Thursday, April 20, 2017

Coen Brother Ephemera Remixed in Fargo Season Three - Introduction, Episode 1

Season Three of FX's expansive adaptation of the Coen Brothers' 1995 film Fargo premiered this week. If the first two seasons are any indication, series creator Noah Hawley and his writers and directors will have littered the scripts and the corners of the frame with references to the Coens' entire catalog. As with last year, I will be taking notes on these connections during each episode and sharing them here.

If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Before we get into the episodes, here's what we knew about the season's Coen bona fides before the first episode even aired:
  • The whole series, of course, borrows the title, Minnesota/Dakotas setting, genre (an inciting event blows up into desperate, bloody fiasco, while competent cops chase down the perpetrators), and tone of the namesake movie.
  • Like that film, all three seasons claim (facetiously) to be based on true stories, and include the same opening disclaimer regarding names having been changed but details preserved.
  • Via Season One, the series has a plot element that suggests a shared narrative universe: Carl Showalter's (Steve Buscemi) ice scraper and suitcase of buried ransom money.
  • Composer Jeff Russo's score frequently (but not always!) works in the mood and style of Carter Burwell's score to the film. There's a recurring motif used as a main theme to the series, that follows the chord progression of "Fargo, North Dakota," the theme piece from the film. That theme was directly quoted once each in the final episodes of the first two seasons, and I would be shocked if it didn't return this year as well.
  • Casting announcements tell us that at least three Coen veteran actors will appear in the season: Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed (Larry Gopnik and Sy Ableman in "A Serious Man") play Sy Feltz and Howard Zimmerman, respectively, and David Thewlis (video artist Knox Harrington in "The Big Lebowski") plays V. M. Varga.
Episode 1: "The Law of Vacant Places" (4/19/17)
  • We start with a prologue in a foreign place, language, and time, in this case 1988 East Berlin. Hawley has said that he likes the idea of beginning with a distinct scene that, while disconnected from the main story, explores the same themes. He cites the opening story of the dybbuk impersonating Reb Groshkover in A Serious Man.
  • Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" (Side note: Oliver Platt in Season 1 was the Grocery King of Minnesota, Nick Offerman in Season 2 was the Breakfast King of Loyola, and now we've got the Parking Lot King, and a reference to the Storage Queen. I like to think that there's a statewide department keeping track of these titles). In Fargo, Jerry Lundegaard wants his father-in-law to invest in a parcel of land on which he intends to build a parking lot.
  • Speaking of that movie and topic, we get a straight-down shot of Ray Stussy (McGregor) parking his car, reminiscent of several shots of Jerry.
  • Red Owl grocery store in Eden Valley, a reference to the Red Owl in the Parable of the Goy's Teeth in A Serious Man. There was a Red Owl in my neighborhood when I was little. Wasn't a terribly impressive grocery store, but I have always loved the logo. Supervalu bought the brand and converted the remaining stores in the late 1980s.
  • Maurice pulls a Jeffrey Lebowski in trying to throw a joint through a closed car window, with opposite results vis-a-vis the finding of pieces of paper.
  • Maurice also pulls a The Big Lebowski case of mistaken identity in robbing the wrong E. Stussy in a town with Eden in its name, with far more deadly results. Too bad: Gloria's stepfather really tied the room together.
  • Minor or tenuous connections: 
    • "Vouch" -  Shep Proudfoot for Carl and Gaear in Fargo, not Buck Olander for the Narwhal organization in Fargo S3.
    • The valuable 2 cent stamp recalls the three cent duck stamp for which Marge's husband Norm won the design contest.
    • "Bona fide" - Not Narwhal organization in Fargo S3, nor Ulysses Everet McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou
    • The bridge team bowling shirts of course put me in mind of The Dude's bowling league in Lebowski
  •  References to previous seasons of the show Fargo:
    • Somebody help me out: I swear there was a Fjord's restaurant elsewhere in the series. Maybe the place in St. Paul where Molly meets her old friend in S1?
    • The afore-mentioned stamp also features the image of Sisyphus rolling his rock up a hill. The myth of Sisyphus (and Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus) both figured prominently in Season 2.
    • The page Maurice tore from the Yellow Pages has an ad for Dazzle Beauty, the salon where Peggy and Constance worked in S2.
  • I love this paragraph from Sean T. Collins about how the Coen elements function in this show:
  • "I still find it absolutely enthralling how Hawley has used the original Fargo as a pivot point for a whole “Songs in the Key of Coen” performance. Take the LeFey character, seemingly a one-and-done affair. In this one person Hawley has managed to create a sort of The Big Lewbowski golem who combines everything going on in that movie in a single role. LeFey is a long-haired stoner fuck-up with a cool t-shirt and a worrying tendency to drop a lit J in his lap while driving. He’s also a two-bit criminal who breaks into the wrong house and roughs up the wrong guy in a case of mistaken identity in order to kick off the action. His storyline involves a confrontation with a nude man in a bathtub, a glamorous woman standing before him in the buff, and a page torn from a notepad with an obscene illustration on it. None of this feels like cheap heat from fanservice, mind you. It’s just a deft demonstration of Hawley’s understanding of the Coens’ source material, and his ability to recombine its constituent elements in new forms like Legos."

To be continued...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Annotated Beukemix, 2016

Liner notes!

1. Magnets - Disclosure ft. Lorde
Lorde's voice pairs well with the big, striding beat here.

2. One Time - Marian Hill
I like the idea of a vocal jazz group with an electronic mien. The Jeremy Lloyd's manipulation of Samantha Gongol's voice fills the role that a sung improvisation might take in a traditional jazz song.

3. All The Young Dudes - David Bowie
I struggled with what to put on here to represent Bowie. Something from "Blackstar" seemed the logical choice. But the early-70s Bowie is my favorite, and though for a while I had his cover of Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play" in this slot, I've gone with "All the Young Dudes," maybe his most famous song that was originally recorded by someone else (give or take having co-written "Lust for Life"). Bowie famously gave the song, originally intended for "Ziggy Stardust," to the band Mott the Hoople to help prevent their breakup. The song became something of a gay pride anthem, despite being part of the apocalyptic story line of "Ziggy." I was delighted this year to have found a fully-produced version of the demo Bowie gave MtH.

4. Lake Song - The Decemberists
I hate that I love this song. It's so twee and precious and pretentious and is even kind of about being twee and precious and pretentious and I just love it and want to take a nap in my college dorm room with the window open on a spring afternoon while it plays. Stupid Decemberists.

5. I'll Be Haunting You - They Might Be Giants
TMBG mined their yearlong 2015 Dial-a-Song project for three albums worth of content, and though that year's "Glean" represented the best of those, their 2016 release "Phone Power" had a few gems, including this one and their cover of Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills." Incidentally, I'm just watching the "Haunting You" video for the first time, and I love it.

6. Tempest - Lucius
My song of the year, hands down. I love how Jess Wolfe & Holly Laessig shift back and forth between a tight unison and harmonies. I love the gently driving beat. I love the lyrics, about a couple with one partner wanting to work on their issues and one (the male vocal in the bridge) insisting they bury their problems.

7. Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
I wonder sometimes what kind of indie rock stuff I missed after Rev 105 disappeared from Twin Cities airwaves. This seems to be the answer. I'd have taken this over Eve 6 any day of the week in 1998.

8. I Am Chemistry - Yeasayer
Took notice of this song when it made its left turn into the apparent children's chorus at the end. I made the mistake of reading up on the lyrics late one night after watching a Frontline documentary about ISIS, when I was already in a really dark head space. The whole song is about poisons, including incredibly specific references to particular toxins, both natural and man-made, in some cases using full chemical formula. I found this both fascinating and incredibly disturbing, and though this song was on the bubble for inclusion, I spent so much time thinking about it, it felt dishonest to leave it off.

9. untitled 06 | 06.30.2014. - Kendrick Lamar ft. CeeLo Green
Smooth as hell.

10. Sometimes It Snows In April - Prince
Prince's passing was the kick in the pants I needed to finally move beyond just knowing his hits + Purple Rain and dig into the albums. This song got a lot of play in the wake of his death, both locally on The Current (which was amazing to listen to last spring), and nationally, as when D'Angelo covered it on The Tonight Show a week later. It's a sad and beautiful song about the death of a friend, with a B flat suspended 2nd chord (I had to look this up) in the chorus that feels like a stab of grief in the middle of a search for acceptance and closure.

11. Alone Again Or - Love
Shortly after Prince died, The Current ran their 893 Essential Albums list, as voted by listeners. I'd be interested to know how the list would change had the voting come after he died -- I suspect it would have shaken things up a bit. Anyhow, it was a fun week of radio to listen to, and hipped me to this song from the mid-60s I couldn't remember having ever heard (turns out I had, years ago; it's used to great effect in Wes Anderson's debut film Bottle Rocket), and it's gorgeous. The trumpet solo is on the list of bits I'll sit down and puzzle out on my horn when I'm old.

12. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
I'd long resisted Fleetwood Mac as Dumb Music for White Boomers: music for Al and Tipper to make out on stage to. I liked Gold Dust Woman and Tusk, the latter because of its use in The Americans' pilot, but that was about it. Rumours ended up near the top of that 893 albums list, and I finally watched Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary, which I recommend to all, and which talks about the Nicks-and-Buckinghamification of the band and the recording of their self-titled album. So, I finally gave that disc and Rumours a shot, and, dammit, I loved about 2/3 of both. The bass in this one is especially great.
Update: I forgot that The Americans had also used The Chain. (Warning: some violence in that clip)

13. Burn the Witch - Radiohead
I've run hot and cold on new Radiohead for a while now, but really like this one, in large part because of Jonny Greenwood's orchestral arrangement. The percussive orchestral thrum throughout is a string section playing "col legno battuto," literally "striking with wood," meaning they play with the wooden backs of their bows, rather than the bow strings. The technique tends to produce a more brittle sound, and is typically used to create a feeling of harshness or tension. It was used most famously near the finale of the "Witches' Sabbath" movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (at 9:16 in that clip), but I've just today learned is also indicated at the opening of "Mars, The Bringer of War," from Holst's The Planets. Not quite sure how I made it 20 years with that as one of my favorite pieces of music without knowing that.

14. I Decide - The Julie Ruin
It's always good to hear from Kathleen Hanna. The lyrics aren't explicit about any issues, but are an important statement of independence: I might be in a bad situation, but it's my choice, not yours.

15. Changes - Charles Bradley
Learned after I'd picked this song that it's a Black Sabbath cover. Huh. Go figure.

16. Step Into My Office, Baby - Belle and Sebastian
The guitar line as the song winds back up after the bridge reminds me a bit of The Beatles' "For You Blue," from Let It Be.

17. These Words - The Lemon Twigs
More songs need to have a xylophone-and-guitar-led freakout jam in them. If Zappa had lived longer, more songs would. I was not surprised when I found out the D'Addario brothers of The Lemon Twigs are a couple of NY theater kids.

18. Smile More - Deap Valley
This song sounds like a lost track from the early/mid 90s.

19. Ball of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today) - The Temptations
Heard this on The Current the morning of the election. Swiftly became more appropriate.

January 2017: The ACA Repeal Misinformation

All month I've seen alarming posts bouncing around between fellow liberals/progressives/leftists about the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This often takes the form of copied-and-pasted posts divorced of any context like the date or particular congressional action.

Here's the short version: in early January 2017, the US Senate held a procedural vote to open debate on a bill that would repeal the ACA. A couple days later, they held a procedural vote to allow any further action to be passed using budget reconciliation, which limits what the bill can contain, but shields the bill from filibuster. Both of these passed. The latter vote ALSO included a bunch of votes on amendments (really, amendments to the guidance given to Mike Enzi, Republican Chair of the Senate Budget Committee) about specific, popular provisions in the ACA, like pre-existing conditions, children's health care, cost controls, etc, offered by Democrats. They offered these, knowing they would fail, in part to slow the process, and in part to create embarrassing votes they can reference in elections. So that list of things the GOP voted against is technically true, but also misleading.

Neither of those votes repeals the ACA, but both were shared by left-of-center facebookers as if they had. The dangers I see include:

  • Creating panic and despair among those who depend on their ACA-dependent health insurance. Your insurance isn't gone. It's not even (yet) scheduled to go away. Even if it is, it won't go away until the end of your plan year.
  • Creating defeatism among those who might be inclined to take action against the GOP repeal if they didn't think it was already done. There are things we need to do NOW, which don't include contacting Paul Ryan (unless he's your Representative). 
  • Sharing via context-free copy & paste is a terrible way to get information about the world, and is part of why your great-uncle thought Obama was coming for his guns and that John Podesta eats toddlers. 

Here are three things I researched and posted at the time. I've collected them here because I've seen the memes enough times RECENTLY that putting them in one place stands to save me a lot of time. So, here we go:

January 12
I compiled some useful information about what happened last night, and what to do now if you want to support the Affordable Care Act remaining as law.
Forget protest retweets and facebook shares, and ignore the useless online petitions ( is done, y'all). Get on the phone.
Special entreaty to friends in Alaska, Tennessee, Louisiana, Maine, Arkansas, and a myriad of other, redder states and districts: WE NEED YOU! Please call your Representative or Senator's *district or state office.*
Please feel free to share this.

January 12
Please read this Tweet storm from a Congressional staffer about last night's ACA vote and the reactions today. Very critical of claims that the law was repealed, and included an explanation I didn't previously know about the Amendments offered by Dems and, to a one, voted down. 

January 12

Vann Newkirk has been indispensable on the ACA stuff. Here he is on the limits and pressures (both procedural and poliitcal) on what the Republicans can and cannot do via reconciliation.
A LINK TO THIS ATLANTIC STORY: "The Limits of Using Reconciliation to Repeal Obamacare"

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Annotated Beukemix, 2015

Year-overdue liner notes!

1. Let 'em Say - Lizzo ft. Caroline Smith
Lizzo was our guest for Show X a couple years back, and was delightful. This collaboration with Caroline Smith is about living your life despite the chorus of voices trying to beat you down. I've found myself singing "I wanna look like my mother / five foot two and a natural woman" to myself semi regularly since getting into this song. Video stars the singers and Minneapolis' East Lake Street as itself. (TC, synth HC)

2. i - Kendrick Lamar
A deeply positive cut about self respect in a screwed up world, featuring a Isley Brothers hook (rerecorded by Ronald Isley for Lamar) and a jazz bass freakout. Felt especially vital in 2015. (HS)

3. Two Weeks - And the Professors
The band's "Turn-of-the-Century Recycling Blues" was my favorite song of 2014. After picking up the album early last year, this was another standout for me. Builds to a great string-backed guitar solo. (TC)

4. Something from Nothing - Foo Fighters
I already liked the song before watching the first episode of Dave Grohl's "Sonic Highways" documentary series on a plane to Seattle last spring. In each episode, Foo Fighters visits notable musicians of various backgrounds in a given city, then collaborates with some of them to produce a track inspired by the interviews. This one, made in Chicago, references Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters, and features Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick as one of - I think - four guitars.

5. Chandelier - Sia
It was early 2015 that Sia was on the performance circuit with this song and dancer Maddie Ziegler. Apart from the song itself, a confession of a party girl coming undone, the various dance performances, including one at the Grammys also featuring Kristen Wiig, were great.

6. Bury Our Friends - Sleater-Kinney
I missed the Sleater-Kinney boat in the 90s. Happy to get on it now. This was a good rock album, with several selections that could have fit this spot.

7. Daffodils - Mark Ronson ft. Kevin Parker
Love that fuzzy bass line. Almost put "Uptown Funk" on here, but since I assume you've been in a public space that plays music sometime in 2015, you probably didn't need it again. I should really dig into Tame Impala some more, considering how much I like Parker here and the handful of their songs I've heard. (HC)

8. Let Me Tell You About My Operation - They Might Be Giants
TMBG are great at wrapping sorrow in glee, as in this jazzy number that could be a tonally-inappropriate exposition for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Saw the band in concert for, I think, my sixth time, in a fun mid-year First Ave show, and this was a standout at that gig. "Glean," its source album, is my favorite new record from the band in a couple of decades. (HS)

9. Tune Down - Chris Joss
Funky cop show music from the first season of "Better Call Saul," for a heist scene starring Jonathan Banks as ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut. (HS)

10. Supersonic Rocket Ship - The Kinks
Always on the look out to broaden my exposure to The Kinks, I was very pleased when this song closed out the first season of "Last Man On Earth." Fantastic horns on this one. (HS)

11. Go - The Chemical Brothers ft. Q-Tip
"Featuring Q-Tip" is usually a good indicator of whether I'd like a song, and him teaming up with the Chemical Brothers, as he did on 2005's "Galvanize," a song I love, is an even better sign. Though this one takes second place behind their earlier collaboration, it's another driving, hypnotic success. 

12. Bird of Prey - Natalie Prass
It took me a bit to get past my initial reaction to Prass' thin soprano and accept its smoothness. The gorgeous string and horn arrangements on this certainly help. The cheerful, colorful video is distinctly at odds with the lyrics, about trying to get away from a relationship with an obsessive partner. (HS)

13. Husbands - Savages
Relentless and powerful. Was already on my list before I watched "Ex Machina" at the end of the year, which used this over the end credits.

14. At The Zoo - Simon & Garfunkel
"Bookends" is one of the handful of albums I have on vinyl, and I was playing some songs for Max after finally getting a turntable for my birthday. Finding this song, I played it for him in anticipation of chaperoning his summer day care trip to the MN Zoo the following week. He immediately asked me to add it to his mix on my iPod, which means I've now listened to it 63 times since then. Seems low. I love how Simon kind of cracks himself up at one point.

15. Control - John Mark Nelson
The restless opening drum work and subsequent bass thrum and organ foundation hooked me in. Every year there's a song that I hear on the Current and immediately add to the Beukemix before the album is even out, and this was it. The instrumentation and falsetto vocals make it feel like a missing song from the second Broken Bells album, which I also loved. (TC)

16. Shades of Cool - Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey's spacey Southern CA noir music feels like a pre-qualification for future David Lynch or James Bond soundtrack work. Very cinematic, all mood. Her boyfriend in this song sounds like a dick. What sold this song for me, beyond its atmosphere, was the jagged guitar solo by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, very reminiscent of his similar work on Valerie June's "Pushin' Against a Stone."

17. I Won't Let You Down - OK Go
Liked this one when I first heard it on the radio early in the year. The relationship of the strings to the song reminds me a lot of ELO. Sometime in late summer, around the time Margot was born, Max became interested in videos of domino setups and Rube Goldberg devices, which led us to OK Go's videography, and to this song, its video remarkably filmed at half-speed by a drone in a single take and without any kind of digital manipulation, even of the cast-of-thousands-as-LED-message-board at the end. (HC)

18. White Lines (Don't Do It) 7" Edit - Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
My personal standout from the songs that Pitchfork's Top 200 Songs of the 80s list brought more to my attention. I'd forgotten about its role in "Shaun of the Dead." The linked video is more than twice as long as the 7" edit I picked for the mix. (HC)

19. Pedestrian at Best - Courtney Barnett
Barnett was inescapable on The Current this year, and grew on me. This song's my favorite of hers.

20. Yama Yama - Yamasuki
21. California Dreamin' - Bobby Womack
(HS on the latter)
We finish with two selections from season 2 of the Fargo TV adaptation, which was one of my favorite seasons of any show ever, and full of wonderful musical selections. The first cut, a Japanese-language funk march by the (French) father of one of the Daft Punk droids, was used in a menacing opening montage of one episode. The latter comes in quietly, sadly, and beautifully, in a moment of defeat for one character in the finale. Read more about the show, and its many sideways connections to the Coen Bros' oeuvre, including many of the song choices, here.

And that's it! See you next year.

Key and final score:
HS - horn section - 5
TC - Twin Cities artists - 3
HC - hand claps - 3.5

Monday, January 11, 2016

Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful

I was up late last night, about to go to bed, when the news of David Bowie's passing broke. I stayed up a while longer, trying to track down a confirmation, as there were claims flying around that his official twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked. Confirmation came from a tweet by his son, film director Duncan Jones.

It is a testament to Bowie's creativity, prolificacy, good humor, and sense of collaboration, that there are so many different tributes and memories pouring out for him today. A recurring theme is how many outsiders took comfort from his work. It seems like no matter what kind of nerd you are, there's Bowie output for you: music nerds, movie nerds (including subsets like Scorsese or David Lynch nerds), gender nerds, sexuality nerds, science fiction nerds, visual art nerds, theater nerds, fashion nerds, Muppet nerds... Comedy nerds can post clips from The Venture Bros. or Flight of the Conchords or Extras or Zoolander. Advocates for racial justice are sharing Bowie's pressuring of MTV in its first year to play more music by black artists. Wonks for late-20th-Century Germany are posting about the Berlin Trilogy...

He recorded "Under Pressure," a major hit, with Queen.
He cowrote "Fame" with John Lennon, and you can hear Lennon singing backup, including the descending "fame fame fame fame" figure.
He offered "Golden Years" to Elvis Presley before recording it himself.
He saved the band Mott The Hoople by giving them the song "All The Young Dudes."
He produced Lou Reed's "Transformer," and you can hear him singing the "a-ooooos" at the end of "Satellite of Love."
Same with Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life."
He collaborated musically with Mick Jagger, Nile Rodgers, Pete Townshend, Brian Eno, Tina Turner, Bing Crosby, Luther Vandross, Pat Metheny, Trent Reznor, TV On The Radio, Alicia Keys, Scarlett Johansson, and The Arcade Fire.

He also made 25 studio albums including some of the all-time great rock records.

I describe myself as having not really "gotten into Bowie" until late -- when I was already out of grad school. It was Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," and its soundtrack full of Bowie songs (both the originals and lovely Portuguese covers by Brazilian actor/musician Seu Jorge) that encouraged me to finally dive into Bowie's albums. I did, and coincidentally in the same month I met my future wife. Learning more and more about his music suggested a world of wonderful possibilities, a sense that mirrored my personal life in that moment. Singing along to his songs together in the car is a not uncommon occurrence in Melissa's and my relationship, even today. For a while, Max was obsessed with the song "Changes," and it remains in his mix on my iPod.

But despite taking so long to really learn his albums, I already knew and loved many of his songs and performances. David Bowie's work was so good, and so diverse, that no matter what corner of the popular culture you call home, he touched it. Losing him is a blow, but we are lucky to have the music he left us, and it is wonderful that he left us on his own terms, with a valedictory album released on his 69th birthday, two days prior.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Setting the bar low: Cops and Men


There's an argument I saw highlighted last night on Twitter, put forth by folks who would defend the cop who assaulted a petulant girl who wouldn't leave her seat at Spring Valley High School the other day. Chris Hayes of MSNBC had asked a simple question:

Among the responses was this nonsense:

Apart from the fact that for a large portion of the population, compliance won't always protect you, this kind of logic is, in its own way, tacitly contemptuous of cops. The idea that cops are, like bears, some kind of wild, dangerous force that you have to go out of your way not to provoke in any way, takes a dim view of the expected cognitive abilities and situational awareness of cops. Sadly, many cops, including this fellow, seem determined to live down to these societal expectations. Was she being disrespectful? Sure. Was she being stubborn? Absolutely. But that in no way justified this sudden escalation of violence.

It reminds me of an argument I've heard made, especially by the Christian right, with respect to sexual assault. The idea is that being flirtatious or dressing provocatively, but then saying that no, you don't want to have sex, is like presenting a dog with a steak and expecting it not to eat it. Again, a pretty low opinion of men, here, that they have the self-control of a dog. (Of course, dogs are pretty smart, and can learn, apparently unlike these men.)

I think we can, and should, expect better of our civilization.

A couple of stray notes at the end here:
1. Heartbreaking to read that a white friend and bandmate of Corey Jones, the drummer killed in FL by a plainclothes officer in the middle of the night on an I95 offramp, had been with Jones at his vehicle for some time prior to the killing. He'd tried to help with the car, and went home while Jones talked to roadside assistance.
2. Remember: the so-called Ferguson Effect is a myth. Very disappointing to hear the FBI director invoking it, despite the lack of evidence.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fargo Season 2 as a Pan-Coen Fever Dream

Season two of FX's "Fargo" series premiered this week, and so far, I'm really enjoying its mix of dark, dry humor and affection for its setting and characters, musical excellence, and a new cinematographical boldness featuring lots of split-screen. And, as a fan of the Coen Brothers' filmography as a whole, I love seeing the little references and thematic echoes from their films with which show runner/writer Noah Hawley has seasoned his show.

I'm going to use this post to collect the references I've noticed. If you see that I've overlooked one, please let me know in the comments (but please wait until after I've added a given week's episode, as I watch with a day or two of delay, and would like to see it fresh. By the same token, spoiler alert!).

Whole Season:
  • The whole series, of course, borrows the title, Minnesota/Dakotas setting, genre (bad plans or a lack of plans blow up into desperate, bloody fiasco, while stoic cops chase down the perpetrators), and tone of the namesake 1996 movie.
  • Like that film, both seasons claim (facetiously) to be based on true stories, and include the same disclaimer regarding names having been changed.
  • Via Season One, the series has a plot element that suggests a shared narrative universe: the ice scraper and buried money suitcase from the film.
Episode 1: "Waiting For Dutch" (10/12/15)
Episode 2: "Before the Law" (10/19/15)
  • "Also, [Floyd Gerhardt], 'chinaman' is not the preferred nomenclature."
  • I swear there's a scene in a Coen movie where a dog happily eats human remains. Cannot recall.
  • The typewriter salesman's half of the conversation into the phone could have been taken word-for-word out of the mouth of Jerry Lundegaard in the movie.
  • It's early yet, but Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) seems to fit into a long tradition of powerful killer characters in the Coen's filmography. Frequently portrayed as an unstoppable evil force, they are sometimes, but not always, also quite talkative. See: Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona, Visser in Blood Simple (also: Lorne Malvo in the first season of the TV series).
  • Meat grinder : this episode :: wood chipper : the movie.
  • Across the street from the butcher shop in Luverne is a "Mike Zoss Pharmacy." A Mike Zoss Pharmacy also appears in No Country for Old Men, in the scene where Chigurh steals supplies to tend to his wounds. The Coens' production company is also named "Mike Zoss Productions," all are named after a real Twin Cities pharmacy where the brothers hung out as kids. 
  • Added 10/28 - Floyd is in good with "Carter B. and the Solkirk crew." Carter Burwell has long been the Coens' go-to composer, and he composed the score to the movie Fargo, which sometimes stylistically inspires, and is sometimes directly quoted, on this show.
  • Added 11/18 - Lou's conversation with Hank about their respective tours of duty, and the latter's belief that the Vietnam Vets "brought the war home," accounting for his perception of an increase in senseless violence, echoes Sheriff Bell's conversation with his Uncle Ellis in No Country for Old Men about the changing times and his feeling "over-matched."
  • Added 11/18 - the Japanese-language funk song "Yama Yama" in the opening credits is from a project called Yamasuki by French musician Daniel Vangarde (father of one half of Daft Punk). Another song from this project was used over the closing credits of the 2014 film "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter," a dramatization of the urban legend in which a Japanese office worker died in northern MN while she was trying to find the briefcase full of money from the movie Fargo.
  • Added 3/8/16 - Just realized today that Elizabeth Marvel, who plays Peggy's coworker (boss?) Constance, played the adult Mattie Ross in True Grit.
Episode 4: "Fear and Trembling" (11/2/15)
  • Lou tells the Blumquists that they have no idea what's coming, again echoing Sheriff Bell from No Country, trying to warn Carla Jean of the danger she's in.
  • The end credits song is a cover of one that Ed (Holly Hunter) sings as a lullaby in Raising Arizona.
  • The framing of the doctor and the Solversons in their scene together is reminiscent of Coen scenes involving a meeting with an authority behind a desk, notably the funeral home in Lebowski and Rabbi Marshak in A Serious Man. The doctor also appears to share a taste in eyewear with Jeffrey Lebowski (the pillar of community, not The Dude) in that film.
  • That same Lebowski's haranguing of The Dude, telling him "Your revolution is over! ... The bums lost!" is put a bit more gently by Mike Milligan, talking about the 70s as the hangover of the 60s.
  • The framing of the hotel hallways are pure Barton Fink
  • Joe Bulo wonders whether The Gerhardt boys will, like the Dude, "abide"? (The Dodd does not abide!)
  • When Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers shoot Otto's nurse, there's a burst of down from her coat, like from Walt Gustafson's in Fargo.
Episode 5: "The Gift of the Magi" (11/9/15)
  • Bruce Campbell, who appears as Ronald Reagan, has been a repeat player in small-to-near-undetectable roles for the Coens (Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers).
  • Not sure if this version of Reagan's City on a Hill speech is word-for-word, but it reminded me of the contextual use of George HW Bush's "line in the sand" comments in Lebowski
  • Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man seeks to live as the titular phrase, including family, religion, and integrity in his definition. Mike Milligan seems to define "a serious person" to Simone Gerhardt as a person who gives him useful intelligence against her family's interests.
  • Dutch admits to Lou that the film from which he's drawing inspiration was merely "a boxing picture." Barton Fink is hired to write "a wrestling picture" (could be a pip!).
  • Jeff Tweedy of Wilco covers Jose Feliciano's "Let's Find Each Other Tonight," which Feliciano sang in Fargo. (See this MPR piece on the music of Season Two for some fun insights!)
Episode 6: "Rhinoceros" (11/16/15)
  • Lou: "I'm just imagining you parachutin' into the Mekong Delta, telling the Black Pajamas to leave your husband alone."
    Donnie: "Who was in pajamas, Walter?"
  • Lou seems to define A Serious Man in his conversation to Karl as being a man with serious intention to use his gun.
  • End credit music: a cover by Blitzen Trapper of "Man of Constant Sorrow," made famous by O Brother Where Art Thou?
Episode 7: "Did you do this? No, you did it!" (11/23/15)
  • Floyd talks about her father-in-law's generation of organized crime with its "tommy-gun bloodbaths."
  • If Ed Blomquist is a sleeper agent for KC, Hank will cut off his own toe.
  • Mike Milligan refers to Floyd as the materfamilias.
  • He also presages The Stranger from Lebowski: "Sometimes... there's a man."
  • The scene of Bear taking Symone into the woods is almost pure Miller's Crossing, from the circumstances, to the bare tree trunks, to the victim pleading desperately for their life (fellow Fargo fan Josh Carson notes that "You don't have to do this" was a line of Carla Jean's in No Country when Anton Chigurh comes to call, under very different emotional circumstances). [There really are not a lot of great Miller's Crossing clips on the web.] 
  • The Pearl Hotel's hallway remains very Finkian.
  • The episode really wants us to think that The Undertaker is this season's equivalent of Anton Chigurh, or Raising Arizona's Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. He's... not. Hanzee fills that role more successfully.
  •  Three covers of past Coen musical selections this episode: "Danny Boy" from Miller's Crossing, "O Death" from O Brother, Where Art Thou, and "Condition" from The Big Lebowski. Will we get through this season without a cover of "Please, Mr. Kennedy"?
Episode 8: "Loplop" (11/30/15)
  • Primed as I was to watch for allusions, I saw the bowling ball in the Blomquist basement and immediately thought, Lebowski! But they're the second generation of one family occupying a house in small-town Minnesota, of course there'd be a bowling ball in their basement.
  • Dodd ends up tied up in a cabin with a pillowcase on his head, just like Jean Lundegaard in the movie. And there's even somebody banging on the TV to fix the reception.
  • Took me a while to realize what Peggy's obsession with faddish self-help reminded me of: it echoes Frances McDormand's quest for plastic surgery in Burn After Reading. Peggy seems like she ends up with quite a bit more agency, though, especially in this episode.
  • The art in Constance's Sioux Falls hotel room, like that of Maude Lebowski, can be commended as being strongly vaginal.
  • Peggy pins Dodd's foot to the floor in the same way McDormand pinned Visser's hand to the window sill in Blood Simple.
  • Would-be ransomer Ed wants "no funny business," just as Lebowski's would-be ransomer nihilists wanted "no funny stuff." 
  • Mike Milligan likes Ed's style.
  • Hanzee's encounter with the clerk in the Rushmore General Store is straight out of No Country for Old Men. This episode cements Hanzee as the unstoppable figure of malevolence, following the Visser/Lone Biker/Anton Chigurh mold.
  • Hanzee is the third character in the Fargo universe to be driving to find a car in the woods, though he is less noble in intentions than Gus in Season One and less excited about it than Marge in the movie.
 Episode 9: "The Castle" (12/7/15)
  • The framing structure of this episode feels far more Wes Anderson than Coen Brothers, but it does bring back Martin Freeman from Season 1 to narrate the History of True Crime of the Midwest.
  • "Chickenshit outfit" may very well be an allusion to Aliens as much as anything else, but the "outfit" word choice reminded me of Pete asking Ulysses who elected him in O Brother.
  • "Prowler" is similarly, a specific word choice for the cop cars that puts me in the mindset of the movie Fargo. I dunno -- maybe that's common real life nomenclature for rural upper midwest cops.
  • Bloody shootout at a motel, far more sprawling and deadly than the one in No Country.
  • And the other UFO shoe finally drops, having more impact on the plot than it did in The Man Who Wasn't There.
  • We end the episode with Spoon's Britt Daniel covering CCR's "Run Through the Jungle," previously heard on the Dude's Creedence tape in The Big Lebowski.
  • Added 4/6/17 - It has been brought to my attention, due to a momentary lapse of recollection on the part of the excellent Alan Sepinwall, that Wayne Duvall, who plays the stubborn, doomed South Dakoka State Patrol Captain Jeb Cheney in this episode, also played reform candidate for MS Governor / KKK Grand Kleagle Homer Stokes in O Brother, Where Art Thou.
Episode 10: "Palindrome" (12/14/15)
  • Betsy's dream of the future borrows from H.I. Mcdonnough's dreams in Raising Arizona right down to the "that night I had a dream" opening phrase. The moment when "War Pigs" winds up and the bottom drops out of the vision's optimism, and we see Hanzee through a wall of flames, recalls H.I.'s nightmare of the Lone Biker.
  • Mike Milligan calls the dude from Buffalo (MN, not NY, I assume) "friend-o," again borrowing from Anton Chigurh.
  • "Fargo, ND," Carter Burwell's theme from the movie, makes its end-of-season appearance as Ben and Lou put Peggy in the prowler for her return to Luverne.
  • Adam Arkin, as Mike Milligan's new organized crime middle management supervisor, is another Coen veteran in the cast. He was previously a lawyer in Ron Meshbesher's office in A Serious Man.
  • His story of a mailroom worker climbing the ladder is like a criminal Hudsucker Proxy.
  • The final, domestic scene of Lou and Betsy in bed and, for now, at peace, closes out the season with the same sense of familial contentment and tranquility that Molly and Gus found at the end of Season 1, and that Marge and Norm enjoyed at the end of the movie.
 And that's it! I'm sure I've missed something, so if you notice anything, please let me know.