December 15, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Fargo”


Noah Hawley handily retained his status as the Third Coen Brother with a second masterful season of FARGO.  This go-round may have been even more ambitious than the first:  not only did Hawley once again capture the spirit of the original film, but this time he added 1979-era period detail and an allegory of Reaganism, as well as references to other Coen works that included No Country For Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona and The Man Who Wasn’t There, all while successfully creating a narrative universe of his own.  What Hawley is doing with this show is the writing (and this season also directing, as he was behind the camera himself for an episode) equivalent to the magic Tatiana Maslany performs when she plays half the characters on Orphan Black.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Hawley and directed by Adam Arkin (who also did double-duty, appearing as the very corporate head of the Kansas City mob), was rather elegiac in tone, rather than attempting to equal the throat-clutching violence of last week’s Sioux Falls massacre.  Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), deluded to the end, hallucinated an attack by Hanzee (Zahn McClamon) on the meat locker where she and Ed (Jesse Plemons) were hiding, and in the midst of it, Ed passed on, his fate almost inevitably set by his wife’s inability to accept reality.  Lou (Patrick Wilson) was luckier, and his wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) survived her illness to the season’s end, although we know from Season 1 that eventually she would succumb.  For that matter, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), Hanzee and Hank (Ted Danson) all survived as well, although Hanzee would have to change identities and Mike found himself a victim of incipient Reaganism, placed in an office that looked like the one where Sam Lowry worked in Brazil.  We even found out the answer to the mystery of the mysterious symbols in Hank’s office (he was attempting to create a picture-based language–the origins of emoji?–to help people communicate with one another), although not the one of last week’s apparent flying saucer.

For all the elegance of the season’s plotting, and the spectacular violence of its set-pieces, this Fargo seemed more in touch with the emotions that ran through its characters.  It’s a remarkable strength of Hawley’s work that many of the people in Fargo were so richly detailed that they felt as if they could have supported a series of their own:  Milligan, or Hanzee, or ill-fated Simone (Rachel Keller), or Camus-reading Noreen (Emily Haine) or Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), or certainly gang boss Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart).   Hawley and his writing/producing staff wrote one great character after another, and his cast was nothing short of spectacular.  Wilson was the best he’s been since Little Children almost a decade ago, and Woodbine confounded all expectations of the kind of performance he had in him.  Special mention, though, is due to Milioti, who played against the sentimentality of her cancer-stricken young mother at every moment, and was all the more heartbreaking because of it.  (There may not have been a more moving sequence in TV this season than Betsy’s dream/prophecy sequence which brought back Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine and Joey King in a way that recalled the flashback sequence in The Godfather Part II).

Credit, too, to the season’s directors, who apart from Hawley and Arkin included Keith Gordon (he directed the episode with the stunning callback to Miller’s Crossing), Michael Uppendahl and Jeffrey Reiner, cinematographers Dana Gonzales and Wrobieski, production designer Warren Alan Young, costume designer Carol Case and composer Jeff Russo.  No show on television requires more of its creative team than Fargo, with its tones both dark and humorous and its varying degrees of stylization, and everyone involved delivered feature-quality work.

Fargo was great, but not perfect:  especially in the early episodes, Peggy was dim to a contrived degree (nit-wits are certainly a part of the Coen canon, but mostly in their overt farces like Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty, rather than their thrillers), and the Dakota cops Lou and Hank had to deal with were sometimes over the top blind, even though Terry Kinney and Keir O’Donnell played two of them wonderfully.  Hawley’s use of 1970s film devices like split-screens and freeze-frames often felt completely apt and fun, but occasionally they were affectations.  FX’s willingness to let episodes run as long as 90 minutes (including commercials) didn’t always do the show a favor.

None of this changed the fact that Fargo remains a standout even in the ridiculously crowded world of television we have now.  The ratings this season were merely OK, but Fargo is an awards magnet, and it was no surprise that FX has given it a Season 3 renewal.  The bigger risk may be that the studio/network also gave Hawley an overall deal under which he’s developing several other projects, and if they get picked up, he may find himself spread thin.  As miraculous as it was to find one man who could inhabit the consciousness of the Coens, it would be even more amazing if there’s another.  For now, though, we have more dark wintry Fargo to await in 2016.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."