Fargo (2014) reviewed

Subsequent to my bingeing of Atypical, I have since been devouring Fargo. The series takes its name from the Coen brothers movie circa 1996 and is set in Midwestern America, including Minnesota, Kansas, North and South Dakota. Noah Hawley is the primary director and writer of the programme, which is a fusion of black comedy and thriller. The show has produced four seasons thus far, and I’ve almost finished the first three. Fargo is an anthology series, with different plots and characters for each instalment. There was a significant number of familiar faces in the programme. In short, I’ve seen these role players in other offerings. All four series were critically acclaimed, and the second season got a perfect rating. The characters were uniform in their midwestern accents. All seasons are supposed to be based on real events but have been altered out of respect for survivors.

Season 1 (2014)

The true crime anthology begins in small town Minnesota. The season takes place during winter in early 2006, with the town covered in snow. A drifter, Malvo, enters the precinct and causes mayhem. Billy Bob Thornton does a malevolent turn. Meanwhile, Lester is one of the townsfolk he ‘helps.’ The latter works as an insurance salesman. A former classmate, who now owns a trucking business, bullies him. He neither agrees nor disagrees to let Malvo ‘spank’ his tormentor, Sam Hess. Because of his indecision, he sets off a chain of events that plunges Bemidji into chaos. Lester starts to lie in order to cover his tracks. This progresses to medium, and finally, big untruths. He becomes no different than Malvo.

For almost the entire season’s duration, Lester is not held accountable for his behaviour. Molly Solverson (of the local police department) is on his trail but her boss (Bob Odenkirk) repeatedly side-tracks her investigation. Though a period piece, this is a fine example of bureaucracy. A similar thing would happen with two FBI agents later on in the show. While the latter was a staple in Breaking Bad, we also have Keith Carradine (who plays Molly’s father) and Colin Hanks (Dexter). The latter portrays a cop with Duluth PD who crosses paths with Malvo. Hanks becomes involved with Solverson. Jordan Peele (director of Get Out) was also part of the cast. Peele played one of two FBI agents who were banished to archives after not being useful in a live murder scene. Peele would redeem himself as he connects the dots with Molly.

As a side note, the first season included a man finding a briefcase full of dollars. When Malvo purses him upon learning of his hidden wealth, his life becomes hell. A ransom is demanded, he decides to return his find back to the ground. This is a timely allegory with existential overtones. Is it “finders’ keepers?” Or, when the going gets tough, should it be “finders returners?” There was also a riddle about the hare, fox, and cabbage. How would you ferry them across the river when you could only bring one at a time? The series won three Emmy’s and earned Thornton a Golden Globe award.

Rating: 4.8/5

Season 2 (2015)

The second season is another true crime treat, this time based mostly in both Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Jesse Plemons was nicknamed Meth Damon while on Breaking Bad. He resurfaces this time as Ed Blumquist, a well-fed butcher who yearns to have his own business. His wife, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), is a beautician. Early in the series, Rye Gerhardt – who was part of a crime family – murders three humans. A judge was among his kill list. While getting some air outside the scene of the crime, things end badly for the killer – thanks to Peggy . The couple then become unlikely matadors. Peggy instructs her hubby to rid themselves of the evidence. Hence, Ed dismembers the corpse, before turning him into minced man. He would then burn the clothes he used to chop up the dead body.

This instalment acts as a prequel to its predecessor, taking place in 1979. Retro cars, outfits, and telephones abound. Carradine is a younger state trooper, instead of a café owner. This time he is played by Patrick Wilson. His daughter, Molly, is still a child. His wife has terminal cancer and has mere months left. Wilson is reminiscent of his daughter later on: tough, resourceful, righteous, and determined. He anticipates a turf war between the Gerhardts and their Kansas City nemesis. This would arise from Rye’s death and the subsequent finger pointing. Peggy and Ed’s dishonesty would worsen matters. Like Lester twenty years later, their fabrications would get bigger over time. For instance, they sold their car for a song and faked an auto accident to wiggle out of trouble. They would even get a hostage to gain the upper hand. Finally, they went on the run. In other words, their deceit would eventually swallow them up and make them afoul of the law. Solverson has trouble getting his voice heard among his colleagues on the force.

Meanwhile, Ted Danson appears as Wilson’s father-in-law. I saw him previously as the architect in The Good Place. Nick Offerman is another recognisable face, being cast in Parks and Rec. Here, he moonlights as Karl Weathers, the town’s lone lawyer. However, my favourite character in this edition is Hanzee, the native American who’s so badass. He’s the coolest outlier on the show without even trying. Emily Haine was also notable in her bit as Noreen, a book-toting absurdist teen who liked to quote Camus. While juggling reads and her role in the butchery, she babysat Molly. Once again, the series competed for a slew of awards and was considered one of 2015’s finest. Like season one, the show had ten episodes and was likewise shot in Calgary, Alberta.

Rating: 5/5

Season 3 (2017)

Though still in the same fictional universe, the third season departs from the norm. This instalment is the first in the series not to be set in Fargo, North Dakota. Instead, the edition takes place in three Minnesotan towns: Saint Cloud, Eden Valley, and Eden Prairie. The events transpire between 2010 and 2011. Ewan McGregor stars in the double role as brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy. The former is the well-to-do ‘parking lot king of Minnesota’, while his hermano struggles as a parole officer. Emmit has a fine house, his brother chugs along in an antique Corvette. Ray begins a relationship with one of his charges, which was a no-no.  

Ray is after the vintage stamp that sits in Emmit’s office, as he believes this is rightfully his. He convinces one of his parolees to steal the stamp from him. However, things go sideways as the intoxicated recidivist loses the slip of paper bearing Emmit’s address. Instead of heading to Eden Prairie, he ends up murdering an old man in Eden Valley. The latter happens to have Stussy’s surname and is the father-in-law of Gloria Burgle, the female lead. Ray and his partner remind me of Ed and Peggy from season two. In a cruel twist of fate, they get involved in a double murder.  

Meanwhile, a mysterious bugger named V.M. Varga appears into Emmit’s passenger seat. Varga bailed out Emmit’s company with a million-dollar loan, no questions asked. Now, V.M. is taking control not only of Emmit’s business, but his home life. Varga likes to tell stories; he’s a veritable quote machine. People might remember the actor as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter. However, he takes a much darker turn in this outing. He’s shady, to say the least. He is paranoid of any type of bad PR and meddles in whatever briefing he deems trouble. He is likewise bulimic. In the show, Varga almost exclusively rocks up in a brown $200 suit and a beige trench coat.

Through this all, Gloria tries to piece together the murders and deceit. She often faces sexism and discrimination at work. Like Molly in the first season, her boss refuses to trust her. She finds an ally in Winnie Lopez, who is with the St Cloud PD. She even travels to Los Angeles to find some answers. Gloria has to contend with the bureaucracy to ensure that the truth prevails. I recognised the parolee, Scoot McNairy, who was in Narcos: Mexico. There was also a Wes Wrench sighting. The latter is the deaf-mute hitman from season uno; he plays a relatively brief but pivotal role in this one. Andy Yu was brilliant as the cold-blooded matador. Carrie Coon was head-turning as Gloria. Ewan McGregor’s Jeckyll and Hyde act was commendable. If you assumed that the third instalment was set in Calgary (again) then you guessed right.

Rating: 4.7/5

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