Pilot Review: Fargo Returns Fresh and Familiar for a Second Season

Season 2 of Fargo returns with a new ‘true crime’ story  (Stuck  meets Pulp Fiction) which serves as a prequel to season one with a younger Lou and Molly Solverson. The episode, “Waiting for Dutch” opens to a montage of juxtaposing figures to establish the period: an off-screen Ronald Reagan (nickname Dutch) in Massacre At Sioux Falls and President Jimmy Carter’s July 15 1979 Crisis of Confidence speech.

Set in 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota  and Laverne, Minnesota State Police Officer Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) investigates the murder or massacre of three at the Waffle Hut Diner with his father-in-law Sheriff Hank Larson (Ted Danson). Though he believes it is a simple local robbery his friend and conspiracy theorists Karl says, ““Just watch. This thing’s only going to get bigger.” The story is complicated by Peggy Blomquist whose hit and run brings crime families into her and her husbands, quiet lives. While the Gerhardt mafia family in Fargo is losing two family members, the Kansas City crime syndicate sets out to take over their business in a Northern expansion.

Show runner and writer Noah Hawley brilliantly captures the period and uses Fargo‘s (movie and tv show) now familiar story structure, style and tone in this ten episode movie. The first episode, “Waiting for Dutch” has the most layered and intriguing opening that is only second to The Leftovers season 2 opening. However, the Massacre at Sioux Falls scene felt forced and indulgent. It should have remained on the cutting or editing room floor. The episode’s title and other subtle references to President Reagan were sufficient. The episodes actual massacre in the diner was masterfully shot! It was funny, violent and thoughtful. The use of the swinging door was more effective than the attempts to weave the Gearhardt family into the main story line. 

This chapter of the anthology accomplishes what American Horror Story and True Detectives failed to do; it succeeds with an engaging story supported by outstanding performances without being cliché or trite. Moreover, it ups the ante by doing this with an entirely new cast! Using the themes and story points introduced in Fargo, the movie and reinterpreted in season 1 of Fargo the television series, it is fresh and familiar, simultaneously.

We do have the same archetype characters: frustrated and manipulative wife, dunce husband, good guy cop, psychopath criminals and the assorted bag of unique characters. Even the true story is familiar in its presentation of a unique crime, death, villains and anti-heros. However, Fargo elevates this with smart funny dialogue, images and references.

Most of the actors’ accents are as superb as their performances. Kieran Culkin grounds the first episode as Rye Gerhardt, the youngest of the family crime syndicate’s three sons. Kristen Dunst as Peggey Blomquist is complex, balancing the frustration of a woman discovering and defining a life that is far beyond the one she is living. Jesse Plemons as Ed Blomquist, captures the earnest dunce persona. Though the use of a new cast leads to comparison with the stellar performances of the previous one, the cast meets this challenge; I expect to see great work from Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt and Brad Garrett as Joe Bulo playing against type as well as Jeffrey Donovan as Dodd Gerhardt.  In the words of the butcher shop drones, “OK, then. OK, then. OK, then.”

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