January 19, 2016

If you liked the first season of Fargo you’ll be pleased to know season 2 hits many of the same sweet spots. It slickly spills across the small screen, buoyed by its North Dakottan vernacular, its snow stacked location, it’s  ‘played against type’ performances and the sudden narrative jolts that prang out of the leisurely pace like brain freeze.

There’s the nutritional additive of its 70s setting which allows- not only for period specific clothing and music, but for the use of post-Watergate, post Helter Skelter paranoia to set characters teeth on edge. As fuel prices soar, society teeters on the brink of collapse, with the psychological tax of the Vietnam War finally being felt by the veteran’s own home communities.

Suspicion of moral decrepitude is rife –it is after all they year that community activist and children’s clown John Wayne Gacey was tried for the murder and rape of 33 young men, and Ronald Regan’s presence lurks in the wings like the ghost of a heartless future.

So show runner Noah Hawley wedges all this into split screen segments, ‘director as auteur’ era cinematography and Close Encounters of the Third Kind interludes.

The season is linked to its first by its exploration of that damned ‘Sioux Falls’ incident, referenced so often by David Carradine’s Lou Solverson in the opening season, and experienced here by his younger- and still a State Trooper, self, (a typically fine Patrick Wilson).

A bloodbath in a waffle house draws him and his cop father-in-law (Ted Danson-memorable) into the cross hairs of the criminal Gerhardt Dynasty, in mourning for their patriarch, whose left incapacitated by a stroke.

As mother and son square off to head the family, a syndicate from Kansas moves in on their game, while their youngest kinsman, Rye (Rory Culkin), acts as a lightning rod for poor decisions for butcher and beautician, Ed and Peggy (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemmons and Kirsten Dunst). They typify the “Me Generation” in their selfish, sociopathic protection of their own self-interest.

The first two episodes have all the ingredients for a tasty, late night tele-visual snack. But they’re also laced with the artificial, mass-produced flavor of the first season which made Fargo feel a bit like a fifteenth helping at an all you can eat buffet. The grub is good, but there’s nothing really here that make it stand apart, either in its narrative, its structure or its comment on the world it’s a play on.

And the characters aren’t as memorable or as engaging as Martin Freeman’s sniveling Lester Nygaard or Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. While Jean Smart is outstanding as the Gerhardt matriarch- and no one else really puts a foot wrong, the actual storylines that surround them fail to live up to their time and place.

Not dull, but not exciting either, the violence itself is neither gratuitous nor exploitive, yet still feels overly thought out. It’s as if the writers were trying to show off their ‘smarts’ rather than use it for some other means.

The stodgy sexism, stale genre tropes and, most problematically, its sluggish surrealism stop Fargo from being as sharp and as alluring as it could be. But there’s a curious enough aftertaste to draw me back, particularly given how poor a TV season 2015 has so far proven to be.


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