While last week’s premiere felt a bit overwhelming, introducing many concurrent and overlapping narratives, episode 2, “Before the Law,” seems to settle in comfortable pace, with nuanced scenes planting seeds for undoubtedly violent discord later in the season.
The earliest signs of blood come from the Gerhardt house, which, in the absence of its patriarch, is in the early stages of an uncomfortable power struggle. Eldest son Dodd is scheming against mom Floyd for personal gain; he feels entitled to the throne, even though it’s obvious he’s more muscle than brains. Mom seems genuinely invested in doing whatever it takes to preserve the business, and the family, but also understands her son, and that he won’t take the slight lying down. Mostly, she just wishes her husband would wake up.
The Solverson clan is still in the early stages of their investigation of the triple homicide at the Waffle Hut, but Lou Solverson can already feel that something is off. The detective family with the most detective name ever seems to do their work as a team, and not just with Lou and Betsy’s dad Hank Larsson doing their cop thing. It’s Betsy that finds a key piece of evidence in the snow (the murder weapon), in the process of making a snowman with Molly in the parking lot of the Waffle Hut. Cristin Milotti manages to capture the Solverson spirit this scene; accommodating her husband’s work, enduring the pain and fatigue of her illness, tending to her child, while still helping solve the case (“Momma’s doing Daddy’s job again,” Lou admits to Molly). She lets her guard down for just a brief moment when Molly shows her a deflated Mylar balloon with the text “Get Well Soon.” She seems to know she won’t.
When Lou and Hank meet later in front of the Waffle Hut, we see Lou playing with the rope just like he did in season one, rolling and tying it like some zen prayer beads. The pair swap old war stories about horrors from the war that come rushing back when they see similar violence back home. As Hank tells recalls the distinct lack of murders in their town after WWII, he remarks on the noted difference in the wake of Vietnam: “I sometimes wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with you.” The sentiment is shared by the townspeople, it seems (as a lady in Peggy Blumquist’s salon remarked, “First Watergate, now this…what’s the world comin’ to?” Their perspective is myopic, but tells of the existential dread of the era that reached even small-town Minnesota.
Speaking of the Blumquists, Ed and Peggy are in full cleanup mode, but as will likely be a theme, Ed spends the episode cleaning up Peggy’s mess, only to have her make a new one. At her salon, “Kansas City here I come” blares on the radio, and her apparently lesbian co-worker is quite obviously setting her up for a weekend seduction at that “conference,” but it’s unclear whether Peggy has any idea what’s going on. She steadily gathers intel about what Peggy is hiding—stolen toilet paper, a mysterious bruise, a smashed car—and for now, it’s just to get into her pants. But it’s the first loose thread in the Blumquist coverup. The next is during Ed’s late night butchery session, grinding Rye Gerhardt’s frozen corpse into beef patties. Seeing the light on in the shop, a bacon-craving Lou Solverson makes ill-timed stop to see Ed, who lets his friend in with quite possibly the most uncomfortable smile on television, as Rye’s head lies on a counter in the back table and the his errant finger on the ground. He escapes without suspicion, but it seems that he senses the oncoming dread. He’s got a broad back, but Peggy leans hard on him. What’s going on in his head as he sits outside his garage in the cold, looking at Rye Gerhardt’s wallet and ID, flashing back to the night he died? Whatever it is, he soon gets back to work.
The concurrent investigation into the location of Rye Gerhardt is carried out by the emissaries of the Kansas City crime family. Mike Milligan’s Dave Chappelle white man voice has a comic deadpan to it that can be hilarious, but when he gets serious, it’s equally terrifying. Here we see him use force for the first time, but his expression never seems to change from light amusement. There’s an extremely tense moment when Hank Larsson pulls Milligan and the Kitchen brothers over and asks for their IDs. After the sudden violence in season 1, one half expects a bloodbath on the lonely road. The fact that it ends peacefully doesn’t preclude it from happening next time. It seems almost a certainty.
The episode ends with a clip from the radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds (and some curiously placed lens flare):
“No one would have believed that in the last years of the 19th century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets, and yet across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, they they drew their plans against us.”
It’s not quite clear what showrunner Noah Hawley is getting at here, but after Rye Gerhardt’s sighting in the premiere, the UFO connotations appear to play some role in the story. Could it have anything to do with the 1979 UFO sighting in Minnesota, as one particularly industrious New York Times commenter pointed out?