Note: This was written after viewing the first 7 episodes of Fargo and is fairly spoiler free.
Fargo is a peculiar property. It takes elements of its namesake while continuing the story from that movie. It both is a reimagining of the Coen brothers classic and is not.
Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is similar to William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard. Nygaard is a darker take on that northern everyman. Lundegaard’s main issue was getting in over his head with the wrong people. Nygaard has this problem, but really runs with it and turns to the dark side. His transition from average “aw geez”er to lying criminal is a bit of an accelerated Walter White arc, without all of that cancer and meth.
The character of Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is also reminiscent of Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, without the experience and authority (note the continuing theme of similar last names as well). Margie was the only really competent cop in the film, but she had clout over everyone else. Molly has been thrown into the role of having to deal with mountains of supervisory incompetence represented by the fantastic Bob Odenkirk.
Even the hired help from Fargo is reminiscent of Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s team of Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud. Where Grimsrud didn’t speak enough for Showalter’s taste on the big screen, his FX equivalent is completely deaf. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench show what it would be like if these thugs were an actual team that worked well together.
The big point of divergence is Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. His calm killer destroys everything he touches in these snowy towns. He crushes Minnesotans like Tyrion Lannister’s cousin crushes beetles. He is a man solely interested in helping himself.
Malvo sometimes feels like a supernatural force. He slips in and out of situations with relative ease. He can kill anyone and anything without blinking an eye. The character shouldn’t work, but Billy Bob Thornton plays Malvo so casually that it does. He doesn’t stress about anything, because he doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t believe in the rules of society, he goes by the rules of nature; kill or be killed.
Lorne Malvo’s casual nature towards spilling blood brings with it a lot of dark humor, a strength of the show and the movie. It’s even more prevalent here. The humor is similar to Breaking Bad in a lot of ways (beyond the obvious Odenkirk connection). Hell, Breaking Bad probably drew from the original Fargo in that department, at least when it comes to characters suffering mishaps while fleeing in panic.
The cinematography is eye-catching as well. Fargo’s directors have used some fantastic shots and settings to tell this story of violence in the north. Without spoiling too much, there’s one stunning sequence in particular that uses a big snowstorm to its advantage.
FX’s Fargo is increasingly bizarre, and is occasionally on the verge of overreaching with its quirks. The use of CGI has been somewhat distracting at moments, but never to the degree of taking away from the show.
With a top cast, daring direction, and its use of dark humor, Fargo is worth checking out.