‘Fargo’ Episode 1 Review: “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”

By April 16, 2014
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We live in a day and age where adapting classic film properties into new TV series is becoming more and more common. Just off the top of my head, we have “About A Boy,” “Dracula,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Hannibal,” and “Bates Motel”. Hell, I’m wondering if “Resurrection” counts, since as that’s somewhat of an American adaptation of a French series adaptation of a French movie.

I used to be against the concept of adaptation, since I don’t think these classic films shouldn’t be messed with, but I was forced to eat my own words when the likes of “Bates Motel” and “Hannibal” turned out to be really good shows! So when it was announced that FX would be adapting the Coen Brothers dark comedy about murder in Minnesota, I was at a loss. Am I to be offended? Excited? I guess you could say I was intrigued.

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In 1996, Fargo won Best Original Screenplay for the Coen Brothers and the Best Actress statue went to Frances McDormand (as it should have). Now, eighteen years later, we’re going to have it as a series? It’s a difficult feat to strike that nice balance between dark comedy and drama that the Coen Brothers do so well. Fargo is an iconic film in all senses of the word. But even with that storied history, I watched the first of the 10 episodes in this mini-series and let me tell you – what I’ve seen so far is very promising.

Noah Hawley is the man behind the limited event series, and he’s kept the essence of the original film while creating something completely new and exciting. The look and feel of the series is incredibly reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ classic (the directors are executive producers on this limited series), but the story in this iteration follows new characters and an entirely new narrative. This ain’t no reboot, folks.

On to the episode. In “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”, we are introduced to Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) who is driving along a lone icy highway in what feels like the middle of the night. Immediately, Malvo’s presence is off-putting and enthralling. He stops into this Minnesota town due to some shady circumstances that lead him to cross paths with Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).

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The two are polar opposites – Malvo is the crocodile the episode’s title refers to. If we’re sticking to the animal metaphor, Lester might as well be a skittish rabbit. A mouse. Something small and timid. Their paths cross in a hospital waiting room where both men are needing some medical attention. Malvo’s head was wounded in a car accident on that icy highway, and Lester’s nose was broken due to an interaction with an old high school bully and his dimwitted sons. Should I even mention the half naked dude that escaped the trunk of Malvo’s car only to freeze to death in the forest? Ah, well…I just did.

In their brief time together, Malvo plants a murderous thought into Lester’s head, which then sort of gives Malvo the go-ahead in committing a rather heinous act. In the process, that bully I referred to earlier winds up dead with a knife to the back of his skull. This gives us a peek into a bigger story that is sure to unfold in the episodes to follow because our dead man apparently had ties to a crime syndicate up in Fargo, North Dakota. Yikes.

Lester Nygaard is a man at the end of his rope, and it seems like he’s been clinging to the last few threads for quite a while. He’s William Foster in Falling Down. He’s Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” Lester Nygaard is your everyman that has been pushed too far for too long. A little nudge by Lorne Malvo seems to be all it takes to send Nygaard into a downward spiral of liberating (?) violence.

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We get a peek into Nygaard’s personal life and find he’s in a very unhappy marriage. The constant berating from his wife and comparisons to his more successful younger brother combined with the recent murder of his old nemesis bring everything to a head in the basement of his house, where Nygaard so desperately just wants to fix their noisy washing machine. Things don’t go as planned and soon there are two more murders on our plate! This definitely sets the stage for the next 9 episodes.

Besides the performances of both Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other talents showcased here. Bob Odenkirk (as Det. Bill Oswalt) and Colin Hanks (as Gus Grimly) both have brief appearances in “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” and Keith Carradine even shows up for a spell! But the person that truly grabbed my attention was Allison Tolman, who plays Detective Molly Solverson. Both Freeman and Tolman’s performance are slightly reminiscent of William H. Macy’s “Jerry Lundegaard” and Frances McDormand’s “Marge Gunderson,” but that may just be due to the reference points to the original film that kept hitting me as I watched this pilot unfold. Regardless, Tolman is very good in this role, and I can’t wait to see where the story takes her character.

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When “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” ended, I almost continued onto the second episode without pause. It’s that good. Noah Hawley’s writing respects the original feel of the Coen Brother’s work while still being its own separate entity. It’s funny, dramatic, and does not flinch from the quirky violence one would expect from a Coen Brothers movie. This may finally be FX’s answer to “Breaking Bad.” I compared Lester Nygaard to Walter White, and the cold small town and expansive nature of the surroundings in “Fargo” could be compared to the hot, dry, desolate and expansive nature of the New Mexico backdrop that Mr. White called home. But it’s still early, so you can draw your own conclusions.

“Fargo,” much like the film it’s inspired by, is about greed, false power, and murder. It’s a character story and we have just cracked the surface as the show is boasting an incredible list of supporting talent that we will be introduced to us in the coming episodes. In the first episode, the story truly does run the emotional gamut (Martin Freeman’s words) from humor, to mischief, to fear, ego, and even grief. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman carry the show, and their chemistry is electrifying.

Long story short: watch “Fargo” on FX every Tuesday at 10pm. It’s good television!

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.
  • I absolutely loved this pilot. Billy Bob is so good in this show!