The first two episodes of Fargo, the new FX show based off the Coen Brother’s classic of the same name, didn’t quite knock me off my feet through these first two episodes. Much of the character development has left me just short of satisfied even I though I trust the show to make it worth my time down the road, and some of the story beats have left me wanting when it comes to motivations and world-building. The growth between the first and second episodes have me believing that some or all of these worries will be clear by midseason at the very least which is promising. The acting on display, especially by Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Keith Carradine would be worth sticking around for even if every script for the rest of the season was borrowed from the 2 Broke Girls scrap heap.
The improvement on display was less about any specifically measurable factors and more about how the staging, direction, and tone were tweaked by the production team post-pilot just enough to notice the difference. There is a measurement often referenced in psychology called the “least perceptible difference”, or lpd, which is a theory that measures the least amount of change that a sensory stimulus can be altered before you can notice said change. For example, if someone was touching your hand just lightly enough that you didn’t notice anything there, how much additional pressure would they have to put for you to realize? It will be an incredibly minuscule change but it makes all the difference in how your senses perceive your surroundings. The same thing can be applied to sight, sound, etc. That was what the alterations in “Rooster Prince” felt like from my perspective. Nothing so outright obvious was altered in order for the show to come out of its shell and go in its own direction, but there were enough tweaks that the outcome was a clear move toward independence from the source material.
It would be hard for any adaptation to break away from a stage set so nicely by the Coen’s, as being drawn towards a smart and successful tableau is far from a foolish mood. Similarly, it isn’t a simple task to have a separate take on a snow encrusted tundra being navigated by zany locals and Minnesota cops as so much of that setting is made up take-it-as-they-come characteristics. So I give Noah Hawley credit for realizing that moving away from the movie’s plot and tone was precisely the right move for the show and that he began to execute it so soon in to the life of the series. Adding Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard as a pair of futzing hit men for a gun running outfit seems so right that I’m not sure why they haven’t appeared in a role like this before, nonetheless in an actual Coen Brother’s movie. Thornton continues to play to his strengths without seeming cliche or repetitive, and Bob Odenkirk’s is putting on a performance that is doing its very best to keep my mind off the fact that his character is Saul Goodman with a fake mustache and believable accent.
The point where “The Rooster Prince” truly drew a line in the sand (or, er, snow) was at the very end of the episode when Jeff Russo broke away from the music choices that evoked a harsh Northern winter and used a song that charted a different course for the mood of the show. With bodies piling up at a chilling rate and an alarming amount of wrong decisions being made by “professionals” in multiple locations, the proper closing track would reflect all of the disparate events happening during the previous hour of television. The one chosen, “Full Moon” by eden ahbez, strikes exactly the right tone. The spoken word piece works just well enough with what’s happening on the screen while also not matching up too perfectly as to be an obvious choice. Listening to the lyrics, ahbez paints a picture of happiness with music and people and love, while the events closing out the episode include the murder of a wrongly identified bar patron via a conveniently created ice fishing hole and the reveal of just how fully Lorne Malvo’s sociopathic tendencies encompass his motivations, or lack there of. Even if “Full Moon” was playing over Gus Grimley and his teenage daughter having a peaceful dinner together, it would have made a similar point as to what the show is aiming for in it’s tonality. Matching it with two scenes that are meant to make clear just how dark the show is willing to go is a smart choice and one that paid off in real time as those scenes played out, and I can only imagine that kind of attitude towards a dichotomy of music and story will only improve the viewing experience going forward.