Season one of Fargo is an inspired television take on the Oscar-winning movie, Fargo by the Coen Brothers. This rendition follows new characters and a new somewhat true story, though that is up to your interpretation. This is incorporated with violence, murder and very sadistic humour. Add the unique Midwest accents and dialects into the mix and we’re on our way to concocting another future cult classic. Academy award-winner Billy Bob Thornton stars as the smooth and collected yet manipulative Lorne Malvo who changes the life of insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman (Sherlock). We also have Colin Hanks as Gus Grimly, a Police Deputy in Duluth; a single dad who must choose between upholding his oath as a policeman but more importantly his giving his daughter the father she deserves. Lastly, there’s Molly Solverson as another protagonist. She’s played by Alison Tolman who stars as a driven and motivated police officer, much to the annoyance of her superiors.
In many ways, the ideologies in Fargo reminded me very much of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, just without the wandering swans. The idyllic town where nothing much goes on. Even crime there is very minimal and when something does happen, people want to keep to themselves and not bother anybody with it. Bob Odenkirk’s Bill Oswalt was the living embodiment of this way of thinking in his encounters with Officer Solverson (Alison Tolman). He was out to stifle her “detective” spirit to fight crime. She’s merely doing her job, but even after the department thought they’d caught the right guy, she wasn’t convinced. She’s that cop who does the opposite to what everyone else says. She’s the Nicholas Angel of Fargo. The series uses metaphors and moral dilemmas really well, shortening the paradigm between good and evil but also what is right and wrong. Morality has never been so ambiguous. The people of Fargo are unprepared for what is coming. They’re so used to living solitary lives and minding their own business that when Lorne comes to town and puts a spanner in the works, everything goes to pot. The devil comes to play and throws God from Grace.
Ah Jeez! Fargo was like this Garden Of Eden, and the worst you got were bullies like Hess, who had ties to organized crime but nothing big. Then Lorne Malvo comes along and he turns this Messianic orchard into some kind of Hell’s Kitchen. Malvo was like nothing anybody had seen before. But how many of us have seen a killing machine? He even pushed the purest of souls on to a precipice of psychological destruction. Bill Oswalt (Odenkirk) retired from the department because he wasn’t capable of dealing with someone like Malvo. His breed of cop wasn’t equipped for that, in addition to not having the mindset to lower himself to his level. He began to contemplate human kindness. Oswalt is old school, and he couldn’t understand how humans could treat each other in such a way. Gus Grimly (Hanks) is also like this. He is not in the same generation of cop as Oswalt but he still had integrity of some sort. But later on in the season, he puts aside his morality and commits an act of ruthless pragmatism to protect his own.
“The world needs bad men. We keep other bad men from the door.” says Detective Rust Cohle in True Detective and it’s just as relevant in Fargo as it is in HBO’s cultural phenomenon, though that is relative to one’s point of view. Fargo is an examination of the American spirit; truth, justice and the American way. But it also represents the many faces of humanity from those that kill for the sake of it, to those that do the right thing no matter what, and even to those who don’t want to kill; out of fear that they’ll go down a road that they can’t come back from. Humanity has many faces; some are good, some are bad, some are innocent, some are guilty. We just have to have the sense to differentiate between the many facades that people pull, and look beneath their veils of deception.
One thing is for certain. No matter how many times I watch Fargo, I will never get used to watching our John Watson (Freeman) do a Midwestern accent, but he does it so well. The accent is plain weird, but unique. There’s nothing else like it. Aw heck! This is one of the best shows on TV, with excellent cinematography as well as wonderful stories yet very sadistic and darkly amusing scripts. We begin to think Lorne and Lester (Thornton & Freeman) are our protagonists but to be honest, they’re very much our antagonists with the likes of Solverson (Tolman) and Grimly (Hanks) as our good guys. Like Twin Peaks, Fargo is a very people based. Let me explain; this guy knew a guy who knew somebody who saw this person at a certain time which hereby breaks our suspects alibi. The community in Fargo is close-knit, and everybody knows everybody, akin to Twin Peaks and Hot Fuzz. You don’t need CCTV in Fargo when everybody is watching everybody. Well, you do sometimes, but you get the picture.
Everything that occurs in this series has a meaning. It’s throwing us even further forward to the devil’s advocate, Malvo (Thornton). We are leading to a point where Malvo is either in jail or dead and life in this quaint settlement goes back to what it was. The established order will correct itself and the people living there will try to forget that this ever happened. People will go back eating pie and drinking black coffee while the cold winds blow and the snow falls forever more, like these murders were a whisper in the wind. No matter how hard the people here try to go back to normal, they’ll never be able to. Sure there’s a happy(ish) ending, but people still died and those that witnessed it will have to live with it for the rest of their lives.
When you’ve watched enough crime dramas, you see that crimes like serial murders are not solved in one or two months. They are solved in six months but some times it takes years. We move forward a year later in the season, and we see a reformed Lester who has remarried and is moving on with his life. Lorne himself is more cunning, more manipulative and to be frank, more of an asshole. Molly is police chief, Bill had retired and Gus Grimly had retired to become a postman; a less stressful and psychologically harming job.
As human beings, our anguish is revealed when we feel underappreciated and when we feel mocked. Fargo is a real study of what people will do when they are pushed to their limits. How far can someone bend until they are break? The human mind is fragile and will eventually shatter given the right circumstances, scenarios or variables. Each of us has the ability to do great good or great evil. Lester Nygaard was at breaking point, hence killing his wife; not by want but by the “I’ve had enough of your shit” ideology and he broke. Then he saw what he had done, and saw that it was too late. What has been done cannot be undone.
Bill and Molly represent two sides of the same coin. Bill is perturbed about the lack of basic decorum that modern people have. He thinks people should say good day to your neighbours. Molly sees the good and bad in everyone. She sees Bill’s ideology but also that mankind is also bad and they will kill you given half a chance. You don’t need a hope of incentive to be a decent human being. You can say good morning to your neighbour, even if they don’t return the favour. That’s what I call common courtesy.
A life with no rules is alluring yet if we had it, chaos would be an immediate repercussion. There are no rules other than the ones we make ourselves. Sometimes, the law isn’t enough. Sometimes the only way to get justice is to get it yourself. That’s not revenge or retribution, that’s natural justice, punishment. We can’t always depend on the kindness of others, we have to do what’s necessary with our own cold hands. This show is one of the best crime dramas since David Fincher’s Twin Peaks, wherein incorporating excellent acting performances, cinematography, editing and a grand musical score in addition to wonderful pacing but most importantly, it’s bingeworthyness.