Like the firewood the Minnesota residents use to warm themselves in the bitter cold of the north, Fargo is a slow burner. After my initial reactions to the show’s pilot, I wasn’t sure what the programme had to offer without the standout performances of Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, or Allison Tolman. I liked that the dialogue is less obtuse, and that remains one of the things I’m most thankful for. Their tangents into moral philosophy have clearer connections to the plot, making the show less frustratingly head-scratching.
But since then, as I’ve been watching the events unfold and seeing how the characters crisscross, the themes thread through the plot, and storylines layer over each other, I’ve realised that writer Noah Hawley is creating a beautiful spider’s web of a show. He’s taking control of the series, wrestling it away from the spectre of the Coen Brothers. His influence vs theirs has finally started to favour him. If you told me that this is the direction season two would take after the success of the first, I’m not sure I would have been on board with it. But now, I’m starting to appreciate what Hawley brings to the table, especially when he serves it with nuance instead of slathering it over the plot.
War has come to Fargo. The Gerhardt clan wish for a peace with the mob of Kansas City, but the scheming eldest son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) wants war. Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) is slowly putting the pieces of young Rye Gerhardt’s (Kieran Culkin) death together, spelling trouble for the Blumquists. Speaking of whom, butcher Ed (Jesse Plemons) is proving himself just as capable of delusionally ignoring the chaos around him while doggedly pursuing his American Dream, as his wife was when she ran Rhy over and went home to start dinner.
I initially felt that these two characters were poor replacements for Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard. Since then, they have recently become the most interesting characters in the series. They are the two for whom the ambitions and desires of American marketing are their true gods. Both want their own vision of an advertised, regurgitated, idealised future. Ed wants to be his own boss, live in his family home and have children. Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) wants to carve out her own legacy; be a proactive, feminist superwoman whose life is worthy of immortalisation on the cover of a women’s magazine. Their characters are the personification of the obsession America has with rugged individualism.
I still have some reservations about how the show handles itself. I’m still paranoid that the UFO they’re teasing will show up at the end of the series as a gigantic Deus Ex Machina. I’m not entirely convinced by Jeffrey Donovan as a menacing, alpha male presence. And I still can’t forgive them for making Nick Offerman shave off his moustache. Yes, the beard is magnificent, but without that moustache to guide me like the flame on top of the Statue of Liberty through the murky fog of millennial ethics, I just don’t where the line between right and wrong is anymore.
But those misgivings aside, Fargo lives up to the legacy that the Coens created, even if it is slowly freeing itself from their shadow. Fargo feels home-spun. It feels crafted, lovingly. The dialogue is rich with subtext and meaning, it’s beautifully shot to the point where Minnesota, even while burning, looks like a lovely place to visit and the sets are rich in period detail. But the strength of the series, is now and forever shall be, the colourful, distinct and deep characters. Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan is also a bit of a treat.