Monday, September 24, 2018
TV and Media

Review: 'Fargo' back with less splash, more nuance and tension

There's something about the Northern accent. It invokes the seemingly slow and simply charming life of the Midwest. It can make any story sound "nice." Believable, even. And it sets the literal and figurative tone for Fargo, a sweeping crime saga that's also comedic, albeit dark.

Each season of Noah Hawley's anthology series begins with one small, usually well-intentioned mistake that eventually unravels a series of bloody events. And the show spews buckets of it. The FX series is inspired by the Coen brothers movie of the same name, and Season 3 premieres April 19. And this time, it all begins with a silly sibling rivalry over a vintage stamp.

Ray, a parole officer, feels swindled by his brother, Emmit, into giving up a fortune. Emmit, "the parking lot king of Minnesota," seems to have carved out a nice life for himself, and Ray wants his cut. It's another exploration of the folly of capitalism and the American Dream. And that even with good intentions, there's always a cost to "making it."

The Stussy brothers are both played brilliantly by Ewan McGregor, each with his own distinctive look and personality. Emmit, the slightly older one who oozes phoniness with his gaudy taste and haircut, didn't rightfully earn his wealth. (More on that in a bit.) And Ray's got the skeezy-dude-at-the-end-of-the-bar look down, with a rickety little red Corvette (one of a few nods to the late Prince, a Minnesota native). He doesn't have much going for him, except his darling girlfriend.

Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane) is "a real catch." It's the classic love story when a parole officer falls for his parolee. At first, you wonder why a street-smart sexpot like her would be with a balding bellyacher. They play competitive bridge together and take romantic bubble baths. She might be playing him, but their chemistry is undeniable.

Ray wants to put "a nice ring" on it, but Emmit denies him the money Ray feels entitled to. So, Ray blackmails one of his parolees, Maurice, to steal the stamp from Emmit. And here's where everything goes oh-so-wrong. It's a simple lesson in never trusting a stoner to do your dirty work.

Naturally, Maurice drives to the wrong town and stumbles into the wrong home, where another Mr. Stussy lives. The police chief's stepfather, no less.

Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon (The Leftovers), adorned with the perfect mom 'do, will be this season's lawful backbone, much like Detective Molly Solverson in Season 1 and Frances McDormand's character in the 1996 movie.

Gloria is newly divorced and a single mom. She has a rocky relationship with her nasty stepfather, who has some odd secrets of his own. And the county just took over her small police department, and put a new chief in charge. She's definitely got some jadedness to her. It'll be fascinating to watch as she dives into the Stussy brother drama, and see how she'll go about justice.

So a small mistake leads to brutal results, which are yet to be determined. By the second episode, Emmit's money problems get stranger when we learn his sketchy $1 million loan came from an international crime boss (played by David Thewlis with the grossest teeth on TV) who seems to be using his investment to take over the empire.

The two episodes sent for review show a masterful story, but once again, showrunner Hawley is taking his time to let it unfold. Last season, we went from a diner bloodbath to UFOs. Who knows where we'll go now. So far, this season isn't as splashy, but it makes up for it in nuance.

The sprawling cinematography showcasing the snowy scenery and dull colors sets the scene perfectly. From plaid house shoes to hand-knit seat cushions to yet another fantastic soundtrack, it's all these impeccable sensory details that help build tension.

And, ah geez, the tension. Seasoned Fargo viewers will know any character may be doomed from the start. Bad things can happen to good people. And good people can do bad things. Each brother thinks he is one step ahead of the other, but really, it's a series of lucky coincidences that keep the rivalry alive.

The first episode actually opens in 1988 East Berlin. A man is suspected in a homicide and it appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Of course we're meant to empathize with the interrogated, but soon our trust for him weakens. He could be a really good liar. Even though we may never see these characters again (hopefully we do), this opening sequence sets the stage for the Stussy brother war and its ricochet of misfires that create one giant mess. It's easy to take sides, but having the full story is imperative. And not just the "nice" version.

Contact Brittany Volk at [email protected] Follow @bevolk.

The ‘Murphy Brown’ revival is re-entering a very different TV space. Can it succeed?

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Published: 09/24/18

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