Set in 2010 Minnesota, the new season of Fargo tells another tale of violent, bungled crime, this time featuring Ewan McGregor in two roles, as warring brothers. When he’s curly-haired, he’s Emmit Stussy, “the parking lot king of Minnesota,” a successful businessman. When he’s bald, he’s playing Emmit’s younger brother Ray, who’s a parole officer. The setup is that Ray feels Emmit bilked him on their inheritance awhile back, and he’s nursing a grudge. Now, with his new girlfriend, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Ray wants both money and revenge: His plan is to steal a valuable stamp in Emmit’s possession, to redeem for a lot of cash and to humiliate his brother.
That’s the narrative spine provided by show creator Noah Hawley, who wrote both of the first two episodes made available for critics to review. As always, however, the pleasures of Fargo derive from the variety of the characters and the clever wordplay they indulge in. Law enforcement this season arrives in the person of Carrie Coon, currently giving one of the best performances on TV in the new season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Here, she’s Gloria Burgle, a single-mom police chief dealing with a recent divorce and a stodgy new boss, Sheriff Moe Dammik, played by Shea Whigham (Eli Thompson in Boardwalk Empire). Burgle investigates a suspicious death that occurs in the premiere, and Coon and Hawley quickly establish the distinctiveness of Gloria’s character: She’s not as polite as Allison Tolman’s Deputy Molly Solverson in Season 1, nor as tight-lipped serene as Patrick Wilson’s Trooper Lou Solverson in Season 2.
I suppose it was inevitable that, as Fargo went on, it would eventually begin to feel repetitive. And so when I saw those long shots of freezing Minnesota-by-way-of-Calgary tundra, and when I listened to more of those halting Minnesota locutions — a character doesn’t say “plausible deniability,” he says “I’m thinkin’ about deniablilty, what they call ‘plausible’” — I felt as though we’d been through this kind of thing before. I also had the nagging feeling that the Scottish McGregor, especially when he’s Emmit, sorta goes in and out of his Minnesota accent.
These, however, are quibbles, and if there’s one thing I learned from the first two Fargos, two episodes barely begin to suggest what has yet to occur, and I’m going into the other eight expecting there will be many entertaining occurrences and instances of what Nikki improbably terms “unfathomable pinheaddery.” As it stands, David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) is giving a fascinating performance as a malicious snake of a villain involved in a million-dollar money-laundering scheme that seems delightfully out of proportion to the level of crime that Eden Valley, Minn., is used to — it’s a place where the theft of a ripped-out page in a phone book is cause to call the cops. I’m also very curious about a (deceased?) pulp writer named Thaddeus Mobley — is it possible that he may be the Fargo variation on Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi hack Kilgore Trout? With Carrie Coon leading this procession by scrupulously avoiding any cutesy line-reading or reaction, I’m thoroughly committed to the new season of Fargo, no matter where it roams.
Fargo airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.
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