Fargo: Season 1 Catch-Up

To be honest, I never much liked the 1996 film Fargo. Despite having been made by Joel and Ethan Coen, and despite being nominated for seven Oscars (and winning two), I was distinctly disappointed by it. Whether you’re a fan or not, though, should make no difference to the TV series of the same name.

Part spin-off, part continuation, partly based on the film and partly just inspired by it, Fargo the series is six episodes in and just keeps getting better. On the back of a strong cast, witty writing, and some spectacular ideas, it will keep you captivated right from the first moment.

The core of the cast is Billy Bob Thornton, who is painfully brilliant. As Lorne Malvo, he exudes a quiet psychopathy; at times he seems more shark than man, with his blank eyes and amoral tendencies. Where he goes, he provokes chaos and pain, and not for any good reason.
This is the central premise of the show. When Malvo, a serial killer and all-round madman, meets Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), he not only brings death into his life but encourages him to commit dark deeds of his own. From the end of the first episode, when Lester finally gives in to his dark temptations, we have since seen events spiral out of control.

Freeman has made a habit of playing put upon characters thrown into new situations and come out of them stronger. In Fargo, we see him explore something different. Lester starts out put upon, certainly, but with each episode that passes we see his weakness exposed as a squirming cowardice.

Rather than the hero we’re used to seeing Freeman evolve into, as he does as Arthur Dent and Bilbo Baggins, Lester is becoming more despicable with each episode, doing everything he can to avoid the police and the guilt of his actions. This is a welcome direction for Freeman, and it’s remarkable to see how easily he can destroy his natural likability.

Allison Tollman and Colin Hanks also feature as Molly Solverson and Gus Grimly, a pair of police officers trying to solve the murders despite having no support and being well out of their depth. Both produce strong performances and complement one another beautifully. They, with Thornton and Freeman, make an impressive four leads.

The exact events of Fargo are convoluted and still not entirely clear; but this is part of what makes the show so addictive. Who exactly is Lorne Malvo, and what does he want? So far he’s been a drifter, a hitman, a serial killer, and a blackmailer. Only one thing has been constant in his actions so far: an absolute lack of moral feeling.
In Fargo, only one thing has so far been better than the acting, and that is the writing and directing. The show carries within it the blackest of humour, which is played brilliantly against moments of death and destruction. When the killings happen – and they happen a lot – they are all the more shocking for the fact that you were laughing out loud moments before.

I’m eager to find out what the final four episodes will hold. With so much death around, it’s easy to fear for even our heroes. The show’s first episode lets you get close to one character before brutally offing them, and this simple ploy makes it seem that no-one is safe.

I can only hope that the second half of the series is as strong as the first has been. I can’t say where the plot is going, but if it continues on this trajectory, it will be somewhere special.

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