Despite an inordinately high degree of difficulty, “Fargo” didn’t just ace its routine, but even managed to stick the landing.
The FX production is being categorized as a miniseries for award purposes, as it should be. Yet it’s sort of a shame that this year’s two self-contained standouts – the other being HBO’s “True Detective,” which is being submitted as a dramatic series – won’t go toe to toe. Because while the edge likely goes to the latter, given the brilliant way “Fargo’s” 10 episodes played out and concluded Tuesday, it’s a very close call.
Presented the formidable challenge of building a TV show around the title and tone of the Coen brothers’ oft-quoted classic, series creator Noah Hawley manage to pull off an impressive coup, drawing from multiple aspects of the brothers’ filmography – most notably the ruthless killer in “No Country For Old Men” – to create a sense of endless menace, mixed with disarming dark comedy.
The limited format also allowed the producers to cast the project to the hilt, with Billy Bob Thornton as the unpredictable hit man, Lorne Malvo, and Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, the beaten-down insurance salesman who has a chance encounter with him that both changes Lester’s life and winds up ending several dozen others. Nor should anyone undersell Allison Tolman as Molly, the dogged deputy on their trail; Colin Hanks as the man who puts his family ahead of duty; and a supporting cast that included a wonderful Keith Carradine as Molly’s father.
While FX shows are occasionally guilty of being dark, brutal and ugly because, well, they can, there was nary a scene in “Fargo” – no matter how grisly – that didn’t feel completely organic and in keeping with the established tone.
All that built toward these last two episodes (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), where Lester – a new man since he literally got away with murder – stumbles into Malvo in Las Vegas, triggering an eventual showdown back in Minnesota. The build-up to that moment (including little detours, like Thornton and Carradine’s conversation in the latter’s diner) was just beautifully constructed.
If there were moments along the way that might have felt as if “Fargo” was working too hard at being quirky, everything fell into place in these final hours, which managed to be both surprising in the details and oddly satisfying in the ultimate resolution. For all the bodies Malvo left in his wake, he suffered mightily in the end, while the literal interpretation of thin ice has seldom felt quite so poetic as in Lester’s case.
Ratings have been gradually ticking upward as the show built toward its conclusion, but “Fargo” hasn’t exactly been a blockbuster. That said, the prestige factor is such FX will likely have to at least try to replicate the formula and, like “True Detective,” should have a leg up in attracting blue-chip talent after the hosannas being showered on the first go-round.
Give FX considerable credit for helping cultivate this anthology format with the much less meritorious “American Horror Story,” which, admittedly, seems easier to reboot and perpetuate than the delicate brew that is “Fargo.”
Not that a future edition has to be filled with snowy vistas, pregnant cops and dialects that invite ending every sentence with a cheery “You betcha.” Because if Hawley and company have demonstrated anything with this unlikely triumph of creative adaptation, it’s that “Fargo” isn’t a place; for these purposes, it’s a state of mind.