FARGO: Wednesday 10PM on FX
Noah Hawley’s two FX series provide different models of the ways a television series can be ambitious. Legion is so broad in its stylistic universe as to seem virtually without borders; its episodes ranged in tone and structure to such an extent that they eventually encompassed animated and black-and-white silent film sequences without losing a step. FARGO, in contrast, works a narrow vein of narrative, but so deeply and thoroughly that it, too, seems to have access to unlimited material. (Hawley is becoming the Yasujiro Ozu of midwestern crime yarns.)
Season 3 of Fargo is in some ways familiar, with aspects reminiscent not just of the Coen Brothers’ film that inspired the series in the first place, but the previous TV seasons as well. And yet Hawley has once again found a way of tilling the soil that feels original and new. Our hapless criminals this time are led by two incarnations of Ewan McGregor, as brothers in the tradition of the characters played by William H. Macy, Martin Freeman and Kirsten Dunst in previous Fargos. McGregor is Emmit Stussy, a currently (circa 2010) prosperous real estate magnate who made the mistake of borrowing from a sinister underworld organization (shades of Fargo Season 2) represented by the cheerfully menacing V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) when times were lean; he’s also Emmit’s brother Ray, a down-at-the-heels parole officer whose romance with dangerous professional bridge player (and parolee) Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leads him to disastrously attempt revenge on Emmit for what he considers a swindle, when they were young and Ray chose their late father’s Corvette instead of his valuable stamp collection. The side of the law is represented by Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon in footsteps previously trod by Frances McDormand and Allison Tolman. By the end of episode 1, their paths have crossed when the idiot burglar hired by Ray (Scoot McNairy in an all too brief turn) to steal the remaining stamps from Emmit mistakenly robs and kills Gloria’s stepfather instead.
All the virtues of previous Fargo seasons are evident in Season 3’s opening 90 minutes, written and directed by Hawley, including impeccable casting, delightful dialogue, and dazzling set-pieces, which here include a wonderfully tense sequence in which Nikki takes care of Ray’s burglar by perfectly timing an air conditioner onto the man’s head. Once again, the soundtrack is worthy of particular note, a mix of Jeff Russo’s score and a marvelously eclectic set of licensed music pieces. McGregor, of course, has the marquee acting opportunity with his pair of different-yet-similar roles, but Winstead is instantly sharp as a character completely unlike the heroic parts she played in BrainDead and Mercy Street, while it’s a gift to viewers to have Coon simultaneously starring in The Leftovers and Fargo at once.
Another trait of Fargo has been that the scope and intensity of each season has built steadily from its opening episode, and that will likely be the case here, now that Hawley has set his table and established the season’s fundamentals. If history is any judge, we have 9 more weeks of TV pleasure to look forward to as Fargo continues to pull precious metal out of Hawley’s mine.