Fargo has exploded back onto the small screen, and to say expectations were high is an understatement. After a surprisingly gripping and binge-able first series starring everyone’s favourite Hobbit, Martin Freeman, and the calmest psychopath to grace TV, Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo, the bar was indeed set high for this anthology series which follows an entirely new cast and storyline, set 27 years before the first series in 1979.
When it was announced that the classic 1996 Coen brothers dark comedy was being translated for the silver screen ,and that Martin Freeman was leading the cast, many eyes must have rolled. Casting Freeman as a despicable character was a big gamble as he had, until then, always played the loveable British everyman; from Arthur Dent in his jim jams, to John Watson running around Baker Street, to Bilbo Baggins who just wants to go home to the Shire. However, the superb blend of comedy, character development and standout performances from Freeman, Thornton, Colin Hanks’ hopeless Officer Gus, and Allison Tolman’s gifted Deputy Molly, combined to make one of the strongest ensembles of the year.
The main conflict of episode one of the new series revolves around Rye (Kieran Culkin, brother to Home Alone star, Macaulay Culkin) who in his anger shoots a judge, cook and a waitress in a Waffle House. Culkin is perfectly cast as a pathetic thug who is constantly pushed around and finally snaps when mocked – the only tragedy is that within 30 minutes of being introduced to him he is run over by a mysterious driver after getting distracted by some mysterious lights in the sky.
This leads to another running thread in the first two episodes, the supposed UFO sightings in the sky and heavy implications of other worldly interference. Episode two even ends with the opening monologue from The War of the Worlds musical, which talks of the human race being watched from the sky. This is perhaps just a fun inclusion as the soundtrack was released in 1978, the year before Fargo series two is set, or perhaps it is hinting at the Alien Invasion of ’79 which humanity forgot.
Series two made the brave decision of acting as a prequel to the first series as well as the bold casting of Kirsten Dunst who is often known for playing damsel-in-distress characters, most notably Mary Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy. Similar to how Freeman was previously typecast as the everyman, Dunst is inseparable from the girl who is constantly saved by Spider-Man, but in Fargo she has already flipped this vulnerable good girl image around. Her character, Peggy, persuades and manipulates her husband to hide Rye’s dead body when it’s revealed she was the driver who ran him over.
Following this startling revelation, it in fact turns out Rye is still very much alive but not for long as he’s killed by Peggy’s husband, Ed (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons, who has gained a few pounds to play the innocent butcher’s assistant). It is true that episode two feels a bit of an anti-climax compared to the rich stylistic imagery seen in the first episode. Nethertheless most TV shows whether it’s Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones usually suffer from a weak second episode that has to tie up loose ends and explain the narrative more so than the first, which is used to hook the audience from the get go.
Having said that, the last ten minutes more than make up for it, as Ed is gruesomely disposing of Rye’s body in the Butcher’s meat grinder (reminiscent of Sweeney Todd), when he is disrupted by Patrick Wilson’s State Trooper Lou Solverson, father of Molly from series one. The exchange between the two as Ed desperately tries to hide the body is both hilarious and nail biting, fusing together the elements that the Coen brothers are so well known for.
While it may be too early to judge, moments like these suggest that series two of Fargo may even surpass series one, which would be a hell of a feat to achieve but not impossible.