FARGO: Season 2 – Mid-Season Review: The second season of Fargo is some great television but its depiction of women though true to the 70s period is pretty hard to stomach.
At the beginning of every episode, Fargo underlines its fictive status with the greatest lie in art ‘based on true events’. Although in the Coen Brothers’ original movie the assertion was slippery – many took them at their word at least at first – in Noah Hawley’s inspired show the repeated assertion of sober truth is weekly reminder that we are watching a brilliant blackly comic fantasy show. Yes it might be set in Minnesota and there aren’t any dragons, but this is as realistic as Game of Thrones using its comically exaggerated aw heck ordinariness as merely a counterpoint to the operatic levels of violence and the Manichean extremes of good and evil portrayed in the snowy wastes.
Season 2 sees the action shift to 1979 and unfurls as a crime turf war played out against the background of the irresistible rise to power of Ronald Reagan. Everyone is against Carter, whose original sin seems to be the oil crisis which sees people having to queue to fill up their cars as a sign of the decline of America. The characters are drawn with broad strokes. The honorable and decent police officers Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson are played with ramrod moral probity and down to earth wit. No phone footage of them beating up or shooting unarmed black men. Fargo is set before camera phones made the police act that way. On the other side are the wicked criminals, the Gerhardts and the Kansas City crew, both sounding like progressive rock bands and both with a superbly operatic and unrestrained sense of violence. In the middle are the simple folk, the Blumquists played by Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, who have to pay for the consequences of poorly made decisions and ultimately the violence of everybody else. Missing is Billy Bob Thornton’s truly compelling performance as an avenging angel of violence, but his bemused extreme violence remains as does the opposition provided by the down to earth folks. This is a world that could easily bring forth the dualism with crayons of Reagan’s morning in America versus the Evil Empire rhetoric.
Part of this conservative universe is the treatment of women who are either dangerously duplicitous (Rachel Geller as the Gerhardt daughter), dangerously dumb bimbos (Dunst) or saintly and dying (Cristin Milioti as Betsey Solverson). The one person who could buck the trend, Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) Matriarch of the Gerhardts is seen consistently as ineffective and always a step behind her feral offspring as well as her adversaries. Now this is a mid-season review and I’m betting that the worm might well turn at some point but thus far what is really missing from the show is not Billy Bob Thornton’s entertaining grandstanding but Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman)’s strong woman at the core.
Fargo remains one of the best and most unlikely successes of recent television. And it is testament to how good it is that I haven’t even mentioned Nick Offerman’s turn as town lawyer and blow hard.