No longer content to raid merely the Coen Brothers’ closet, Noah Hawley has begun borrowing from others. This episode of Fargo, the second half of its two-part season premiere, isn’t the first time Hawley’s series-sized homage has paid homage to filmmakers besides those of its namesake. (Season 3’s riff on animator Don Hertzfeldt comes to mind.) But it’s the first time I can recall it doing so this obviously and this often.
Dot’s secret origin? It’s like Kill Bill if the Bride had successfully hid for ten years before the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad showed up. Dot’s plan for securing the house against unspecified threats? It’s like if Home Alone if the booby traps are most likely going to actually maim people. The still-unnamed kidnapper listed as Ole Munch in the PR material? He refers to himself as “a man,” eg. “A man is grateful,” like Jaqen H’ghar from Game of Thrones. Scotty’s contribution to Dorothy’s security plan? A spiked baseball bat referred to by her dad Wayne as a “zombie-killer,” a la weaponry from The Walking Dead.
I don’t really have a problem with it. These are all enormous pop-culture touchstones, some decades old. It’d be like getting mad at David Lynch for riffing on The Wizard of Oz. It’s a bit off brand for a Coen Brothers pastiche, but other than that I don’t see the harm.
What I do see is the Hamm.
Jon Hamm makes his proper debut as Sheriff Roy Tillman, the half-ridiculous, half-horrifying man behind Dorothy’s attempted kidnapping. Roy turns out to be two important things: 1) a “constitutional sheriff,” a sort of self-appointed knight sworn to the service of the Constitution as a sacred document, the spirit of which he is free to interpret and enforce regardless of the actual law; 2) Dot’s cheerfully abusive current husband. She ran rather than pursue any other kind of option, for reasons that become obvious the minute you meet Roy, and he’s out for revenge.
He’s aided in this by his son, deputy, and right-hand man Gator. Played by Joe Keery, who in warrior-cop tactical gear is barely recognizable out of his Stranger Things styling, he’s a bullying piece of shit who acts very much like his father is the all-powerful sheriff. He interferes in the ongoing investigation into the kidnapping and the service station shootout by deleting Dorothy’s mugshot from the phone of local cop Deputy Olmstead (Richa Moorjani), preventing her showing Deputy Farr and thus IDing her as the runaway victim at the gas station. (Why she can’t simply get in touch with the station or log into their system or whatever and get another copy of the pic is beyond me.)
But Munch repeatedly gets the drop on him, first by breaking his wrist while escaping from an attempted execution, then by stabbing his partner to death at the aforementioned service station while Gator is inside grabbing a drink. Hawley is good with the frustrated son archetype on this show, so I’m excited to see where both Gator and the similarly situated Wayne are headed.
Because Wayne’s headed somewhere alright. His mother and her lawyer, Danish Graves (Scott Foley in a white eyepatch, looking like a cross between Col. Sanders and Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson), suspect that Dot staged the kidnapping as part of an extortion attempt but got cold feet, hence her denial that the kidnapping happened at all. Dorothy straight-up threatens to kill Lorraine if she tries to take her daughter away from her, dropping the Minnesota Nice facade for one blessed minute, but it doesn’t discourage the matriarch from making legal moves and freaking Wayne the hell out.
There’s also a lot of ’70s hesher music on the soundtrack despite the fact that it’s set in 2019, and Roy has horseshoe nipple rings. I’m not sure why on either count, but it’s not like I’m gonna complain. I’m also not sure why this needed to be the second half of a double-episode premiere; the two stories seem separate enough, and episode one’s ending has more oomph to it.
But the episode we get is a very good one. Once again, writer-director Hawley displays his facility for building tension and dread; the long take that includes the stabbing murder of Gator’s partner by Ole Munch feels endless, drawing out the sense that something terrible is going to happen before delivering on it. Jeff Russo’s score goes full horror movie in this scene as well, which helps immensely. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up my favorite homage in the episode: Jon Hamm getting out of the bath bare assed, à la Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Season 3. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so gander all you want.