THIS MAKES no sense. Not the show itself, but the fact that Fargo, the second series of a television programme based on a film, is the best of the year. This has been such a great year for television: we said goodbye to Mad Men, Orange Is The New Black had its best season (admit it, Viv was too cartoonish a villain), The Bridge and Fortitude continued to showcase the best European crime drama there was, even Game of Thrones, despite delivering its worst season yet was still, well, it was still Game of Thrones. My point is it has been a bloody brilliant year for TV and even despite this, nothing has matched up to Fargo in my opinion. But how could they? I mean can you name another crime drama this year that also doubled as a celebration and critique of Sisyphian narratives and one the year’s best secret comedies?
The sheer joy of the show’s format is that you can go and watch the second season right now without having watched any of the film or the first season and it will be completely fine (well the last episode would have some mild spoilers for the outcome of season one but nothing major). Using the anthology format allows for new stories to be told while building on and using the mythos of earlier seasons. Season 2 immediately disconnects itself from season 1’s time zone of the early 2000’s by jumping back to the 1970’s and (as much as a lead can be determined in this wide ensemble) follows Detective Lou Solverson, as played by Keith Carradine in season 1, now played with supreme confidence and gusto by Patrick Wilson. It tells the story of the confrontation between the Gerhardts, a North Dakota ‘family’ who run the crime business in their area and the Kansas mafia who are the mafia, but from Kansas. Within that, we also see the numerous stories of people within the war and those caught in the crossfire.
The only problem I have overall with talking about the individual characters and performances is there are so many of them that were great. Ted Danson is a joy as Lou Solverson’s partner and father-in-law, Nick Offerman’s drunken town layer Carl Weathers was a comedic highlight, Cristin Milotti as the cancer-stricken wife Maggie Solverson managed to ably defy expectations and stereotypes of such characters, Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan as the Matriarch and oldest son of the Gerhardt were responsible for one of the season’s tensest moments just by sharing bread across a long table and Bruce Fucking Campbell played Ronald fucking Regan! I want to take this time to highlight what I think were the two most soulful and interesting performances: those being journeyman character actor Bokeem Woodbine as the fearsome Mike Milligan and Kirsten Dunst as the quickly unhinged housewife Peggy Blumquist. Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of her career taking what could have been a role that swallowed up a lesser actress and somehow playing Peggy with just the right amount of humour, pathos and just a hint of pure, improvised badassery, she’s a woman who doesn’t really know who she is and for the most part seems to love discovering it. Her interplay with her husband Ed (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons) is both loving and alienated when it needs to be and late in the series, she forms this year’s best comedy double act with another character, though I won’t say who. Y’know spoilers. I could go on here but suffice to say her performance especially in the final episode is some of the most affectingly sincere pure acting I’ve seen in years.
Where Dunst is showing us what she can do with material worthy of her talents and showing a range only hitherto hinted at in Melancholia and other such indie delights, Woodbine is playing a very similar character to ones he’s done before but instead of allowing what could have been a generic heavy with a flair for literary quotations to fade into the background, He (ably assisted by Creator and Writer Noah Hawley) allows the role to take on so many shades of complexity and reality without ever saying them. He is a character that enters the programme to do a job and doesn’t get too involved in any storylines outside of that yet he never feels like a character who only exists inside of the series, escaping entirely through a hinted at inner life, the fact that still after the series is done he remains an enigma working much to his advantage.
It’s impossible for such a wide-ensembled show to provide everyone with enough screen time to fulfil their arcs, and while almost everyone actually achieves this, the one character who it seems never fully clicks into place is Dod Gerhart’s (Jeffrey Donovan) daughter, Simone. Rachel Keller tries hard to make an impression but her character’s lack of refined position in the narrative makes her something of a pinball, moving around but never being as interesting as the barriers and lights she’s hitting into. Equally, many have criticised a certain occasional reliance on imagery used in Coen Brothers originals (A softly-spoken killer threatening a petrol station attendant comes to mind) but this is never in my mind overplayed and having watched with two less obsessive Coen fans, it was never an issue for them.
As always, the show is beautifully written, scored, shot, directed. Frankly, this is as close to perfect as ten episodes of television can get. The best recommendation I can give it is that I watched each of the ten episodes and from episode to episode I couldn’t predict what would be happening next week and I was nary excited about anything (bar Star Wars) more than finding out what was next. If you, like me, enjoy using this Christmas season as a chance to catch up on missed delights, there are few more delightful than this. Plus it’s all snowy and stuff, so that’s appropriate.
Other Programmes of Note:
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Better Call Saul