Molly's No Marge...But She Is In Charge
How Tara came around on Fargo's lead cop.
Buying into the TV series adaptation of Fargo was hard for me because, as I realized watching the pilot, Fargo is a movie I have watched many, many times. While the show is not a remake of the film, the pilot felt like it was trying very hard to remind me of it, not just in the general milieu or the plot -- several murders being investigated by extremely folksy law enforcement officers who are used to dealing with much less serious crimes -- but with what seemed like the TV versions of characters in the original film. Instead of hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard, it's hapless insurance salesman Lester Nygaard. Instead of a bad husband arranging his wife's kidnapping, a bad husband kills his wife. Instead of a stolid female deputy who's happily married and pregnant, we get a stolid female deputy who's single. Since I love the film's Marge Gunderson so much, I watched the show's Molly Solverson with narrowed eyes. Four episodes in, though, I have finally come around. Molly isn't the TV version of Marge, but she doesn't have to be.
It feels like each of these first four episodes -- which are the only ones I've seen, so any projection past this point is pure conjecture and you can't get mad at me for spoiling you if I accidentally do -- clearly establishes Molly in relation to a different character in her world. The first episode showed us her close relationship with her Chief, Vern Thurman. Confronted with a corpse found out in the middle of nowhere clad in nothing but underwear, Molly and Vern are both certainly curious about this unusual discovery and work efficiently to deal with both this case and the murder of local businessman Sam Hess. There's obviously a lot of mutual respect between them, and when Vern is killed toward the episode's end, we can tell it's important to Molly that she bring his pregnant wife the news (possibly because she knows her colleague Bill Oswalt, Vern's replacement, wouldn't have as light a touch or as much empathy as Molly herself does). It's going to be painful for Molly to have to have this conversation because she will also miss Vern terribly but can't behave in a way that will seem like she's trying to compete with his widow Ida's grief. This is evidently a duty Molly takes seriously both as Vern's protégée, and as a cop.
In the second episode, we get a little more of Molly's relationship with her dad, Lou. Partly I feel like this is so we know that her relationship with Vern wasn't just her looking for a substitute father figure, but it also highlights the difference between his vision for her and her idea of herself. Lou's already suggested, at the end of the series premiere, after Vern's been killed, that maybe she should consider giving up her job on the force. In the second episode, as Molly catches Lou up on the case and where she differs with Oswalt, he takes it as an opening to remind her of a time when she was a little girl and had to go under for a dental procedure, and how scared he was then for his "soft little girl in a hard world of drills and needles," never mind now. Molly stays silent as he talks about the "savagery" involved in the case she's working on now. But then he says, "One day, you're going to get married and have kids," and she looks down and shakes her head and lets out a very quiet little scoffing sound. It feels like an exchange they've had before, more than once: she's not annoyed with him for suggesting that marriage and children might be in her future when she's pretty sure they aren't and has apparently told him so, and it's not self-pity either. It's maybe a little sadness that she's not living up to what she feels are his hopes for her, but as she's also just finished reminding him, she's now thirty-one and carries a gun: his soft little girl is coping in the hard world just fine. If she's married to her job, it's generally a happy marriage.
The third episode is where Molly meets Gus Grimly, and learns that this bonehead had Lorne Malvo on a traffic stop and let him go. Though Molly is too kind (and midwestern) to say anything, we have known her long enough by this point to be able to read the irritation on her face as she meets yet another Bill Oswalt who isn't taking this case of multiple murder seriously enough or demonstrating pretty basic police techniques...but then Greta comes around the corner looking for change and she gets it. Gus is all the support Greta has, just like Molly and Lou before he retired from his job as a state trooper. (I guess it's possible that Molly's mother lived through Molly's whole childhood, but since she hasn't come up that I can recall, I'm guessing she either died or left a long time ago.) Molly brings Greta and Gus to Lou's and the four have an immediate rapport that makes it easy to imagine what the Solversons were like when they were the Grimlys' age. At any rate, it seems to help Molly go a little easier on Gus now that she knows how different the hard world is for him.
The fourth episode reveals to Molly how hard she's going to have to chafe against Bill Oswalt's restrictions in order to pursue what she knows must be true about this case even as he keeps jamming her out of it. But it also shows us a new side of Molly: the side that's a Woman.
Look how pretty! She really sets off the birds on the wall. I was so happy when Gus came in; I feel like it's important for him to get to see her with her hair down, literally, and get a load of a woman of substance as opposed to that exhibitionist in the apartment across the street from him.
One doesn't need to have seen the movie to make a pretty solid guess about where the season is going: more people will die, but eventually Molly will be proven right and solve the case and stop Lorne Malvo from creating more mayhem (and all for a little bit of money). Even though she will have done it without "carrying quite a load" like Marge Gunderson did, Molly will have had to overcome plenty of handicaps (Bill Oswalt; Gus's inferior police work), and I will be very gratified to see her triumph in the end, whether or not that triumph includes taking over the Bemidji Police Department and proving to her dad that she was right not to quit.
...though if she does that AND marries Gus, I won't be mad. He needs a police mentor, anyway.