The following piece contains spoilers for Season 2 of FARGO.
The first season of the TV companion piece to the Coen Brothers’ classic movie had me completely and utterly hooked. I felt sure no-one could hope to measure up to the Two Headed Director’s finest feature. Then along came a stunning television anthology by Noah Hawley that built on the film’s themes and rented the character archetypes, but told an entirely new story set twenty years later. The second season pulls much the same trick as the first, relocating the action to thirty years before Season 1 and ten before the film, but rather than another morally murky noir, this time it’s a no holds barred gangster epic.
Season 2 of Fargo continues to move well, treading lightly and building slowly with rushes of extreme violence and even extremer acts of (barely) human monstrosity. The character work is smart and nuanced and the performances are universally excellent, particularly from Kirsten Dunst in a career-best turn. The show and the talented artists getting it out there take time with constructing beautiful visuals to compliment the action as well, with numerous still winter vistas and pristinely framed interiors throughout. With all this, plus a distinctive editing style and keen weaving of gender politics and representation of some very different ideas of what it means to be an American family at the back end of the 1970s, they were always on to a winner.
What really makes the second of Fargo though doesn’t become clear until the final two episodes. Officer Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) rushes to rescue his murder suspects (Dunst and Jesse Plemons) from a risky tri-state police operation to lure the Gerhardt crime family out into the open. Their plan works – the Gerhardts come armed to the teeth for Peggy and Ed thinking they are responsible for the death of two of their own (they’re half right) and proceed to massacre the lawmen protecting them. In the chaos, Lou comes close to being killed by man-mountain Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) until something distracts both of them. Would you believe me if I said it was a flying saucer? If you don’t, then you should, because that’s exactly what it is hanging over their heads. What the Fargo, right?
The Coen Brothers famously claimed “This is a true story” before the main title of their movie, such is the fashion for biopics and true-crime dramas. Many of the film’s viewers even bought it for a while – their tale was so bizarre yet grounded and unromantic it could only be real. This belief was the whole premise of the flawed but interesting indie KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER after all. The thing is, not a word of it wasn’t made up. Fargo the series has adopted the same tag, and throughout year 2 the concept of what is real and what isn’t has been toyed with. We’ve had constant references to odd goings on, hints that something is out of the ordinary in episode after episode, always slightly out of reach or beyond our field of view. Martin Freeman narrates Episode 9 as an informative and authoritative look through real crime records, though he constantly reiterates that they will never have all the facts. With that in mind, that Fargo is admitting to being strange fiction masquerading as strange fact, why not sprinkle UFO references throughout your show and have a actual convenient flying saucer turn up to save one of the lead characters?
No film, not even documentary features can claim to be showing you the absolute truth, only a version of it. As a medium, film is made in the editing process so what we see is always second-hand and always heavily manipulated to the filmmaker’s whims. Now Fargo and its creative team have come out and admitted through long-form storytelling they are using the trappings of truth to tell increasingly extravagant lies, they are liberated, free to comment on the contradictions of true-crime tales on film and do whatever they like in the show’s future. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction masquerading as truth can be stranger and more enlightening than either. SSP