By Devon Shuman, Senior Staff Writer
As a reviewer, I try to avoid the term “perfection.” It’s my duty to critique shows, to analyze what was done well and what was done poorly, and to ignore the latter would be a direct violation of my job description. Even TV masterpieces, such as the first season of “True Detective,” can be combed over to expose minor faults and missteps.
However, with 10 episodes of brilliantly crafted television, the second season of Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” managed to successfully avoid my meticulous red pen. Every aspect of this show was nothing short of spectacular. Given its utter domination of everything from writing to cinematography, it’s a shame “Fargo” didn’t run the table at this year’s Golden Globes (it earned a meager three nominations.)
While the events of the first season took place in 2006, this time around the show jumps back to 1979 when Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) was still a young police officer in Luverne, Minnesota. The once dominant Gerhardt crime family is dwindling in size and power. Sensing weakness, a Kansas City corporate crime syndicate moves in to try and take over. A quiet local couple, Peggy and Ed Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons), inadvertently get dragged into this turf war after Peggy accidentally runs over the youngest Gerhardt boy and makes a panicked decision to not report it.
With the inclusion of so many different characters and storylines, Hawley runs the risk of creating a plot too confusing to follow. However, this is never the case. While other shows, such as “American Horror Story” often get bogged down in their own complexity, “Fargo” manages to tell an intricate tale in a clear and simple way.
Brilliant writing, coupled with terrific acting performances, creates for a slew of superb characters. Only Patrick Wilson and Kirsten Dunst earned themselves nominations, but everyone who appears on screen manages to develop a persona that fits snugly into the show’s dark and quirky universe.
Ted Danson adds some warmth to the snowy landscape as the calm and compassionate police chief and father-in-law to Solverson. Jeffrey Donovan provides comic relief as the headstrong, misogynistic Dodd Gerhardt. Zahn McClarnon somehow portrays the deep inner struggles of Dodd’s Native American henchman Hanzee Dent without so much as 10 lines of dialogue.
But, if there is a standout, it has to be Bokeem Woodbine as the chilling Kansas City gangster, Mike Milligan. Like Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in season one, Milligan inspires fear not through physical aggression, but with unsettlingly calm monologues. No matter how mundane the conversation, Milligan is able to create an ambiance of terror. Like a rattlesnake ready to strike, he makes it clear that he has the ability to make everything turn deadly at any moment.
Ultimately, what separates “Fargo” from other great shows is its focus on tone. Hawley’s universe is quite distinct, marked by funky accents, a snowy, barren backdrop, and an emphasis on the absurd. Everything that happens is strange and bizarre, often even ridiculous. This is a world where a mobster can walk into a donut shop, shoot a patron in the face, and then walk up to the counter and utter, “Lemme get a chocolate glaaaaaazed.”
It only works so well because the show is aware of its own absurdity. An unannounced spaceship used to further the plot might be too out of place in other shows, but here it serves as a physical embodiment of the idea that, while we can look for meaning in this nonsensical world, at the end of the day, that’s all it is – nonsense.
Of course, while all of this was present in the first season, what makes the second that much better is its incorporation of setting – not just place, but time, as well.
Taking place at the end of the 1970s, this season is all about the changing of the times. The expansion of corporate America is mirrored by the individual storylines of the characters, all of whom face major changes in their lives and relationships. Only those who choose to embrace these changes will be able to survive.
With all of this in mind, and despite my reluctance to use this word, I have to declare that the second season of “Fargo” is nothing short of perfection.