When Fargo Season 2 Went Off the Rails

The Season Two finale of Fargo is next Monday on FX. For six episodes, Season Two was better than the first. The story was a creative yarn set in 1979, with another all-star cast and the same quirks, dark humor, and style as Season One. Peggy, the butcher’s wife, runs over the troubled son of the Gerhardt clan, who are in the midst of a turf war with Kansas City mobsters, and machinations begin. Five beautifully crafted episodes culminated in three showdowns: one at Peggy and Ed’s house with Dodd Gerhardt, another at the police station with Bear and his thugs, and a third at the Gerhardt’s homestead.

It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed. We gotta go. – Peggy

When Episode Six ends, the police station showdown is resolved and Mike Milligan is storming the Gerhardt compound, where Floyd and Simone are completely unprotected. That’s all fine, but Sheriff Larsson returns from consciousness at Ed and Peggy’s and instead of going back into the house or to the police station, he’s next seen intercepting Lou and Ed on a country road. (Hanzee the Indian is pursuing them.) Ed immediately gets away, to which Hank says “Don’t worry we know where he’s going.” Ultimately, Ed will somehow get home with enough time to pack up Peggy and get out of town. This is the first head scratcher leading into the next week, where the plot completely derails.

Episode Seven has so many plot problems it feels like the old team of writers were fired and a new group took over. We find out that off-screen, Mike Milligan was somehow runoff from the Gerhardt’s. Bear gets wind of Simone’s cavorting with Mike and, in the first sign of his dark side, takes her out into the woods and executes his own niece. In a waste of screen time, Lou visits Mike and tells him to leave town which of course he doesn’t. Floyd turns into an police informant, although we don’t know what evidence she hands over and looking forward, absolutely nothing comes of it. Mike Milligan, the trusted Kansas City man who has been quite competent thus far is not only racially belittled by his handlers in KC but they send a hitman to try to kill him.

The most troubling thing about Episode Seven’s non-sensical turns is they also push the show down a darker, more travelled path. When Bear kills Simone, it is an unnecessary, cold-blooded murder, beginning a trend that will only worsen in the next two episodes. In Episode Eight, Hanzee suddenly turns into a serial killer, executing citizens and police left and right including Dodd, his longtime employer and childhood friend. Hanzee continues his killing spree in Episode Nine, where it turns into full-blown treachery. The Gerhardt clan and a team of cops predictably gun each other down at a motel in Sioux City. Instead of dark comedy or violence in service of the story, it simply becomes killing for killing’s sake. It is every hack action movie ripping off Tarantino. Not only is it not true to the characters, it’s not true to Fargo.

Throughout all of this, Episodes Seven through Nine are still completely watchable because it is still Fargo. The acting is top notch. They style is there. There are plenty of great moments, which is why the missteps are so disappointing. Although we know everyone’s gonna die, we want to see exactly how it goes down. With many of the characters either deceased or sidelined, the finale will come down to Hanzee chasing Ed and Peggy and Lou chasing Hanzee. As original as Season Two began, is there much doubt now that Ed and Lou will live, Hanzee will die, and Peggy will save the day?

In case you’re interested: How I Would’ve fixed Season Two of Fargo

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Alone on the History Channel

I’m addicted to the new History Channel reality show, Alone. 10 men are dropped separately onto Vancouver Island, a remote area surrounded by sea water and home to 7,000 black bears, 200 coyotes and 1,000 cougars. Each man is by himself, with no knowledge of where the other men are located, limited gear, and no water. The last man to quit wins $500,000. One man only made it one night after he pitched his tent next door to a bear den. (Spoiler Alert!)

The show makes a big deal about the guys choosing only 10 items from a list of 40, not counting clothes. Here is a list of what each man “brought.” We do not know what the original 40 items were and the men were responsible for their own gear. If someone chose to bring a knife, they could bring any knife they wanted. Also, it turns out they were provided other items, like flares, bear spray, and a flashlight. Plus, each man was left with 45lbs of camera gear to document his struggle, and some men used tarps from the camera gear to build water catches, etc.

For the record, I’d have brought: 12×12 tarp, 20m paracord, sleeping bag, 2 quart pot, canteen, gill net, fishing gear, axe, fire starter, & a knife. Read more about my choices.

Each guy also has a satellite phone he can use to call for extraction. It is unclear if he can also call to request medical assistance and keep going, or how often the crew may return to swap out camera batteries, etc.

Still, it’s a good idea and after weeding out the weinies and a couple guys with bad luck, we got down to five worthy contestants. The first goal for each guy was to find a water source, and then to figure out how to make fire in a misty rain forest. After 4 episodes, several guys have proven to be very knowledgeable and resourceful. We’ve already seen one make-shift boat. Watching this show makes you think about what you would do in a similar situation. Plus, you know some guys probably provided a bunch of good footage and others didn’t, requiring some creative editing. But as usual, why only a bunch of white dudes? Where are the ladies?

Alone is on the History Channel, Thursdays at 9pm CST. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Update: On Mitch Mitchell’s Facebook page, he answers many questions about the show in replies to comments. He also linked to a video about the extra camera gear each man is issued. (7/14/15)

The Secret Life of Passwords

This incredible piece from the New York Times made the rounds this week. Ian Urbina dives deep into one of the most private, yet telling details of modern life: our passwords. In our attempt to make an increasing tangle of passwords memorable to us and only us, we construct them full of meaning.

These special passwords are a bit like origami: small and often impromptu acts of creativity, sometimes found in the most banal of places.
Keepsake passwords ritualize a daily encounter with personal memories that often have no place else to be recalled. We engage with them more frequently and more actively than we do, say, with the framed photo on our desk.

I thought about what my own passwords say about me. Some are jokes based on the very first password I was assigned by a Sysadmin back in college. That original password was itself a subtle joke. Another password, created with a fellow employee, commemorated the date a dispised boss of ours was fired. I also thought of what my passwords don’t say. Mine never contain truly personal information, like the names of loved ones. And most telling, my passwords are always pragmatic in structure. I never settle on a password without making sure it can be quickly typed, that it has a nice mixture of characters and symbols for the left and right-hand fingers. It must have a nice rhythm on the keyboard. I’ll be typing this password many times a day, the thinking goes. I can’t risk my fingers getting tied in a knot.

Macminicolo breaks down the new Mini

Macminicolo has a great blog post about the changes in the new Mac Mini and what they mean for users. These guys know too, as their Mac Mini data center in Las Vegas hosts over 1400 Minis. They also sell off their older machines and follow the value of past Mini versions.

The 2012 Mac mini will still be very popular, keeping the prices of used Mac minis high. That machine offers the SSD/RAM upgrade options, the quad-core processor, and can also run a number of past versions of OS X.

UPDATE: And here’s the MacFixit teardown.

Will we build R2-D2s or C-3POs?

Interesting read by Rex Sorgatz on the future of robotics. Will we create R2-D2s, selfless robots that excel in areas where humans are deficient like deep computation and endurance in extreme conditions, or C-3POs, personified facsimiles of humans, complete with our foibles?

It’s simple:
R2-D2 aspires to be a great computer.
C-3PO aspires to be a mediocre human.
We need great computers, not mediocre humans.

Or as Sorgatz puts it in a nice info chart: R2-D2 is Wall-E, C-3PO is HAL. I think this debate will continue for a long time, with R2-D2 always the safe choice and C-3PO designs continuing to annoy us, or just plain creep us out – until we reach the Scarlett Johanson AI stage from Her. Then we’ll gleefully welcome our new robot overlords.

Siracusa Reviews Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Brew a pot of coffee and turn off your phone, it’s time to settle in for a long read. John Siracusa’s exhaustive, entertaining and technically rich review of Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite is here. Siracusa’s yearly reviews of the Mac operating system have become an annual treat since he first began with Mac OS X 10.0. This year’s review spends a lot of time on Yosemite’s marquee feature:

In last year’s OS X release, Apple tore down the old. This year, finally, Apple is ready with the new. To signal the Mac’s newfound confidence, Apple has traded 10.9’s obscure surfing location for one of the best known and most beautiful national parks: Yosemite. The new OS’s headline feature is one that’s sure to make for a noteworthy chapter in the annals of OS X: an all-new user interface appearance.

Siracusa’s insight into the UI and technical design of Mac OS X is enriched by 30 years of Mac experience and a little OCD. Who else can lament on the move from pulsating default buttons, or wax nostalgic about Kaleidoscope schemes? His reviews have become so legendary, there are reviews of his reviews. Sadly, as listener’s of John’s Accidental Tech Podcast know, this may be the last year he writes his 25,000+ word review. Kick back and enjoy one last labor of love.

Hoorah for the Mac Mini!

There was an Apple event today where new iPads were introduced (the iPad Air 2 & iPad mini 3) along with a new iMac sporting an amazing 5K retina screen (5120-by-2880 pixels). Holy cow!

That said, I was just as excited about the newly updated Mac Mini. Apple’s diminutive desktop computer hadn’t been updated in two years and has always seemed on the brink of cancellation. Yet here we are, closing in on the Mini’s 10th birthday next year, and Apple gives us an updated Mini starting at just $499. Granted, this will only get you an i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB spinning hard drive, but you can configure this little badass all the way up to a 3.0GHz i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. ($2,199 if that’s your thing.) I’ve owned several Minis over the years and they’re great as workstations, media servers, and even rack-mounted network servers. I’m glad Apple continues to keep the Mac Mini on the roster.