Beyond being a neat stylistic trick and an effect that would make Abel Gance proud, the use of split-screens in the first two episodes of Fargo Season 2 has the helpful narrative role of directly uniting the show’s disparate narrative elements. While this season does have a somewhat comparable dynamic to last year, with Lou standing in for Molly and Ed and Peggy taking Lester’s place, there appears to be a wider focus this time around. Particularly in last week’s episode, “Waiting for Dutch,” the array of stories has the panoramic feeling of providing a zoomed-out view of Fargo’s batshit universe, telling the story through a David Simon-esque host of separate, but not unrelated, characters.
But from the first act of “Before the Law,” Noah Hawley seems intent on delineating the ties between people in his show clearer and sooner than any Simon series. Joe Bulo and his henchmen pay a visit to the Gerhardts, interrupting their blissful life of challah and half and half (a wonderful Big Lebowski reference) to “offer” to buy out the crime family. “Offer” gets quotation marks, of course, because Joe doesn’t seem prepared to take no for an answer, and his colleague Mike Milligan unhelpfully (but hilariously) suggests a plan of action by comparing the Gerhardt boys to a lobster claw. Oblique metaphor aside, the implication of the conversation is clear: Joe and Mike will be tracking down Rye, presumably leading them to Ed and Peggy.
The audience gets led to them after the commercial break, where guilt is already beginning to cripple Ed. Despite Peggy’s earnest request for him to “keep up appearances,” he doesn’t feel prepared to go to work. The split-screen works excellently in this scene, emphasizing the divide within the couple while also allowing for a direct comparison between their separate reactions. Although nerves are fraying, getting away with murder seems to be their top priority, and the powerful, lingering dissolve to Dodd chowing down on bread shows Ed and Peggy approaching the body as their scene gradually comes to an end.
They’re not the only ones with a connection to Rye, as Mike’s hunt brings him to a typewriter salesman nebbishy enough to put Lester to shame. Abandoning animal symbolism in his speech, Mike tortures the salesman by strangling him with a typewriter, creating a scene of hysterical sadism worthy of Steve Buscemi going through a wood-chipper. Mike is after more than a “character reference,” and he’s not about to let Lester’s typewriter-selling brother-in-impotence get in his way.
He isn’t alone in being on Rye’s tail, as Lou begins to put the pieces together regarding the implications of the Waffle Hut murder with some help from his wife, Betsy. After a pitch perfect family tableau of the Solversons driving to the crime scene, she finds a gun in the snow, presumably providing a crucial piece of evidence in the case. In the tradition of Marge Gunderson, women have the upper-hand in Fargo, and Betsy’s discovery shows yet another example of a woman upending patriarchal structures with her superior senses.
Rather than intuition, Lou relies on mere coincidence to find himself in Ed’s butcher shop as he gives Rye the Sweeney Todd treatment. In a remarkably tense scene, Lou makes a late-night bacon stop, and nearly discovers Rye’s severed fingers in the process. The shots of Lou not quite finding the body verge on an annoying cheekiness, but the dynamic between him and Ed gives the scene an emotional grounding which keeps it from falling apart. Even though Lou doesn’t quite figure out what’s going on, it’s not hard to imagine him coming back to their interaction as a reference point in determining Ed’s guilt.
The two are now undoubtedly linked, as is much of Fargo’s ostensibly disparate universe after “Before the Law.” The one major (and weirdest) aspect of Season 2 that has yet to be explicitly connected to the rest of the show appears in the episode’s closing minutes: an extraterrestrial influence. Voiceover and music from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds suggest the presence of aliens (h/t The A.V. Club), picking up where the UFO Rye sees in “Waiting for Dutch” leaves off. It’s unclear whether Hawley will attempt to explain the aliens or leave them ambiguous (in the vein of The Leftovers), but they make for an intriguing addition to a season which would be an embarrassment of riches even without their presence.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.