Fargo is back … or is it?In its first season — which really wasn’t a season in the television vernacular, more like a self-contained serialized story arc — Billy Bob Thornton played the personification of cold-blooded evil and did it in a way that I found mesmerizing and pretty close to brilliant. The ending wasn’t as spellbinding for me, but the show was such a different piece of television that I forgave them.
Now we have another “season,” which is a rather unique approach to series television, as basically the only “characters” that have remained from the first season are the frigid, unyielding cold landscape of the geography and the ignition source of all the plot twists being found within the confines of particularly brutal killings.
The only other link to the past, or in this case, to the future, that we have to “Fargo”’s first go-around has to do with police officer Molly and her retired dad, who ran a diner. In this version, we find ourselves in the “Fargo” of the 1970s, and Molly is a little girl and her dad is a police officer.
In the first season, the people of Fargo and nearby communities only had the malevolence of Billy Bob Thornton’s character to deal with. Now the landscape, bleak as it is, has been made even bleaker by a panoply of characters who ooze menace. Even when nothing violent is happening, every time one of these characters makes an entrance, you get the uncomfortable sensation that mayhem is about to break out all over the place.
Here is a home-grown crime family of German ancestry, hired killers from a mob in Kansas City trying to move in on the Germans’ territory, and in the midst of this, there is a seemingly random act of violence that may be driving all the characters toward some kind of climatic orgy of evil, all of it based on a misconception.
In season one we had actor Martin Freeman’s seemingly innocent Lester Nygaard and this year we have a doubleheader of a married couple who at first blush appear to be innocents as well, but are both a little too good at conspiring to cover up a hit and run that results in the death of a very bad man.
Though this season of “Fargo” contains more characters than its predecessor, most of them play a solitary note. Because of the sheer volume of characters, the series avoids being atonal while at the same time, thanks to the grim landscape and pitch-perfect 1970s set and costume design, delivers a weirdly otherworldliness. And just like in music, if you string enough single notes together and throw in some minor changes, you can get a symphony.
Like its first season, this season of “Fargo” requires a serious disclaimer. This is not family fare, as bodies in meat grinders make abundantly clear. This version of “Fargo” is true to both its motion picture progenitor and its previous incarnation as a television series several months back.
If there is room for critique — and I guess there is always room for that — I am a little disappointed in the way the “good guys” are portrayed in this season as opposed to last year. Though the first season was replete with strange, unheroic archetypes, the creators of the show seem intent on doubling down.
Both the younger Lou Solverson, a local police officer, and his father-in-law, who is a sheriff in a neighboring locale, are a little too subdued for my taste. This may be the impact of watching too many “Dirty Harry” movies, but in several scenes in this new version of “Fargo,” the police officers stop some of the bad guys and then back down.
They are so underplayed it comes close to taking, me at least, out of the moment. Maybe it’s a case of watching too many YouTube videos of police acting badly that makes it hard for me to believe cops would allow what are obviously people up to no good, to just go their own merry way, even after squaring off with weapons.
I think there is probably something else afoot for this kind of presentation of the good guys in “Fargo” and it is not the most digestible for me as somebody who doesn’t require all of his characters in his television entertainment be virtuous, but still, hopefully not in vain, holds to the chimera of objective truth having its moment in the sun.
The sun never seems to shine in “Fargo.” The sky is white, the streets are white with snow, and the people are not very colorful either. The bad guys are, of course, and that has always been an issue for good writers.
It has been said that Shakespeare had to kill off Tybalt and Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” because they were taking over the play. They do have the best lines.
The bad guys in “Fargo,” from its first season with Billy Bob Thornton to its second manifestation, carry the lion’s share of the interesting dialogue as well. Not hoping for or expecting some kind of superhero action at the end of this series that will tie up all loose ends in a nice little bow … but I do secretly wish that television this good might surprise me and instead of wallowing in the bleakness of a broken world, shine a little light and melt some of the snow.