It’s not often you find on TV a show as intensely human, brutally violent, and blisteringly poignant as Fargo. The show, based off of the 1996 film of the same name, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is written as an anthology series: each season of the crime drama tells a new story.
The new season takes place in 1979, when the echoes of Vietnam and the looming presence of Richard Nixon shadow the characters, as war stories and Nixon’s campaign trail cross paths with the season’s main plotline.
A young Lou Solverson, a state trooper who appeared as the owner of a local restaurant in the first season, is put in charge of investigating a hit-and-run, a crime that acts as a catalyst for a war between rival crime families, the Gerhardts and the Kansas City mob.
Watching the show, it’s impossible to know what’s coming. At any point in the narrative, the story could change entirely, and the various twists, turns, and cliffhangers keep the audience at the edge of its seats, as every scene is one step ahead of what you’ve just processed.
Fargo, in addition to its main storyline, works in tandem with the classics. Episode titles including “The Gift of the Maji” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” allude to stories that, like Fargo, are sadly ironic takes on sacrifice and death.
The visual style of Fargo also makes it one of the most cinematic shows on air. The cinematography is carefully framed and shot in a 1970s style, showing more of the story rather than just the action. Fargo’s cinematographic distinction is an element rare in a world of TV dominated by shots that tell rather than show. The dark shading against the beauty of the snow-covered North Dakota landscape juxtaposes the quiet life of the townspeople of Fargo with the powerful mobs of the northwest. Split-screen shots that occupy much of the screen time present multiple scenes at once, threading the intertwining stories together.
The ensemble cast is excellent. Last season, Martin Freeman played the naïve Lester Nygaard, a man lost in his own life, alongside an unbelievably talented Billy Bob Thornton as the stone-faced Lorne Malvo. This year, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons—Breaking Bad fans will recognize him as the young white supremacist from season five—star as a couple lost in their own fantasies, while Jean Smart stars as the matriarch of the Gerhardt family. Nick Offerman is in it, too, with his best bit in episode 6. Individually, the cast members are great. But together, oh, my… It’s wonderful to watch.
Though it’s based on the original Fargo movie, the show takes cues from many other Coen films with its dark comedy, confused characters, and driven psychopaths. Hanzee, a Native American hitman, follows in the footsteps of Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men. Mike Milligan, a leader of the Kansas City mob, spouts witty, cynical dialogue that could have been penned by the Coens themselves, and the burial scene of Blood Simple is replicated with asphalt rather than farm dirt.
The second season has drifted much further from the original film than the first season, yet it still maintains the twisted fantasies of everyday townspeople.
Noah Hawley, the showrunner and head writer for the show, in addition to a likely third season of Fargo, will be writing an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, another series that will without a doubt be riveting, next year for FX.
Even with its Coen roots, Fargo has taken on a life of its own. The dark, absurdist drama paints a new picture of the town the Coens watched over in the original film, one that’s impossible to look away from. Every episode, every minute, is eerie and enticing. I never knew I could smile as I prepared for an inevitable assasination. Yet here I am, giddy and ready for the next episode.