For monitor this week, Aaron Yap applauds the sophomore effort of Fargo, and explains how the second season has created an even richer and more nuanced world than the first.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the idea of adapting Fargo for TV sounded kinda lame. What? Not Fargo. Why would anyone want a TV adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ Midwestern noir masterpiece – one of the most critically lauded American movies of the ‘90s? Leave it alone. That was until showrunner Noah Hawley (Bones) came along and made believers out of us.
Of course, it was always going to be difficult working in the long shadow of the singular, highly revered Coens. By the end of the warmly received first season, there was no question that Hawley had pulled it off. As with the culty successes of Hannibal and Bates Motel, it’s now considered a textbook example of how to adapt movies for TV. It could also be seen to be partially responsible for the sheer number of movie-to-TV remakes we’re getting at the moment.
The first two episodes exhibit the confident, devilish groove of a show that feels at ease with itself, adventurous and whip-smart with unspooling its narrative – and definitely not so preoccupied with living up to Fargo The Movie.
While there are no characters as immediately arresting as menacing hitman Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) or sweetly plucky deputy sheriff Molly (Allison Tolman) yet, the ones we’ve been introduced to certainly have me curious and are shrewdly cast. I’m particularly intrigued by Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), a hardass matriarch who stands to lead her family’s North Dakota crime syndicate when big boss Otto (Michael Hogan) is incapacitated by a stroke.
Steady tension is brewing in this overarching crime plot: the vacant position places Floyd in the crosshairs of the eldest of her three sons, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) – who believes a “boss can’t be a woman” – and also the rival Kansas City Mob, who’re elbowing in with an offer to acquire their struggling business.
As per Fargo tradition, the snow doesn’t stay white for too long. Episode one’s Waffle Hut shootout is expertly staged for maximum sloppy carnage. “Well, this is a deal,” Minnesota sheriff Hank Larsson (a grizzled Ted Danson) says to State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) after surveying the aftermath (Fargo watchers will know Lou as the connecting thread to the first season).
Rye doesn’t escape unscathed, inadvertently hitching a ride via the smashed windshield – echoes of Stuart Gordon’s Stuck – of light-fingered beautician Peggy Blomquist’s (Kirsten Dunst) car. This reveal ripples into further gruesome complications as Peggy’s butcher husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) is driven to carry out Fargo’s signature corpse removal scene, except with a meat grinder instead of a woodchipper.
It’s not hard to imagine Ed as the older, pudgier, mellower version of Plemons’ Breaking Bad character Todd. He plays the moment with duty-bound banality, as if serving up bacon for another customer – which he actually does when he’s interrupted by an impromptu, innocuous late-night visit from Lou that turns amusingly awkward.
From the judicious use of split-screens to the period-perfect soundtrack and wardrobe, season two commits to its retro setting with an assured swagger. We sense the chaotic, politically stormy climate of the late ‘70s weighing down on the shoulders of these characters. Hawley has supplied enough hints that a lethal cluster of unfortunate events will soon reflect their fears of the “war” being brought “back home”.
The opening montage of the episode one, scored to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, slips in footage from Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of confidence” speech with shots of cult leader Jim Jones and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. There are references to Ho Chi Minh and Watergate courtesy of Nick Offerman’s paranoid neckbeard Karl Weathers, who thinks the Waffle Hut massacre just might be a start of another government conspiracy.
“Just watch: this thing’s only getting bigger”, Weathers says. I’ll definitely be watching. The second season of Fargo is already richer, deeper, more nuanced, and rest assured – the dreaded sophomore slump that afflicted True Detective is nowhere to be found.
Fargo S2 currently airs on Sky’s SoHo channel
Currently catching up with the cringey charms of Emily Mortimer’s show-biz comedy Doll and Em… The Flash is back and continues to be the best superhero show on TV… loving the direction The Leftovers is taking in its second season…. there are no news of Hannibal getting resurrected but showrunner Bryan Fuller is bringing back Amazing Stories, a weekly anthology series originally created by Steven Spielberg… looking forward to checking out The Man in the High Castle, Amazon’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel.
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