Fargo

“So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? A little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’cha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”
— Marge Gunderson, in Fargo (1996)

Are you watching Fargo on FX? I cannot remember the last time I was excited to watch a show every week. Maybe the finale of Mad Men, maybe earlier seasons, but I don’t think that was excitement so much as anticipation, which I think is different.

With Fargo, particularly the second season currently airing, I anxiously await Tuesday nights because I know I’ll get to find out what happens next (Fargo airs Monday nights at 10, but we dvr it because I have two children, including a baby who stopped sleeping through the night 6 weeks ago, and am exhausted by 10pm). The first season was great, and Allison Tolman was robbed of her Emmy, but what I felt each week was a deep sense of foreboding because Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo was so sinister.

This season does have a sense of foreboding as well, but it’s nicely leavened by that Coen Brothers’ brand of dark humor. It helps also that I know one of my favorite characters survives because he features in season 1, set 25 or so years after season 2.

The story is compelling, and the players are all at the tops of their games. If Fargo doesn’t straight clean up at next year’s Emmys, it will be a crime. I cannot take my eyes off Jean Smart’s Floyd Gerhardt whenever she’s on the screen. Kirsten Dunst has taken what could have easily been a ditsy, campy character and given her such a lovely dose of sadness shot through with perpetual hope. Jesse Plemons, so good as earnest Landry on my beloved Friday Night Lights, shines as Dunst’s earnest but determined husband. Patrick Wilson is amazing as the state trooper and veteran desperate not to fight another war. Bokeem Woodbine is a Jabberwocky-spouting Kansas City mobster, as smooth and unruffled as the day is long. Cristin Milioti, for whom I will always have a soft spot after her sweet turn as the Mother on How I Met Your Mother, has a small but memorable role as Wilson’s cancer-stricken wife, full of Midwestern matter-of-factness about her fate. Zahn McClarnon does great work as the quiet, calculating, put-upon Native American muscle of the Gerhardt crime family.  The only even slightly weak link for me is Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan as Smart’s lunkheaded oldest son; his performance veers a bit into camp, and I can’t tell if that’s an accident or a deliberate choice. I will say, however, that I very much enjoyed his performance last week in Episode 8.

There are only two episodes left. We get to watch one tonight, and I am champing at the bit for my kids to go to bed (don’t worry: I’m not neglecting them to write this, I’m writing this on the train home) so David and I can dig in to both our dinners and the penultimate episode. I cannot recommend this show enough. Seek it out if you haven’t yet. Although some of the characters from Season 1 appear in Season 2, the stories are essentially self-contained, so don’t feel like you have to “catch up” (though you should definitely watch Season 1 when you get a chance).

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