds up all the better for it, particularly because it tacks on extra purpose to the proceedings of each story arc; the very idea that we’d eventually find out how every side coincides at the end gives them all a surreal amount of weight and significance after they initially cross paths.

 

fargo_s2e2_before_the_law_by_chris_large_fx_WEB.jpg

 

Fargo really hit it out of the park this year, and a huge part of its excellence is in its exceptional precision and distinguished attention to detail. I honestly felt as if I was brought back in time to 1979, with the dual-screen camera cuts and zoomed-out shots of cars cruising in the distance. From the wardrobes to the hairstyles, the people of Fargo Season Two also help accentuate the era, and I have to give a thumbs up to Noah Hawley and co. for going with a western-infused style of direction; the cinematography absolutely wins out in that regard.

Lastly, I must give a big shout out to all the wonderful guest performances that graced this season. Bokeem Woodbine never reached the heights of Billy Bob Thorton’s Malvo from Season One, but his portrayal of Mike Milligan is just as mystical. Unleashing a pandora’s box of temperaments, Woodbine envelops himself in a script designed specifically for his talents, and he instantly runs away with it. There are dozens of classic scenes heightened by his very presence, and my favorite part about his character is that he constantly proposes his Westernized style of savagery as if he’s reciting lines from a Shakespearean play. Woodbine’s ability to be humorous and campy, then cruel and insane, should at least land him some heavy Emmy consideration.

Nick Offerman popped in and out as oft-drunken lawyer Karl Weathers (even getting his own chance to flex some muscles in “Rhinoceros”), and owned his screentime with a delicate balance of endearment and comedic dexterity. Zahn McClarnon wears all of his emotions on his sleeve as the Native American Gerhardt bodyguard, Hanzee, and he, too, brings it home with a relatively mute performance that tells us a whole lot without revealing too much. Ted Danson was certainly a hoot as a Hank, and I got a real kick out of his more laid back demeanor and abundant chemistry with Wilson’s Lou. Cristin Milioti has suddenly become one of my favorite actresses here, holding down the fabric of the Soulverson clan as the cancer-struck Betsy. To put it lightly, I love everything about her in this role. She’s so captivating and moving, yet those features are hardly the result of her playing off the sadness of her character’s situation. Fargo allows her to be funny, sweet, and profound, with the usual melancholy of her cancer subtly underlined. For all the shifts in tone experienced in Season Two, she’s the glue that holds everything together.

 

The Verdict:

Fargo took a much different direction this season than it did two years ago, as it (mostly) neglected superstition and biblical entities/occurrences here and, like I mentioned, put a larger focus on the individual. Those who were keen observers of past series like The Wire or Breaking Bad will instantly feel right at home with the approach of its story. The decision to uncover more and more about the folks of North Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas City and present their actions in a plausible, fitting manner suggests that the season always cared more about staying true to its characters than simply tying them with a mysterious, outside force, or brewing up a central conflict with a heavy death total.

When done wrong, this sort of approach can make a show seem very bland and uneventful on the surface, and push viewers away from coming back. The thing about Fargo this year is that it doesn’t even know how to be either of those at its absolute worst; its so damn engaging from the start that you immediately feel obligated to find out what’s going to happen next. By taking the less linear route of storytelling, it gets to feed off of its rich character study, and once the bodies begin to drop and the intrigue molds into answers, we inhabit an even thicker understanding of – better yet, a closer connection to – these batch of individuals than we could have initially imagined.

From top to bottom, beginning to end, this season bleeds perfection. Pick any one area of production – performances, plot, direction – and you’ve  likely stumbled upon a pot of gold. Noah Hawley’s vision here is fulfilled so exhaustively, in so many ways, simply appreciating what Season Two was superficially would be a disgrace to the work that was done to give it personality. There were a plethora of moments this year where I almost had to stop, rewind, and play back what I had witnessed just to fully understand it. Only a handful of other experiences have encouraged such a thorough attention to detail, and it just so happens that Fargo, for the second season in a row, accomplishes that feat. No matter who you are, what you watch or where your preferences lie, Fargo Season Two is as imperative a viewing as they come. Season Three could not come any sooner.

 

 

 

Rating: 10

+ Fully-realized story

+ Excellent performances

+ Expertly-written themes and conflicts

+ Grade-A presentation

+ Memorable characters

 

 

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fargo: “Fear and Trembling” Express Review *SPOILERS*

Fargo: “Fear and Trembling” Express Review *SPOILERS*

There’s never an easy way to accept a dark fate, especially when one strives to turn the inevitable on its own head. The residents of Fargo, stretched throughout Luverne, Minnesota, as well as Sioux Falls and Fargo, North Dakota, are constantly pushing to hammer a circle into a square. The saddest part is that, at least for some, doing so can only change so much, as it already may be too late.

“Fear and Trembling” isn’t introducing these inherently dangerous dilemmas that our heroes(?) and villains are preparing to confront. The first three episodes of the season had our backs there, and along with characterizing this vintage, afro-bobbing, Jimmy Carter-running era in American history, they’ve invited us into the lives of a large cast of characters we have – or at least I have – already began to genuinely care about. The character study has come in full form since the proverbial tape started rolling, but it is here, specifically in this week’s chapter, that we begin to get an idea of where these individuals just might find themselves under the circumstances of their actions.

Take Ed and Peggy, for example. From what we’ve seen so far, a happy ending for them certainly isn’t in the cards, but either they don’t know that or they’re simply too stubborn not to try and reverse their bad luck. Rye is as good as gone, and Peggy has to live with being the one who murdered him, but there’s nothing Ed can do at this point to keep that hidden from the rest of the townsfolk. Hanzee’s deductive reasoning led him not only to the smashed up car that ran Rye over, but also drove him straight to the Blomquists’s doorstep, where he finds Rye’s un-melted belt buckle in their living room fireplace. He’s yet to exert brute force or relay his findings to the Gerhardts, but he definitely assures the couple that he’s well on top of their bullshit when he casually strolls down the block where Peggy works, staring them down keenly in his pickup truck.

That’s all we needed to push this story arc forward this week, but considering how much we’ve already learned about them and the rest of this cast of characters, why would Fargo stop there? We learn moments before the stare-down that Ed’s check to bid on the butcher shop – the supposed gateway to a future he can’t live without – was bounced; the result of Peggy’s determination to paint her own roads. She siphons a fraction of the check to pay for her Lifespring seminar, and since her boss proclaims that there’s no way she can refund it, Ed winds up shit out of luck. All he can do now is declare his importance to the butcher shop, while marginalizing Peggy’s to chasing her dreams; all of which plays out in the aforementioned scene where they share an aside in the same alleyway Hanzee is seen oogl-ing them from afar in. Not even the saddest part of “Fear and Trembling,” both Kirsten Dunst and Meth Damon Jesse Plemons display the now-glaring tragedy of their relationship to the fullest extent. Dunst’s unnerving anxiety mixed with Plemon’s gradually increasing disappointment combine to create a moment in time where Fargo becomes more than a television series, and my goodness gracious, what a scene it was.

maxresdefault

Let’s not forget Lou’s involvement here, as well. He, too, has become wise to the Blomquists’ secrets when he also inspects their car and goes over to their house to try and put their situation into a narrower perspective. A Vietnam war veteran, he notices fear when it’s staring him dead across his face, so it makes perfect sense that he would recollect his encounter with Ed at the butcher shop when he’s struggling to get definitive answers from both him and Peggy inside their own home. They’re a scared couple, afraid of the winds of circumstance both because they are not truly prepared to face it and because they have never faced adversity the likes of this before in their lives (and by that, I mean covering up a murder and stretching a lie instead of simply confessing and facing the consequences.) But Lou doesn’t show up to their front doorstep to perpetuate their fear – he simply wants to alleviate it. He asks them to verbally fess up to their crime so that he could somehow squeeze them out of a potentially nasty jam, and does so in the softest, most caring tone a police sheriff could possibly have. But like I said earlier, the Blomquists are stubborn folk. Despite Lou already hinting that he knows they’re responsible for Rye’s death, they stick to the plan and ask him to leave. This is mostly Peggy’s doing, which now raises suspicions about where and how far she’s planning on taking this. One wonders if she’s testing the extremities of her lifestyle, challenging fate and the law as an excuse to live a life more exciting and consequential than manning a station at a hair salon. There have been scenes earlier this season that have brought this ideal into focus  – it’s not completely coming out of left field – so it paints an even darker cloud on the future of her marriage with Ed.

Almost without a doubt, however, there’s just no way this couple is going to make it out alive here. They literally have no where to run, the Gerhardts are one Hannzee-de-breifing away from mercilessly hunting them down, and even if Peggy plans to attend her seminar, she’ll still have to constantly answer to the police questions regarding the shitstorm she and her husband have carefully mustered. They’ve become victims of circumstance, pinning themselves into a corner of which there’s no escape, all because of bad timing, mutual disagreements, and poor decision-making. But it’s all heart-wrenching because we have seen them (briefly) play out their lives before Peggy introduced Rye’s dead body hanging in the windshield of her car: it was peaceful, generic, but most of all, happy. They were content with what they had, even though they eventually decided they wanted more. And since they have actually fought previously to get more, it’s unfair to watch them see it all dissipate before their eyes over a moment that happened so suddenly.

That right there is what sets Fargo apart from anything else on television; that it could immerse you into just a portion of its trappings while the big picture comes together. The Blomquists’s troubles only make up for a quarter of “Fear and Trembling,” but I personally believe that a whole episode dedicated to just them would’ve been a fantastic watch. It’s a testament to the writers and Noah Hawley’s vision that, only four episodes in, the lives of everyone involved here are as engaging as they are.

Such is especially true about the Gerhardts, as they are currently competing for the most tragic crime family ever assembled on television. The way Dodd’s flashback with Otto juxtaposes with his trip to Kansas City with Charlie is perhaps one of the greatest writing decisions in recent memory. You see the innocence in young Dodd when he approaches the movie theatre with his now-health-stricken father, and it makes for a beautiful, yet somehow hilarious contrast to Charlie’s matter-of-fact advances in contributing to the Gerhardt business of present. Young Dodd never had a choice, whereas Charlie is chomping at the bit for what his uncle had then and has now. In addition, the Coen brother’s style of violence is oh so perfectly illustrated here, especially in the donut shop scene where Dodd struggles to not only keep one of his sudden adversaries pinned to the ground via taser, but also to get the proper donut order from the clerk behind the counter.

FARGO -- ÒFear and TremblingÓ -- Episode 204 (Airs November 2, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Michael Hogan as Otto Gerhardt. CR: Chris Large/FX

Of course, such moments play a bigger part in how we’ve gotten here and where we’re likely to go. Bulo and his boys are made well aware of the donut shop incident at a rather convenient time, which destroys any hope of Floyd being able to convince him in accepting her counter offer. Dodd could give a rat’s ass, though, especially since he refrains from ceasing his supposed rights to the head of the Gerhardt table. He’s glad he sent the message he did, and he’s more determined to emphasize it than anyone else in the family when Floyd decides to cut the shit and gather the troops for an all-out war. The result of decades of misongynistic, blood-fueled business-making, this is what Dodd lives for. This is his code. If his father never showed him the ropes to this life at such an early age, maybe we don’t see him stir things up with Kansas City. Maybe he pushes Floyd to play it safe and take Bulo’s original offer. Maybe we don’t see him plant a stake in the business at all.

Unfortunately, this is the road that’s paved for him, and no matter how many guys he beats down, chances are the price of staying the course all these years will catch up to him. “Fear and Trembling” only accelerates the due date. We all know how this story ends. Even though last week’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” assured that his family won’t back down from a fight, this already appears to be one they’ve already lost. There’s no better way of realizing this than the ride home, where we see Dodd and Floyd quietly, progressively sobbing; the former endlessly reaching for the latter’s hand until they connect in a tunnel of unraveling fear and sadness. They, too, are keen to how this story ends.

Before I conclude, here are some extra notes from this week’s episode:

-By sleeping with Mike (and supposedly putting her finger in his ass,) Simone’s already poised to drill a huge knife into the heart of her own family. You can’t really blame her, considering how Dodd’s insisted on shunning her from the family business. This also proves that Mike isn’t exactly the second-coming of Malvo; that he, like everyone else here in this era, is vulnerable to the chaos surrounding him. I could be wrong, and he could just be screwing Simone because she enjoys a fine sniff of coke as much as the next gal, but now I’m almost certain that he’s cut from a different symbolic cloth, and that his intentions are a whole lot clearer in comparison.

-Another couple striving to hammer a circle into a square is Lou and Betsy. Even sadder than the tragedy surrounding the Blomquists, the two are struggling to come to terms with the nature of Betsy’s cancer. What makes it so damn powerful is Lou’s insistence that everything’s going to be okay, even though it won’t. Along with the nature of the Blomquists’ situation, it makes him question the values he was strung up with, and the changing perspectives of the country at that specific timeline. He’s so accustomed to having a solution for everything, that seeing people resort to alternative measures (Peggy) succumbing to long-fought battles (Betsy) is forcing him to seek ways to remain positive, and you can tell that it’s really destroying him inside.

-Let me also say, for the first of many times, that Patrick Wilson has been absolutely phenomenal here. He speaks so much in his emotions and in his character’s ideals and war-driven stories that rooting for him to accomplish any mission or feat becomes automatic.

-Diddo for Cristin Milioti, who kills every time she’s on screen. An absolute tour de force of hope and acceptance, I find it difficult to imagine anyone else nailing the character’s playful quirps and unfettered optimism with as much precision. She also wins my personal award for best line of the episode: “No, it’s not a war on you. It’s a war against your body.”

The Verdict:

What an episode. “Fear and Trembling” is masterful storytelling, weaving into and out of varying story arcs as effortlessly as it parlays the tragedy that has become of them. It’s a declaration of television at its finest, demonstrating how a vision or an idea could create something magical, if only for a brief period of time in our lives. It also prepares us for the worst that’s yet to come, constantly reminding us that all of which has come before next week’s proceedings, as beautiful, dark and comical it has been, has simply been window-dressing. I can’t even begin to imagine how Fargo, with more than half a season left to go, is going to top itself yet again.

Rating: 10

+ The tragedy of Ed and Peggy, and their secrets beginning to leak

+ Lou seeking a solution for the Blomquists, Betsy’s cancer

+ The Gerhardts declaring war on Kansas City

+ Excellent sprinkles of Coen brothers’ comedy and direction throughout

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 5, 2015 in fargo, fargo season 2, fx, TV, tv drama, TV reviews, tv show

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,