‘Fargo’ was one of the most delightful treats of last year’s premieres. It bore very little resemblance to the movie it was based on, yet almost every episode had the flavor of a Coen Brothers movie. Developing some of the most fascinating characters in TV history, it more than deserved the Emmy and Golden Globes that it won for Best Limited Series.
So how do you follow up such a spectacular debut without running the risk of falling into the pitfalls that ‘True Detective’ did? Well, in ‘Fargo’s case, they make a prequel. Season 2 is set in 1979, with an almost completely different set of characters. (We’ll get to the holdover in a minute.) It’s set in the same town in Minnesota, but it deals primarily with a crime family, the Gerhardts. Having built an empire in crime that has lasted nearly half a century, the seeds of their undoing are being sown. First, the patriarch of the family suffers a stroke that has effectively incapacitated him, leading to a power struggle within the family, mainly between matriarch Floyd (Jean Smart, in her best work since ’24’) and eldest son (Jeffrey Donovan). This struggle from within will weaken them against a new war from a far more organized Kansas City franchise, represented by a mob attorney (Brad Garrett), muscle Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and two bearded brothers who have yet to say a single word.
Meanwhile, the youngest, and clearly the most incompetent, son (Kieran Culkin) has gotten himself involved in a struggle with a judge that led to three people dying in a waffle house, an event which ultimately led to his being hit by hairdresser Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst, revealing a darkness she has never before revealed) Still trying to achieve some kind of dreams, she persuades her husband Ed, (Jesse Plemmons) a butcher with far less ambitions to covering up her sin, without nearly knowing the mess she has emmeshed them in.
Against all these criminals is the law, represented by the one character from last season, Sheriff’s deputy Lou Solverson (played by Patrick Wilson, with a Minnesota accent that Keith Carradine never had).The father of Molly, whose character was the hero of last season, it is clear where his daughter inherited her native intuition. Still married to a wife going through cancer (Cristin Miloti), he tries to negotiate the investigation with his father-in-law Hank (Ted Danson, demonstrating again what a great actor he can be when he has a script that can go with it)
Like the previous season, ‘Fargo’ can seem complex at times, but unlike last season, we know where this year is going—- the massacre at Sioux Falls, a mass murder that was referred to as the bodies started piling up last season. We still have no idea how many of the dead are going to end up in it, but given how high the body count was last year, we can imagine it will be a lot.
‘Fargo’ remains one of the brilliant creations of a network that has more than its fair share of them. About the only complaint viewers will probably have is trying to figure out what the heck the episode titles are referring to. Otherwise, this is a big contender for one of the best series of the year. The world around them may be undergoing a ‘crisis of confidence’, but show-runner Noah Hawley and the rest of his staff clearly don’t have one.
My score: 4.75 stars.