Literally nothing about Fargo should work.
There was nothing about the Coen Brothers movie from which the show takes its title that screamed of further story needing to be told. No loose ends to tie up, no underdeveloped characters that desperately needed more camera time. But showrunner Noah Hawley arose from relative obscurity (although I was a big fan of his earlier project The Unusuals) with this strange notion for an anthology series, and two absolutely incredible volumes and five Emmys later, here we are. The previous seasons were all startling not just because of their quality, but their audacity and ambition and scope, despite the small-town setting. So, does the third season continue this trend?
Well, it’s a little early to say. For Hawley, reinventing the show every season must be a Sisyphean task like the one depicted on Emmit Stussy’s treasured stamp. And it’s unfortunate that now, in the third season, the show has lost the element of surprise it reveled in early on; nobody was expecting the overwhelming success of the first season, and the reinvention and turning the clock back twenty years in the second season was equally as shocking. At this point, there is little of that element of surprise remaining, which means that more than ever the show needs to stand on its own merits in the context they’ve now established.
But based on “The Law of Vacant Places,” the season three premiere, alone? Fargo is just as great as it’s been since it began. The show is still gorgeous, the cinematography and camerawork is still daring and inventive, the story is still riveting and inhabited with absurdly-named characters, and there is no better cast anywhere on TV. Seriously, Carrie Coon and Mary Elizabeth Winstead on the same show as Ewan McGregor? The latter of whom is playing twins? It’s a prestige drama dream come true, without even mentioning Michael Stuhlbarg, David Thewlis, or Scoot McNair.
McNairy, like Kieran Culkin, is enough of a name that the lack of attention he received in promotional material and casting announcements meant his death was admittedly a bit forecasted. And even though it wasn’t hard to figure out what Nikki Swango’s (Winstead) plan was, the air conditioner dropping on Maurice (McNair) was the just about the Fargo-est way a character has died in the history of the show. Presumably this and Maurice’s bungled robbery will serve as the impetus for the remainder of the story, which will almost certainly detail the downfall of the Stussy brothers and Nikki. Knowing what we do about Fargo, the same can likely be said for anyone else daring enough to underestimate Gloria Burgle (Coon) in her search for her father’s murderer, whose only crime was being born with the name Ennis Stussy.
The similarities between Ennis Stussy’s name and Emmit’s are likely also the reason for the strange cold open in East Berlin, with a man being accused of murder due to simultaneous coincidence, poor bureaucracy, and lazy police work. While there may be yet more to the opening as well, the transience with which characters pass in and out of the narrative of this show allows for such a vague connection to work. After all, this is the same series that prominently featured aliens last season even though they did little more than expand on the theme of inexplicable, intrusive violence, with just a dash of distrust of government to boot.
One of the largest reservations I will concede to about the show going forward from here is that there does appear to be a bit of a formula. Carrie Coon, as Gloria, is following in the footsteps of Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson, Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson, and of course Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson. Each of these kindhearted, deceptively folksy detectives have proven themselves excellent investigators, but even with a talent as absolutely massive as Coon (who is literally my favorite actress), I worry that this trope will begin wearing thin soon. Sure, it compliments the theme of good versus evil in a small, mundane town, but surely a show this inventive should be able to find other ways to explore this. There’s also still a crime-gone-wrong, which features a coverup, which will inevitably spiral out of control and lead to a lot of people getting killed. And these are not the only recurring elements. It gets to a point where one has to wonder what is quintessentially Fargo, and what pieces could it exist without in the future?
But then again, if the show stays this good, does any of that really matter?
What did you guys think?