The Fargo franchise is what gardeners would call a volunteer tree: sprung from a robust film, it has most certainly taken on a life of its own.
Five seasons in, it has become the inimitable vision of writer Noah Hawley and his murderously affectionate take on the American Midwest. A witty, mischievous raconteur, Hawley delivers his (usually) cop-based yarns through ordinary lives that end up being anything but. The tone is often seductively folksy, right up until the blood starts spurting.
And although Hawley is certainly here to entertain, his stories are a conversation. If he calls them “true,” it’s more about home truths than true crime. Somewhere behind the fun, there lurks the question of who we — as Americans — think we are.
If season four of Fargo had a slight wobble, season five comes back largely on track, going modern-noir on a housewife who isn’t quite who or what she seems. If this premise has been done before, Hawley puts his usual signature on the twists and turns, sprinkling the adventure with amusing provocations on so-called feminine and masculine ideals as they surface across a Midwestern microcosm.
Despite a high action-per-minute ratio, there continues his familiar penchant for a kind of theatrical pacing and dialogue. People don’t talk quite like this in real life, but the artifice is part of the telling: it pulls you up just enough so you can savor the dynamics in play.
Part of the great appeal of the series is the emphasis on the ensemble cast with its cool assemblages of quality actors bringing the stories to life. But it’s not just about the leads — every character brings the goods, even the guy behind the cash register.
It’s the same reason so many old films remain classics — attention to detail lifts the entire enterprise. Just as satisfying is the way every set piece delivers like an inside joke, be it an array of tchotchkes or an oil painting hanging behind the desk of a CEO.
Out of the box, one of the most devilishly delicious performances this season hails from Jennifer Jason Leigh, vying for worst boss and mother-in-law. As plumped and coifed as money can buy, Leigh’s Lorraine Lyon is one of the best-written and delivered villains-worth-rooting-for in the pantheon. She is so good that you can’t help half-wishing some version of her had crossed paths with Logan Roy.
As fun as she is, she is also given some of Hawley’s most interesting comments on wealth gap sociology, and she sits in exciting counterpoise to the other power player here: John Hamm’s Sherrif Roy Tillman, ruling his domain under an entirely different set of social parameters.
A self-proclaimed “constitutional” sheriff and member of the MAGA universe, Hamm clearly relishes this hyper-masculine, if rather quirky role, but he can never quite channel the menace that keeps Fargo so pleasingly in the dark side. Tillman’s wife, played by Rebecca Liddiard, is even further afield, looking more like a millennial on her way to Whole Foods than a rancher’s housewife. Still, even if Hamm can’t quite convince, the pair feels fully primed for a stand-off.
Of course, at the center of the drama is housewife Dot, delivered with wide-eyed sincerity by Juno Temple, who plays this woman like she is doing cross-stitch while sitting on a box of dynamite. Her mystery may deepen, her jeopardy may vacillate from deadly to comical and back again, but she just keeps on being Midwestern Dot, even when she needs to go full-on Rambo.
Another great foil for Hawley’s antics is Joe Keery as the sheriff’s dangerously ne’er-do-well son Gator, who looks poised for grisly greatness. Bringing the anti-irony are Richa Moorjani’s Deputy Indira Olmstead and Lamorne Morris’ Deputy Witt Farr, as the cops trying to figure out why Dot is at the center of so much trouble.
Rounding out Hawley’s stew of characters is Sam Spruell as hired muscle Ole Munch, a quietly malignant force who brings a whole new dimension to Hawley’s other fascination: outsiders who find themselves trying to navigate the Midwestern way of life, death, and everything in between.
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