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.