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Why You Should Start Watching: Fargo

Why You Should Start Watching: Fargo

Created by Noah Hawley
Returns Monday, October 12th at 10pm (ET) on FX

Premise: “A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.” So goes one of the taglines for the Coen brothers’ 1996 black comedy/neo-noir crime drama Fargo, and so goes the plot of this FX drama of the same name. The genial good-natured courtesy of small-town upper Midwest life is juxtaposed with a darker criminal element, and before too long blood starts to spill and freeze on the white snow.

Where We Are: Season two starts this fall; 10 episodes have already aired

What You Need To Know: While existing in the same universe as the Fargo movie—established with a particularly memorable cold open in the fourth episode—Fargo the TV show is more a spiritual successor than a direct sequel. Season one told an entirely new story, where contract killer Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) wound up in small-town Minnesota and goaded insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) on an increasingly violent path. Malvo’s efforts were opposed by the hard work and decency of Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Duluth cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), and hampered unintentionally by naive Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk). Also in the mix were ruthless bounty hunters Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard) and the hapless FBI team of Agents Pepper and Budge (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele).

Where We Left Off: The resolution of season one actually won’t matter at all for season two, as it’s going to be a prequel series. Molly’s father Lou Solverson (David Carradine) alluded at times in the first season to a particularly violent series of events that happened back when he was a cop in Sioux Falls, and the new season will travel back to 1978 to tell the story behind those cryptic remarks.

Why You Should Start Watching: The idea of doing a TV show inspired by the Fargo film is one that could have gone wrong in so many ways, but miraculously Hawley did everything right in the first season. Like NBC’s Hannibal, Fargo was less a straight adaptation of the source material than an improvisational jazz riff on the entire canon, elements and archetypes from various Coen brothers films popping up throughout the entire run. Yet Fargo’s first season succeeded entirely on its own merits, driven by its firm grasp of tone and terrific performances throughout. Thornton and Freeman were predictably excellent, but Tolman was the breakout star as her Molly channeled Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson while also being her own independent character.

The move to once again reboot the story—as a period piece no less—could similarly go wrong in many ways, but Hawley’s control of all the moving pieces is reassuring for the new season, and the early teasers indicate the production team is having a blast with the new setting. Plus, the excellent casting of last year continues. Patrick Wilson will play the role of the young Lou Solverson, Ted Danson will be his superior officer, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons will play a married couple caught up in the criminal insanity, and the supporting cast includes popular favorites like Nick Offerman, Cristin Milioti, Brad Garrett, and Jeffrey Donovan. (Most exciting credit: Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell as none other than Ronald Reagan, appearing on a campaign stop in North Dakota.)

What You Should Watch Beforehand:

Season 1, Episode 1, “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”: The pilot episode brought Malvo into the sleepy town of Bemidji, Minnesota, and a chance meeting between him and the emasculated Lester creates a domino effect of violence. Instantly horrifying, yet darkly comic in the suddenness of its horror.

Season 1, Episode 6, “Buridan’s Ass”: Fargo‘s most technically audacious episode brought a freak snowstorm (and at one point a fish storm) to Bemidji, and with it a series of brutal retributive acts. Malvo went gun-to-gun with Wrench and Numbers, Molly and Gus staggered around blindly and got caught in the crossfire, and Lester moved in the background to save both his own skin and his place in Hell.

Season 1, Episode 9, “A Fox, A Rabbit, And A Cabbage”: Fargo made the daring move to leap ahead a year in time two-thirds of the way through the series, but it paid dividends as a newly emboldened Lester crossed paths with Malvo and stupidly made himself the man’s target. Few lines in 2014 landed with as much terror as Malvo’s quiet question: “Lester, is this what you want?” And few moves were as despicable as Lester’s craven scheme to get himself out of trouble.

Season 1, Episode 10, “Morton’s Fork”: A finale that didn’t provide enough closure in some spots, but provided a tidy conclusion to the madness. Malvo went from apex predator to wounded animal that needed to be put down, Lester’s blind need for self-preservation dragged him into ultimate darkness, and Molly and Gus found their quiet moments of validation.