Fargo Review: “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”

(Episode 1.01)

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<i>Fargo</i> Review: &#8220;The Crocodile&#8217;s Dilemma&#8221;

The 1996 movie Fargo brings back such evocative memories. The way a very pregnant Frances McDormand said, “Mr. Lundegaard.” The sad-sack face of William H. Macy as he tracked through the snow. And, of course, the wood chipper. Who can forget the wood chipper?

While the idea of a Fargo TV series may have had many people saying, “Ah jeez,” the new FX series has managed to pull off the nearly impossible. Since it is a whole new case and cast of characters, viewers who haven’t seen the movie will still be able to follow the series (although you really should see the movie). But if you’re a fan of the Academy-Award-winning film, you won’t be disappointed. The series has captured the essence and the spirit of the film.

Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the Mr. Lundegaard of this story, is a downtrodden insurance salesman who doesn’t have the respect of his clients, his brother or even his wife. “Guys at work, they talk about how they look up to their brothers. Sometimes I tell people you’re dead,” his brother tells him.

After being harassed by his high school tormenter, Sam Hess, Lester meets Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) in the emergency room. “If I were in your position, I would have killed that man,” he tells Lester. “If you’re so sure about it, maybe you should just kill him for me,” Lester responds. And off we go.

Freeman is terrific as the life-long loser. You can feel the years of being disrespected and ignored just bubbling under the surface of his quiet demeanor. And the bright orange coat that makes him stand out starkly against the snow is perfect. My small quibble with Freeman is his Minnesota accent. It’s not awful, but it’s not as strong as the other actors in the series and every so often you can hear his true Britishness coming through.

Thorton is fantastic as the malevolent Lorne. The slight-of-frame Thorton conveys an evil that is palpable. One of my favorite scenes in the pilot came at the very end when Lorne confronts Gus Grimley (Colin Hanks), the cop who has pulled him over. Without overtly threatening Gus, Lorne’s ominous tone and the way he says, “Because some roads you shouldn’t go down,” is bone-chilling. I totally believed that Gus would high-tail it back to his squad car. Malvo has a way of getting people to bend to his will—whether it is to embrace their worst murderous instincts or to turn their back on their job in favor of protecting their family.

But the real discovery here is Allison Tolman as the determined and savvy Deputy Molly Solverson. The relatively unknown Tolman pops on screen and brings a welcome and believable female presence to this male-dominated show.

While the series captures the cadence of the Minnesota dialect and the uniqueness of the people who live there, you never feel like the show is making fun of anyone. Rather, the series is celebrating a part of the country that has its own distinct vibe.
Anyone who has seen the movie knew more murders had to be coming, but still those final moments between Lester, his wife, Sheriff Thurman and Lorne Malvo were shocking.

“You’re problem is you’ve spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t,” Malvo tells Lester. And clearly this FX series, which will run for 10 episodes, isn’t following any conventional rules either.

Other thoughts on “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”:
—Thorton’s bowl hair cut is pretty fantastic.
—Don’t be fooled by the “This is a true story” at the beginning of the episode (which is exactly how the movie also opens). It’s not.
—So great to see Kate Walsh as the widowed Gina Hess. She has deserved better than Private Practice for a long time.
—Joel and Ethan Coen, the brothers behind the movie, serve as executive producers here. They aren’t actively involved in the day-to-day running of the show, but they have given the show their blessing.
—Noah Hawley is the executive producer, writer and showrunner of the series. I was a huge fan of his short-lived series The Unusuals.

What did you think of the series premiere of Fargo? Did Freeman’s accent bother you? Do you think Allison Tolman is TV’s next big thing? Talk about it below.

Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.