WARNING, MAJOR SPOILERS!
Fargo season 2 continues to tap into the world of The Coen Brothers while somehow creating a world of its own. It is a wild, weird, wonderful world full of rich characters, where individual scenes can flip from darkly comic to shocking and violent. This spirit animal of the Coen’s best film should never have worked as effectively as it did in season 1, and now in season 2 it appears to be even better.
This season jumps back into the past, to 1979, and focuses on a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), father to the Molly (Allison Tolman) from the first season. Keith Carradine played Lou in the first season, and casually hinted at a gruesome crime he had to investigate in his younger days; and that crime is the focus of this new story. Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) is the Fredo of his low-rent Gerhardt crime family in rural Minnesota. Overlooked, dim-witted, yearning to make his mark and impress his more imposing brothers. His plan: threaten a female judge into making a certain decision on a certain court case. He follows the judge (Ann Cusack) to a Waffle Hut late at night, where his intimidation tactics predictably unravel in the face of a judge who is annoyed rather than scared of Rye’s feeble threats.
As expected, the situation spirals out of control and ends with shocking violence. This is the strength of Fargo, its ability to channel the Coen Brothers by building a scene on dark comedy before an abrupt bloodletting. Rye escapes the murder scene, where three are dead, but doesn’t make it far before getting plowed by a car, driven by Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst). However, right before meeting the windshield, a moment occurs that will most certainly be the talking point of the episode and, perhaps, the entire season. Rye sees what appears to be a UFO. It’s a bold stroke by writer Noah Hawley, and one of the many solid attempts to tap into the late 70s vibe of a paranoia-fueled country on the brink of major change.
Other characters fill out the tapestry of Fargo season 2, beginning Wilson’s Lou – who’s inquisitive mind hearkens back to his daughter from season 1 – and Ted Danson’s police officer Hank Larsson, Lou’s father in law with one of those matter-of-fact midwestern deliveries. Dunst is perfectly ditzy as Peggy, and her doting husband, Ed, is played by Breaking Bad alum Jesse Plemons. It’s a definite change of pace for Plemons. There is the paranoid local nut job, Karl, played by Nick Offerman. There is the patriarch of the Gerhardt clan, Floyd (Jean Smart), and in the end, a hint of FBI involvement personified by Brad Garrett. Each character, no matter the consequence to this first episode, feels completely realized.
Fargo season 2 also appears to know its time and place. 1979 was a time of great tension, strife, and uncertainty in the country. The gas crisis, the fledgling presidency of Jimmy Cater, and the hope of Reagan just around the corner creates a buzzing undercurrent that can be felt and seen in each moment of this new season. It is some brilliant world building. Fargo is the best thing going on television at the moment.