I didn’t watch the first season of FX’s anthology series Fargo whiled it was airing. Admittedly I tend towards snobbery, and the thought of a television series based on a film I love, made by filmmakers I love turned my nose up. I smelled a rat, television looking for a built-in audience to bump ratings and ad revenue. Last week I gave in and gave it shot (my shrink has recently informed me I need to do more things I don’t want to do, and this was I all I could muster right now). While the series obviously wasn’t of the quality of the film, it was an entertaining and enjoyable watch. Well acted and mostly well written, my only qualm with the show was the too clever, too smart master criminal antagonist whose (nearly) every machination works out perfectly. It is a character device of crime shows that I feel has seen its day and I could do without. Despite this, finding it a pleasurable experience, I decided to get into season 2, which hits its halfway point tonight.
Season 1 was set in 2006, in keeping with Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film which took place in the near past. The series stuck to many conventions of the Coen’s film. A small town female cop protagonist Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), a husband (Martin Freeman) taking part in a crime against his wife, genre explorations (of noir in particular, if not with Coen’s witty subversions of the genre). With season 2, the show runner Noah Hawley has taken a few steps away from the Coen’s vision, while remaining true to the movie’s spirit. There are still nods to Midwestern politeness and snowscapes, but thus far season 2 has felt more Hawley and less Coen. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Fargo has jumped back to 1979 for season 2, taking us to a case we heard about in season 1. Molly Solverson’s retired Minnesota State Trooper father Lou (S1: Keith Carradine S2: Patrick Wilson) ran a diner that was a frequent locale in the first go around. A couple times Lou referenced a 1979 case and Sioux Falls and a lot of bodies. That, one can assume (even with all the ass, you, and me implications) is where this season will end up. Between the cops, the North Dakota crime family the Gerhardts, and the Kansas City crime outfit trying to buy the Gerhardt’s business, the pieces are in place for a messy show down, but getting there should be fun. While Jean Smart has been fantastic as the matriarch of the Gerhardt clan, it has been the Kansas City outfit with the most interesting, Fargo-est criminals. Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Brad Garrett as Joe Bulo and Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan, have the swagger, wit, and menace that would fit in a Coen brothers film. Woodbine in particular is fantastic, there have been a few occasions over the first four episodes where I have found myself just wanting what is happening at the time to be over, and for Mike Milligan to be back on screen.
Usually these moments occur during the scenes of Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemmons). There has been nothing wrong with the acting, and their arc seems essential to the series. But their storyline hasn’t really grabbed me. It is kind of a femme fatale noir line. But the sociopathic woman, clueless husband/love interest bit has been done to death (see: 90% of all films noir). While we are yet to be sure of all of Peggy Blomquist’s motivations (feminist self realization seems to be the only one we know of), as of right now I don’t care enough to think too much on it. Nearly 50% of the season gone, that is a bit of a problem. However, Wilson, Danson, Smart, Garrett, and Woodbine do more than enough to pick up the slack, and with any luck Nick Offerman’s Walter Sobchek-esque character, Karl Weathers, will make some more appearances. To paraphrase him, if John McCain can hold out for five years of Vietcong thumb screws, I can make it through two characters I don’t really care about.
Fargo does have a depth beyond that of the average crime drama. The 1970s setting also allows for some commentary on the changes taking place in the 70s and commentary on America today. We see the KC outfit’s corporate model looking to take over the family business of the Gerhardts. Through Peggy, Mrs. Gerhardt and her granddaughter Simone (Rachel Keller), women questioning their traditional position in patriarchal society. Garrett’s character quips at one point of Mrs. Gerhardt “she’s tough. But you know…a girl.” There would be room to address race as well, although I have a feeling that Milligan wasn’t necessarily conceived as a black character. Though he seems to be the most educated character in show, which in itself says something. Many characters in the show are also war veterans living in a post Vietnam world. While Offerman’s character is the conspiracy theorist, burnt out, too much time in the shit vet, Wilson and Danson reflect many of the vets I have know (my grandfather in particular). People that have seen the horror of war, don’t talk about it, wish they didn’t think about it, and don’t ask for any adulation for it.
Through four episodes, through Minnesota and North Dakota, season 2 of Fargo moves on towards Sioux Falls with much to be decided. Lou Solverson will survive, but who else will? What will become of the Gerhardts, the KC outfit, the Blomquists? Did anyone eat the Ry-burger? And will the visitors return? I want to believe.
Fargo airs Mondays at 10 PM on FX