The first season of Lilyhammer came and went with little fanfare. As the first of Netflix’s original series, it can be regarded as the soft opening to a mini-revolution that, in its first full year, has yielded six Golden Globe nominations and seemingly endless critical praise for House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and more. The initial eight-episode run mirrored this pattern as it started out slow before building up to an impressive and dramatic finish. I gave it four stars out of five, but only because Netflix does not allow fractions.
The second season premiere, “Milwall Brick,” brings to viewers a show that is firmly in the next phase of development and in stride from the start. The first season, in which The Sopranos’ Steven Van Zandt plays Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, was entirely about acclimating as a fish out of water; Tagliano’s (now Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen) choice to relocate through the Witness Protection Program to Lillehammer, Norway, is essentially the entire premise of the season. Now that he has adjusted to life in small-town Scandinavia, he is in the process, as Frank Costello put it in The Departed, of making his environment a product of him. What is most appealing about Lilyhammer—beyond the charming cast and dry wit—is that it is not simply a fish out of water but an entire genre. Frank is in the process of terraforming Lillehammer to his lifestyle as he introduces the cosa nostra way of doing business to Norway. (The year) has been a big one) for terraforming.)
Although this is addressed for laughs in more obvious ways, including an homage to The Godfather to open the episode and closing it with a gentler nod to Goodfellas by playing out to Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” Lilyhammer deftly presents the culture clash through the transitions by each of Frank’s associates. Jan (Fridtjov Såheim), a former employee of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Association whom Frank blackmails in the first season, is at once smarmy and dorky in ways that would never fly in depictions of the American Mafia. Frank’s right-hand man and the godfather of his children, Torgeir (Trond Fausa) is a vaguely ineffectual goofball who takes up knitting in order to make rompers for his godchildren. Both characters lack the machismo inherent in typical American men and criminals, which creates a fascinating dynamic for the genre. In shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, characters exist in a world of subterfuge and gamesmanship, but in Lilyhammer the mostly honest characters fall in line behind Frank and are eager to please without an outsized concern for self-honor.
But just as these characters are not practiced in the pissing contests of American crime television, they are also unfamiliar with the consequences and care required in dealing with dangerous criminals. This introduces what will presumably be the conflict for most of this season, as Frank’s men test drive a presumably stolen sports car in advance of a potential purpose. When they hit a moose while trying to break the speed record over a snow-covered bridge (Norway!), they must deal with the soccer-hooligan salesman, Duncan Hammer (played by Game of Thrones’ Thoros of Myr, Paul Kaye). The title of the episode refers to Hammer’s preferred weapon—a rolled newspaper full of coins and drenched in urine. (Aside: What does the urine do? Is this a “Piss Shirt Bend Bar” situation?)—which he uses to great effect once he discovers the damage done to his stock.
Duncan eventually pries the information from a terrified associate of Frank’s and goes on a mini-rampage, Millwall Brick in hand. When Duncan arrives at Frank’s club and starts bashing people with the Brick, Jan grabs a gun and points it at him. Easily assessing the situation, Duncan challenges Jan to shoot and eventually steals the gun away when Jan fails to do so. When Frank emerges, it appears Duncan will shoot him until Torgeir goes all Arya Stark on him with his (circular) knitting needles. Once everyone exhales, Frank explains to his ragtag crew how to dispose of the body and car; if you create the bodies, you must also erase them.
All this occurs in an episode where we are reminded that Frank’s marriage to Sigrid (Marian Saastad Ottesen) ended with her discovery of his past and the imperilment of her son in the previous season. Still, they christen their twins, Bjørn and Bjørg, which requires Frank to lean on the priest of Sigrid’s church. It seems likely, as in Boardwalk Empire and other shows, that Sigrid and Frank will have an on-again, off-again relationship fueled by her attraction to and repulsion from his criminal life.
The episode ends with the reveal that Duncan has a very violent brother who will also head north to seek vengeance and rock the little town of Lillehammer as well as present Frank with a true rival. “Milwall Brick” was a strong showing from a series that had an uneven first season and the best TV option in the non-Edie Falco division of Sopranos acting alumni.