That’s still Fargo‘s most endearing quality: centering on the horrors of the banal, the mysteries and hidden capabilities of the every-man, there’s something primal and satisfying about the show. When one of its suburbanites sits shoving a femur into a meat grinder in the season’s opening hours, it’s not the stomach-churning tension of their attempts to hide it from one of the local constables, but the dizzying confusion when you realize you don’t know who to root for. Does a split-second of a bad decision forever taint someone honest and true? Are they redeemable? Fargo isn’t clearing any new paths that the franchise hasn’t trodden through in the snow-blasted winterscape, but its covering them with more grit and poise than ever before.
Actually, the show’s sophomore year feels all-around more toned down than last year’s ceaselessly quirky atmosphere. It’s a bit more restrained and low key, which is fitting since the dead-serious Gerhardt clan feels like far more of an imposing, worldly threat than Malvo’s lone psychotic gunman. Hawley and the writers also feel more adept in crafting the world’s idiosyncratic humor into the show, in everything from hilariously mundane tangents about shampooing rituals to the utterly believable repetition introduced in the ways the small town characters speak to one another (Okay, then!). It’s humor that comes from the characters, not the kind that’s directed at them.
There’s never any gross finger-pointing from the scripting or the performances – and I haven’t even mentioned the supporting cast, like the sublimely cast Nick Offerman as conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers – in a laugh-at-the-freak-show sort of way. In honesty, it’s quite the opposite: there’s affection and dimension to literally everyone on screen, from the bored clerk at the local butcher shop to a headlining actor who doesn’t survive the premiere, making it all the more easy to smear the line between who is “good” and who is “bad.” It helps that the scenes in which you feel yourself teetering between the two are as long and dangerously stomach-churning as to come off as downright Tarantino-esque.
Like the best TV, Fargo doesn’t feel like TV. The structure of its scenes, the paneled montages, the slow dissolves, the ogle-worthy cinematography – it’s such a cliche to say it, but the FX series is a movie told in ten parts. But, unlike the best TV, Fargo is different in a winning way: it itself feels different from anything that could be considered a competitor. Its odd, undulating, downright whimsical grasp of such bizarrely grotesque subject matter is one of the best genre mash-ups since someone put “horror” and “comedy” in the same sentence (and the opening four hours suggest a third genre may be entering the ring that makes me nearly weak at the knees at the mere thought).
At one point towards the end of the third hour FX sent me for review, Lou admits that he and his brethren from the small hamlet of Luverne are “friendly people.” Flanked by two goons with twin shotguns aimed on Lou, one of the season’s baddies, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) retorts, “No, that’s not it. Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly, how you’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.” What a better way to encapsulate the soul of a show whose most blood-drenched and brutal scenes are the sources of the most peculiar form of endearing catharsis put to film? I can’t come up with any more superlatives: Fargo is the best show currently on television. It’s arguably a modern television masterpiece. And yeah, you betcha’.
Hilarious, harrowing and strangely cathartic, everything I put to words for FX's seminal series feels frustratingly futile, but I can say this: the first four hours of Fargo's second season are home to some of my favorite moments of TV in years.