We’re halfway through the new season of Fargo, and I’m really surprised this superb edition of the show isn’t more of a hit, more talked-about and discussed. Here are five reasons you ought to be watching, and a preview of tonight’s episode, titled “Rhinoceros.”
1. Fargo has everything you love about good TV. Drama, comedy, action, a pleasingly intricate plot that mixes thriller action scenes and a murder mystery. As overseen by producer-writer Noah Hawley, Fargo’s three central plots work together like well-meshed gears: the hopes and nightmares of husband-and-wife Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed (Jesse Plemons); the internecine squabbles of the crime family the Gerhardts, now headed up by Jean Smart’s Floyd Gerhardt and her eldest son, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan); and the Kansas City mobsters, who include Bokeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan and Brad Garrett’s Joe Bulo.
2. Wonderful performances by a wide range of actors. In addition to the ones named above, Patrick Wilson is doing an exceptional job of anchoring the show as State Trooper Lou Solverson. He stands his ground in the scenes of danger and menace like a young Gary Cooper in a Western; back at home, he’s infinitely kind and subtle as the husband whose brave wife Betsy (How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti) is struggling with cancer.
3. It’s about an America in the midst of change. Last week, we saw Bruce Campbell playing Gov. Ronald Reagan, on the verge of spreading his message of patriotic positivism nationwide. Set in 1979, the show gives us a sense of how the pinched economic times are affecting small towns, as what then-President Jimmy Carter labeled the national “malaise” filters down to ordinary people. This comes across most frequently in Peggy’s confused, sometimes funny, but always sincere desire to make some significant changes in her own life. Her dream of getting out of town and improving herself via the Lifespring seminar — which sounds like a variation on the self-improvement racket pushed by Werner Erhard’s “est” seminars during this period — is poignant.
4. It’s TV filmmaking at its best. The use of split screens, carefully composed close-ups, the occasionally dramatic crane shot — all of this is done to further the suspense and place characters in their physical environment, not as showy effects. Directors including Jeffrey Reiner and Michael Uppendahl have conveyed the harsh cold of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, and the comfy warmth of families’ homes — a warmth that’s always in danger of being destroyed by the criminals in their midst.
5. Tonight’s episode features a great showcase for Nick Offerman. The former Parks and Recreation co-star has been popping up along the outer edges of Fargo thus far as local color, the lawyer Karl Weathers, who spouts conspiracy theories about, among other things, the Watergate burglary. Tonight he moves center stage in a plot that has him summoned to the local jail by Lou and finding himself caught in the middle of the Gerhardts’ efforts to free young Charlie.
All this, plus you’ll hear someone quote Flo — “Kiss my grits!” — from the then-popular sitcom Alice. And you’ll hear a chilling recitation of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.” How could you miss that?
Fargo airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on FX.