“There’s Two Ways This Can Go…”
Ah, the northern Midwest. That warm, friendly region where the locals are so inviting and everyone wears a permanent smile.
Except it’s not warm. Not in the slightest. The ground is covered in a permanent frost, murders are chilling, and even the unassuming inner warmth of its cheery citizens is quickly fleeting.
Season two of Fargo is already fighting an uphill battle. No one believed a television show based on the Coen brother’s 1996 masterpiece could live up to its source material. Yet, it somehow managed to surpass it. With the falter of anthology series peer True Detective this past season, it was more than reasonable to expect that season two of Fargo would follow a similar fate.
Except, again, the brains behind Fargo prove they are at the top of their game. If “Waiting for Dutch” is anything to go by, you betcha this is gonna be a stellar season.
Season two of Fargo places us firmly in 1979, and all that entails. Political cynicism from the Nixon administration, a weariness about the Vietnam War, and a begrudging look at the years ahead. Fargo isn’t afraid of showing off the bleak nature of the waning 70s, foregoing the optimistic, spritely nature of season one. This works entirely to its advantage.
In order for a television anthology to be successful, the show has to chart new territory with each season. No one wants to see the same premise with a different cast of characters. Give them something familiar, but entirely alien. Fargo excels at distinguishing itself from its previous season, while simultaneously grounding it firmly in the same world. Sure, the characters still speak with the same accents and the landscape is a barren grey vista, but there’s a certain darkness that pervaded the premiere. It’s not humorless, it just feels more serious.
It’s going to be difficult to talk about Fargo without bringing up True Detective because they share very similar DNA, but the comparison clearly lets you see what quality television is and isn’t. Season two of True Detective had no grasp on its characters or its story, and they often felt completely separate from one another. Plot-lines were confusing, and it was never clear how characters were related.
Yeah, that’s him.
Fargo takes a similar approach to True Detective by branching farther out with its characters and its plot, except it has absolute mastery over both of these things. Within the first five minutes, we knew where Rye Gerhardt stood within his family. We know why he committed the murders that jump-started the episode. We know how Peggy Blomquist is involved in it all. Fargo also allows the visuals do all the talking, letting a lingering shot on Lou Solverson in his kitchen tell us exactly how he feels about his wife’s cancer and the triple-homicide that interrupted his evening.
I get upset when people give the pilot episode of a bad TV show a pass because “there hasn’t been enough time to properly get to know the characters.” That’s complete bullshit, and Fargo proves it. It proved it at the beginning of last season and it proved it again here. Every character is an entity entirely their own, instantly unforgettable, and with clear motivations that are given to us through context. It’s just plain solid writing.
Clear pacing and character introductions made the first episode of this season a great jumping off point. By the end of the episode, we know exactly who everyone is, how they’re related to the murders, what their desires are, and have suspicions of our own on how they’re going to collide. It feels like everything is connected to the same web, which is more than can be said for some other TV shows.
With a stellar cast, superb direction, and a setting that is at once familiar, foreign, and intriguing, Fargo is off to a great start for season two. To rely on a slow burn with a tone shift at the end of the episode like season one would have been disingenuous. Instead, “Waiting for Duch” starts us off by telling us what we already know.
Things are going to get messy.
Odds and Ends
- Hi! Welcome to my weekly review of Fargo. Grab a sweater, make yourself some hot cocoa, and feel free to chime in.
- This cast is incredible. I like to keep a blind eye going into shows or movies I anticipate enjoying, and it was fun gasping at every new character I recognized.
- Speaking of which, we meet again, Meth Damon.
- I’m curious how the black and white opening about The Sioux Falls Massacre fits with the rest of the story. I’m aware Ronald Reagan plays a part later, but the connection to the season has yet to be clear. Although I do have my speculation…
- What a welcome return to the soundtrack, which fits the world perfectly and is always good for some mid-episode toe tapping.
Steve is not looking forward to winter and you can follow him on Twitter.