03rd Apr2014

‘Fargo 1×01 – The Crocodile’s Dilemma’ Review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Joey King, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman, Bob Odenkirk, Susan Park, Tom Musgrave | Based on the film by The Coen Brothers

Fargo

With FX’s new series, Fargo, (premiering April 15th at 10/9c), it would seem that the writers, producers, and any creative person behind the scenes would be facing the wrong end of a loaded gun, trying to create a series based on a stunning, stellar film by two of the most creative filmmakers working today. But, I’ve been wrong before. Hannibal became one of my favorite shows on television easily, and judging by the pilot episode, ‘The Crocodile’s Dilemma,’ Fargo has stepped up into the realm of pilots that are very, very impressive.

You needn’t have seen the film to understand anything that occurs in the 90 minute premiere, though you’d be doing yourself an immense disservice. Fargo follows an all new mystery, one that takes almost no time getting going and paces itself excellently right till the very end, where it staggers a little bit, and more on that later.

Advising what exactly happens in the pilot would be a criminal disservice. It’s better to watch it unfold, and it truly does just that. It’s like an onion peeling back, revealing a darker side to the “aw shucks” mentality of the Minnesotans that show trades pretty well in. Actually, the show reminds me a lot of Breaking Bad, in that it’s about a man pushed by a dark force in his life, whereas for Walter White it was cancer. Here, for Lester Nygaard, it’s Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. And this is their show, plain and simple. Although there are plenty of people to fill up the world, like a bully’s two nattering kids or Bob Odenkirk’s terrible deputy.

Thornton plays Malvo as a dark trickster, akin to The Joker in The Dark Knight, but mainly in character traits. He’s practically hiding a smile of bemusement, as he sets whatever action into play that he wants. You see that as far as we see in the pilot, Malvo’s just a person who likes play people off one another, to watch the ants scurry as he sets upon them with a magnifying glass. His motivation is lack of motivation, and he’s not one to shy away from getting blood on his hands. But, he’s set up as a character with some dark past, not alluded to just yet. It gives him an intrigue we’re unaware of just yet, and the opening moments of the episode indicate that he’s got a lot of story to tell.

Martin Freeman is excellent and perfectly twitchy as the put upon Lester and even in his first scene gives you the sense that this guy is a hapless man with no aim. Freeman’s Minnesota accent is a little wonky from the start but grows on you as the episode progresses. It’ll be interesting to see the places the character goes, because it’s a dark spiral just in the first episode. His arc over the pilot is made so believable by just watching his face, and how much Freeman sells in his face at his terrible lot in life.

It’s also worth pointing out that Alison Tolman is a pretty excellent find as Molly Solverson (a sorta supplicant for Marge Gunderson). She does aces work all around, creating a character you could hang your hat on, so to speak, and in her second to last scene shows some excellent pained work.

The script by Noah Hawley (of my late, lamented favorite The Unusuals) moves tightly and gives you nary a minute to breathe as people are introduced, some wacky and some violent and cruel. It’s very adept at setting up the season, telling you exactly what troubles may or may not plague our characters throughout the season, and even moreso sets up a nice tense ending to the episode, making you wonder just how in the world Lester will get out of the mess he finds himself in.

Though the writing is great across the board, there is a bit of a cliché that Hawley wrings throughout the pilot, and by the time we reach the end, it’s pretty clear that it’s going to happen. It’s not thunderously obvious, but it is pretty clear to anyone paying attention. Another quibble, is that the final scenes of the pilot seem out of order, a pretty scary malicious scene (introducing Colin Hanks as a doting dad deputy), which in my head, I thought ended the pilot (until my re-watch made me realize I was wrong), was pushed up in favor of a scene that was good, but should’ve been re-organized. The final scene is good, but should’ve been shuffled differently. It changes the impact of the pilot, though the screener that I had was only a rough cut.

Still, minor quibbles aside, I’m hooked. Plain and simple. It sets a lot of wheels spinning in motion, and makes me intrigued to see precisely how things turn out, albeit humorously or darkly, over the course of these next nine episodes.

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