Old Is New
by ALEX CARNEVALE
creator Noah Hawley
Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) is not a true detective. He shows up at the Waffle Hut way past midnight, one body outside, one on the floor, and one on a table next to the breakfast. His father-in-law (an unrecognizable Ted Danson) clomps in and offers to take over the case. Lou agrees, and they joke about Lou’s wife’s cooking and how she has cancer, and then Lou goes home. There is no intimacy with his wife (Cristin Miloti).
Noah Hawley is genius at what the Coen Brothers had also mastered before they lost interest in it: the overwhelming premonition that something life-changing is about to happen out of total normalcy. After a brilliant first effort, he has reset the second season of Fargo in 1979, a time that feels a great deal less cynical than the first season’s 2006.
It is a relief, since the story of insurance salesman Lester Nygaard was extremely depressing, especially the part where he murdered his wife and you kind of felt sympathetic towards him for doing that because she was not the best.
Wilson always does a fairly good job of playing the same general character: a mild-mannered fellow who goes along, gets along until the moment you make him very mad: then he becomes more powerful than you can possibly imagine. His hair is receding at a glacial pace, and he could almost pass for any age.
The tone here is very different from the morass of Hawley’s previous effort: this is not a diegesis to be taken seriously in the least — noir instead of a jaunty seriousness/unseriousness is the modality here. Even if this Fargo is a bit sillier, Hawley’s writing is the best on television by far.
Adam Arkin portrays a maleficent Jewish overlord looking to take over a power vacuum in the greater Minnesota area. The casting is generally perfect: from Kirsten Dunst as a hoarding housewife who runs over Kieran Culkin after he murders a federal judge, Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons looking about forty pounds heavier as her husband, and Bokeem Woodbine and Brad Garrett as gangsters, Nick Offerman as a conspiracy theorist.
Usually Hawley gets his kicks out of casting well-known character actors against type, and he does find joy in that in the second season of Fargo. Jean Smart is a disturbingly hardened wife to the local boss, and Kieran Culkin as her sulking son (“the comic in the bubblegum”) fits the bill of characters entertaining simply because they are not what we conventionally expect from these performers. At times the casting is distracting, but it works better this season, because you are not expected to take anything that happens in this Fargo seriously at all.
With Dunst, Hawley really hits the mark. This is the role Kirsten probably should have been playing all along. Hawley really knows how to write for her: she is perfect at the staccato silences, how she exudes sensations without ever having to say a word. The role of Peggy Blomquist is a lot more than merely a costume she inhabits.
Hawley’s themes are very subtle, and you often don’t know what he is getting at until the very end of a thread. Adding to the obfuscation is the mild-mannered politeness of every resident of Minnesota. Whether it is authentic or not, we feel immersed in an environment that could not ever have existed, but did. The American Midwest before Ronald Reagan took office was a very special time and place to be a part of.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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