Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
“Had a case once, back in ’79. I’d tell you the details, but it’d sound like I made ’em up.” With that throwaway line of dialogue from Lou Solverson last season, played with subtle grace by Keith Carradine, showrunner Noah Hawley ticks the clock back of FX’s anthology series Fargo to 1979 for its sophomore run. But, don’t worry, this is still Fargo, through and through. The decades are different but the crime is still “true,” the body count is still high, and the tone is still a masterwork high-ware act of guttural laughs and eye-covering gore.
Good thing too, then, that you needn’t have seen last year’s season to jump in on this one (but you should, it’s fantastic). Hawley cleverly sets up a new podunk series of towns for his next redneck crime spree to smear across – this year it’s Luverne, Minnesota – at the center of which is that nexus of depravity, home-cooked meals, and you betcha’s: Fargo, North Dakota. In the premiere we get a new crime (two even!), a new series of families tied into it in tantalizing ways, and a new reason to call the FX series the best drama currently on television.
The main thrust of the season is seen through the eyes of a younger Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), who has an ill wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti, never escaping the dying-mom syndrome) and a 4-year-old Molly (who grows up to be season one’s revelation, Allison Tolman). When one of the offspring of a local crime family lands himself in a heap of trouble of the triple homicide variety, Solverson and his father-in-law/boss (Ted Danson) begin piecing together a tangled web of clues leading everywhere from that crime syndicate’s beleaguered widow-in-waiting (Jean Smart) to a plucky hairdresser (Kirsten Dunst) and her squeaky-clean butcher husband (Jesse Plemons).
It’s got that same normal-person-makes-an-awful-decision set-up as you come to expect from Fargo, but what season two manages over season one is to feel veritably sprawling. That’s thanks in large part to a heavy focus on the crime family at its center, the Gerhardts, and their stranglehold over the shipping and distribution business for most of North Dakota. Season one had glimpses and teases of a big gangster hub that sent emissaries into the main story, but seeing one on the tipping point of destruction – the patriarch had a stroke and everyone from his sons to the Kansas City Mafia want a piece of the pie – makes this second anthology of Fargo absolutely electrifying.
It’s other not-so-secret weapon? The cast. Season two doesn’t have a central showy performance destined to plaster posters like Billy Bob Thorton’s Lorne Malvo last year, but it’s pretty much gone unnoticed in the switch-up. Smart’s “grandma” gangster is the perfect blend of sentimental and searing, and her attempts to keep the crown of the family empire out of the hands of trigger-happy son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) fuels some richly tense scenes. It’s Dunst and Plemons who shine the most, affecting hilariously nonchalant performances after Dunst quite literally brings trouble home with her in the car one night.