10/19/15, 10 PM, FX
While last week’s premiere episode title was a reference to the famous absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett in which two clowns wait for a guy who never shows up, this week’s stellar follow-up “Before the Law” (both written and directed by series creator Noah Hawley) is a nod to a parable made famous by Franz Kafka and is very much in his wheelhouse. In the parable, a man goes to a building containing “The Law”, hoping to gain access to it via doorway. Stationed at the doorway is a gatekeeper who tells the man he can’t go in just yet. The man waits for years, bribing the gatekeeper with everything he has so that the gatekeeper can let him in. The gatekeeper accepts the bribes, but only to humor the man and make him feel like he’s not wasting his time. Right as the man is about to die, he asks the gatekeeper why no one, including himself, has ever gotten in. The gatekeeper replies, “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.” Throughout the episode, we see our previously established characters (as well as some new ones) come up against various doorways and gatekeepers. And while the plot advances, the real joy in this episode is seeing how the Gerhardts, the Solversens and the Blomquists deal with what they’re trying to access and not only the people in their way, but also how they can’t get past themselves.
After a split screen montage of our characters the morning after the events of the previous episode, we begin proper at the Gerhardt Ranch as Joe Bulo, alongside Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Gale & Wayne Kitchen, two mute identical twins, makes an offer to Floyd. After calling Dodd and Bear in, she tells them of their offer to buy up their operation and leave them in charge. Everything stays the same, only they now answer to Kansas City and they’d be making more money. With Otto looking like he’ll never recover from the stroke, Dodd elects himself the new boss, to which Bear disagrees and points to Floyd to lead them. “The boss can’t be a woman.” ; “Who says?” After Bear argues for Floyd, she clears the kitchen of all but Dodd and his right hand man, Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). They sit at opposite ends of the table and explains how Otto’s father left the ashes of the Weimar Republic and built his empire here before bringing Otto over and that said empire is bigger than any son or daughter. She tells Dodd that his time will come, but only after this crisis has passed and in the meantime they need to find Rye. Meanwhile, Joe and Mike confer with each other over which of the three brothers they can turn. “First Gerhardt to switch sides gets a shiny red apple.”
After looking at the single shoe some more, Hank goes over to the Solversen’s house and informs Lou about the judge’s identity as he has breakfast with young Molly. Meanwhile, Ed tells Peggy that he’s going to stay home today to clean up the car and the garage. And after thinking while eating challah (a Jewish braided bread), Dodd prepares for taking control and tells Dent that when he finds Rye to bring him to Dodd first before Floyd. Peggy then covers for Ed at the butcher shop before heading to work at the salon with Constance (Elizabeth Marvel), who when she hears Peggy use “we” in relation to her and Ed, tells her that “”We” is a castle, hun. With a moat and a drawbridge.” And that the Life Springs seminar they’re going to will give her the key to the castle as opposed to being a prisoner of we, along with there being a missing case of toilet paper. As Mike follows Rye’s trail and the process put the typewriter salesman’s tie in a typewriter, Ed cleans up the mess and then burns his clothes in the fireplace, Lou head’s back to the Waffle Hut with Betsy and Molly to see if there’s anything they missed. As Betsy and Molly make a snowman, Lou notices the can of bug spray at the judge’s table. And as Molly discovers a deflated mylar balloon, Betsy discovers Rye’s gun in the snow. And as Lou tells Molly that Betsy was doing daddy’s job again, Mike and the Kitchen’s drive by. Interestingly enough, as Lou looks on, we see a blue lens flare on the top right hand corner of the frame.
After a tense scene of Hank stopping Mike on a back road, we get a few small scenes removed from the big thing that happens in the last 3rd of the episode. We have Hank and Lou back at the Waffle Hut where Lou opens up to Hank about Vietnam and Hank in turn talk about World War II. And then we have Constance taking Peggy home and discovering the missing toilet paper in their bathroom. But rather than pissing her off, Constance is amused by this as she tells Peggy that she’s a bad girl and that she almost fooled her. And as Constance brings her hand up to Peggy’s eye and touches the lapel of her coat, Peggy realizes that Constance has a thing for her.
But the big thing that happens is with Ed, who after everyone leaves for the night, brings Rye’s frozen body into the butcher shop and uses the meat grinder to grind Rye up. I know it’s similar to the wood chipper in the Fargo film, but whereas that was darkly amusing, this is downright chilling. And it turns suspenseful as Lou knocks on the front door as Ed distractingly chops off some fingers, which then go flying to the ground with one rolling under the door. Lou is there not on business, but just to get some bacon for Molly to have for breakfast. As him and Ed have some small talk, Ed sees the errant finger behind Lou. And between a dropped coin and a ringing phone, Ed is almost caught. But Lou doesn’t notice and leaves. And after a stilted phone call between Ed and Peggy, the episode ends with Ed going back to the body as a paraphrased version of the opening paragraph of “War of the Worlds” is spoken by someone doing a killer Anthony Hopkins impression as we see another blue lens flare as the camera cranes up and disco music takes us into the end credits.
So how does this episode compare and relate to both the previous episode as well as the referenced Kafka parable? Well, after the stellar premiere episode from last week, “Before the Law” continues on with the character and world building that came before, as well as giving us a proper introduction to our hitmen characters for this season. Along with further expansion of our female characters and their influence over the men of this world (“Hell yes. I vote for Grandma!”, “Go Mama.”), we get subtle clues that the UFO that we saw in the pilot isn’t going to be a one off, deus ex machina that’s there just to make the audience go WTF. That it’ll be this seasons God-like figure that observes the craziness of what’s going on with cool detachment. I doubt they’ll be pulling the strings with what will happen for the rest of the season. As for the Kafka parable, it certainly applies to a lot of the characters we’re seeing. Starting with Dodd, while his mother may be the gatekeeper in terms of control over the family and the business, it’s his arrogant, short sightedness as well as a rampant misogyny that will keep him from entering. Ed does something horrifying in an attempt to placate the gatekeeper that is his wife so that they life that he wants can happen, while Peggy is confronted by her friend and co-worker who is trying to get past more than one barrier with her. The only people who are able to get past their gatekeepers and cross into The Law are perfectly enough the two lawmen. By opening up about their past experiences in the wars and the horrors they saw, Lou and Hank are finally able to come to a mutual understanding that’ll not only help them with the case, but also with their family.
For both continuing on the premiere's narrative high and exploring it's Kafka-esque theme of gatekeepers and doors, "Before the Law" is another stellar episode in this current season of Fargo.