FX Channel Mini-Series Review: 'Fargo'

August 17, 2020
Fargo

‘FARGO’, a black comedy-thriller, is one of the best films from writer-director-producers and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s actually a place in North Dakota that is always cold and snowy. The film won for Frances McDormand her first Oscar best actress award in 1996 as a pregnant police chief investigating a homicide. 

Its script, which is a complex web of lies, murder and deceit, also won the Oscar best original screenplay award. In 2012, the Coen Brothers turned it into a TV series with ten episodes, but the story and cast are now totally different. It was successful so there have since been three seasons of “Fargo”. They all used the same disclaimer at the start of the movie and all the show’s 3 episodes: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” But the truth is its all a work of fiction. 

The lead character in the first season of “Fargo” is still a woman, Deputy Chief Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman), who investigates a series of murders caused by an evil hitman, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), and a henpecked and bullied insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). They become unlikely partners in a series of crimes set in January of 2006.

The same elements that made the movie work were carried over to the TV series, specially the great attention to detail in telling the narrative. If you liked the original movie, no doubt you will appreciate the series as a combination of highly entertaining crime drama and very dark comedy with eccentric characters told in a non-linear manner.

Billy Bob Thornton won the Golden Globe best actor award for a miniseries for his portrayal of the trigger-happy, cold-blooded Malvo who brings mayhem and destruction wherever he goes. The way Thornton portrays him is really scary as he kills indiscriminately with a detached attitude that is in itself more frightening than the crimes he does. He reminds you of Javier Bardem’s similarly ruthless assassin in “No Country for Old Men”, also written and directed by the Coen Brothers.

The use of a married small town policewoman played by Allison Tolman is actually a homage and a reworking of Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson character in the movie. They are both compelled to go through a swamp of male stupidity in unveiling a criminal conspiracy. Tolman invests her character with the same mixture of earnestness and sadness that McDormand showed in the movie.

“Fargo, Season 2” is actually a prequel to the first season and is set in 1979. Two of the characters in Season 1 are here playing their much younger selves. Molly Silverson is still a little girl here, while her dad, Lou Silverson, a Minnesota state trooper played by Keith Carradine as an old man, is played here by Patrick Wilson. 

There are many characters in Season 2. First, there are the Gerhardts, the most powerful crime family in North Dakota. The matriarch is Floyd (Jean Smart, very good in her role), who’s forced to lead the family after her husband is crippled by a massive stroke. She has three sons: Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), the eldest and the most hot headed; Bear (Angus Sampson), the quiet one; and Rye (Kieran Culkin), the youngest and a real trouble-maker. 

Rye’s business partner tells him to talk to a female judge who has frozen their assets. In a waffle restaurant, Rye ends up killing the judge then goes on a shooting spree, also killing the restaurant’s cook and waitress. As he goes out into the street, he is hit by a passing car. The driver is a hair dresser, Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), who thinks he’s dead and brings him home. But he turns out to be still alive and her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons), a butcher in the town’s meatshop, finishes him off.

This triggers a series of events that involves Bob’s father in law, Sheriff Hank (Ted Danson); and the various members of the Kansas City crime syndicate who wants to usurp the Gerhardts as the leading crimelords. The war between these two crime organizations escalate, leading to a climactic shootout and massacre.

But the really tragic characters here are Kirsten as Peggy and her husband Ed. They seem to truly love each other. Peggy wants to attend a self-improvement seminar to make herself better and uses their family savings to pay for it, not knowing that Ed will use it as down payment for the meat shop when his boss retires. 

Their marriage is severely tested by the subsequent chain of events that will change their lives forever. Both Kirsten and Ed are superb in their respective roles and they’re able supported by Patrick Wilson as the do-goody cop whose dedication to justice and to his family are both unshakable.

As for Season 3, we started it but decided to discontinue watching it as the characters are mostly stupid and unsympathetic, despite the fine portrayal of Ewan MacGregor in his dual roles.  The 3rd season is set in 2010 but no longer in the titular Fargo but in Minnesota.

Ewan play Emmit and Ray Stussy, twin brothers. Emmit is rich and known as the Parking Lot King of Minnesota for owning so many parking spaces. Ray is the younger brother, a probation officer who has fallen in love with an ex-convict under his care, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead.) 

Ray has a grudge on Emmit because when their father died, he chose their dad’s Corvette while Emmit got a stamp collection which turns out to be vintage stamps that’s worth millions. Ray instructs a parolee, Maurice (Scott Macnairy), to steal the stamps from Emmit. 

Maurice is dumb. He loses the piece of paper where Ray jotted down the address of Emmit in Eden Prairie. He checks the name on a phone book and gets the name of one Ennis Stussy instead, living in Eden Valley, and he ends up killing the old man who turns out to have a very colorful past himself. 

He then blackmails Ray to keep quiet about the crime but Nikki has a better idea. She kicks an air conditioner off their window and it falls directly on Maurice as he leaves their building, killing him instantly. 

Emmit, in turn, is also having problems with a shady company from whom he borrowed a huge amount a year ago. He’s now willing to pay it back but the company says the amount means they are now partners and wants to take advantage of him.  

At this point, we realized that most of the characters are annoying assholes so we chose to stop watching the rest of the show. At least, with Seasons 1 and 2, we have characters we can relate with even if the evil deeds of some of them can be quite over the top, but in Season 3, everyone is either bad or idiotic so why would we waste our time with such inanity?