The new season of Fargo is funny, it’s suspenseful, and it’s poignant. Most of all, it’s beautiful: Were there not murders and threats to propel its thriller plot, you could nestle down inside the show’s opening episode and feel a comforting warmth. The effect comes from a combination of the 1970s-era Midwestern politeness of most of the characters (even the bad guys) along with the marvelously shot and edited scenes of drifting snow and warmly lit living rooms. Fargo, beginning Monday night on FX, would be so cozy if it wasn’t so criminally-minded.
The show is packed with plot, yet creator-writer Noah Hawley is so confident in his storytelling, the show feels leisurely — there’s always time to tuck in a small laugh-line or a neat little character detail. And over it all, Hawley hangs a political context, as this show set in 1979 feels the presence of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, with their antithetical philosophies of governing.
I’m going to switch gears here just the way Fargo does in its premiere episode: The show begins in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Luverne, Minnosota, with a bloody massacre in an all-night waffle diner, an appalling incident with gaspingly absurd touches, such as the can of bug spray one victim uses as a kind of Mace to try and blind her attacker. This brings State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larrson (Ted Danson) onto the scene. But even before they arrive, Kirsten Dunst zooms into the crime scene as an innocent hairdresser whose poor driving skill veers the plot into a wild turn that will soon bring her husband — a lovably doughy butcher played by Friday Night Lights’ Jesse Plemons — into the thick of it.
But wait, there’s more! There’s a brewing crime-family war between the Gerhardt clan, headed up by Jean Smart, opposing a Kansas City crime syndicate whose chief representative comes in the form of Brad Garrett. Yes, the former co-stars of Designing Women and Everybody Loves Raymond face off here as two deadly-serious foes.
Fargo is, like American Horror Story, an anthology series, which means there’s a new cast of characters, but Hawley can’t resist attaching a few ties to last year’s Emmy-winning version: Wilson’s Lou is a young version of Keith Carradine’s Lou from the first Fargo, and we glimpse a little-girl version of the Molly who will grow up to be Allison Tolman’s shrewd deputy. But if you go into the new Fargo thinking they’ll never replace Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo as a source of implacable evil, you’re right — this Fargo has a different idea of evil, based on something just as insidious as Malvo: The grinding amorality of capitalism, which demands more profit no matter what the human cost.
In the new Fargo, this is placed in a context that is frequently witty, and balanced with scenes of great family love. The large cast is superb; Patrick Wilson immediately vaults to the top of anyone’s list for best-actor Emmy — yes, he’s that good — and familiar pros like Danson and Dunst and Smart and Garrett are wonderful. So is Bokeem Woodbine as a smiling sadist. So is Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan and Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman as — well, I’m going to let you discover them, playing roles as you’ve never seen them tackle before, for your own pleasure. Because there’s a lot of pleasure to discover as Fargo unfolds.
Fargo airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on FX.