Nick Hawley begins move out of the Coen brother's shadow with his original tale of small-town crime in Minnesota.
Last time we were in Fargo, it was 1979 and there was a corpse in the meat freezer, Waffle Hut homicides and aliens. Now it’s 2010 and there’s Facebook and competitive bridge.
Season 3 of Fargo seems to have distanced itself as much as possible from the original 1996 Coen brothers film. It’s not even set in Fargo, or even the same state – instead of North Dakota, we are in Minnesota, specifically in the three towns of St Cloud, Eden Valley, and Eden Prairie. In fact, the series doesn’t even begin in America, instead in 1988 Berlin with a (seemingly unrelated) case of mistaken identity, a theme that runs through this series like a bloody piece of string.
As well as geographical separation, it seems that there is no explicit connection to the original series. Season 2 was a prequel to the first, telling the story of Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), the father of Season 1’s Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman). However, the only thing linking Season 3 to the the ones before is the quirky and dark humour of Noah Hawley, the Fargo veteran returning to write and direct. And the snow. There’s still a lot of snow.
In a similar vein to the casually repulsive Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) from Season 1, David Thewlis arrives as loan shark V.M. Varga. Like Malvo, his influence is inescapable, Varga swimming grim circles around Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor), ‘Parking Lot King of Minnesota’. Also trying to drag Emmit into the water is his brother Ray (also Ewan McGregor), with a sibling rivalry much bigger than the vintage postage stamp it was based on.
In an attempt to steal the stamp which he believes is rightfully his, Ray pays a parolee who failed his drug test to break into his brother’s house. In the interests of karma, this does not end well. Instead of Emmit Stussy in Eden Prairie, the parolee breaks into the house of Ennis Stussy in Eden Valley, and this case of mistaken identity is perhaps the centre point of this kaleidoscope of a series. For it just so happens that Ennis Stussy’s step-daughter is the chief of police Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), a woman so out of touch with modern technology that she isn’t picked up by motion sensors, who takes on the investigation into his murder. And like Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand’s character of the original film), Molly, and Lou Solverson before her, it seems that she will lead us through this Minnesotan maze with a strong moral compass and a passion for the truth, even against her disbelieving chief, Moe Dammick (Shea Wigham).
The last of the main characters is Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Ray’s parolee, competitive bridge partner, and recent fiancée, with a name that can only truly be pronounced in McGregor’s Minnesotan accent. As we reach the half-way point of this season, she has been brutally beaten by Varga’s men in yet another case of mistaken identity. Emmit’s wife, Stella (Linda Kash) has also been assaulted, albeit in a more psychological sense, as a CD (sent by Ray and Nikki) meant to blackmail her husband out of a fortune saw Ray and Nikki in wigs, appearing to show Emmit having an affair. As Emmit says to his business partner, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) “everything’s broken” – and things don’t look like they’re going to be fixed any time soon.
Despite the bloody tragedy that pervades this series, it is truly a joy to watch. McGregor shines in his dual roles, as do the rest of this stellar cast. The visuals are superlative; after working with Hawley on Legion, cinematographer Dana Gonzales has joined the setting of the third series in moving away from some of the strict rules of the Coen brothers. This series, he has been using more wide shots and liberating camera movement, most drastically completely toning out the colour blue, giving the warm yellow and red tones perhaps most closely associated with the original series of Twin Peaks. The two series are also united in their focus on small town criminality, their quirky sense of humour, and a communal love of black coffee.
But what sets Fargo apart is its unique rhythm. The dialogue is snappy, witty, less full of the ‘Minnesota Nice’ than the first season, perhaps, but still with same light tone. Yet this is not style over matter; the heartbeat of the show and its characters is steady and strong, and it is easy even in the warm weather to immerse yourself in this world of winter coats and criminals. And despite all the secrets, schemes, and misogynistic police chiefs, it’s a world you’ll be reluctant to leave.
Fargo continues tonight at 10pm on Channel 4, and airs weekly on Wednesdays. Watch the series trailer below: