The new season of “Fargo,” Noah Hawley’s fifth variation on a Coen brothers theme, arrives Tuesday on FX. (Airing Wednesday on Hulu.)
The anthology series, which I never expect to return to and am surprisingly excited about when it does (it’s music I like, but it takes its time between seasons and fades from memory) takes certain geographical, thematic and tonal elements from the 1996 film the Coens. . It will be bloody; Like a Dickens novel, it will bring together various strata of society. There is usually one or several honest officers of the law; someone who is in over his head; and a hard-to-stop and possibly crazy hitman. In most seasons there is snow. They share some of the architecture of the West, which the current season makes more explicit than usual with a complement of cowboy hats, horses, cattle and prairie views. And each year has been a masterpiece of inventive casting.
The fourth season, which aired in 2020 and starred Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman, was something of a departure, a long-form story set in the early 1950s in which black and Sardinian mafias vied for control. from Kansas, Missouri, further away from Minnesota. and North Dakota, the spiritual and often real center of the series. It was an even bloodier season than usual, leaving its main characters and many secondary characters dead; However, it still found a way, “Fargo” style, to end on an optimistic note.
The new season is something of a return to its roots. We’re back in Minnesota (and North Dakota), in a cold climate, and almost in the present, at a school fall festival planning committee meeting where Dorothy Lyon (Juno Temple) tries to keep her head when around her. , ordinary citizens are taking the stuffing out of each other. (“I’ve Seen All the Good People” by Yes plays on the soundtrack very effectively). While she tries to flee the scene with her daughter, Scotty (Sienna King), she ends up tasering a math teacher and a pair of police officers. Taking her to jail, she introduces us to Deputy Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani), the last of “Fargo’s” stubborn cops, and sets off the alarm that will cause trouble calling.
Dorothy is married to Wayne (David Rysdahl), a nice guy who owns a car dealership, a trust fund he doesn’t touch, and an imposing mother, Lorraine (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who runs “a multimillion-dollar Nasdaq-listed corporation” and has “six governors on speed dial and my personal liaison at the Federal Trade Commission.” Her company, Redemption Services (the religious overtone seems intentional, though it may just be a nuance) buys consumer debt. (And debt, of different kinds, is a recurring theme throughout the series, including a brief flashback to medieval Wales yet to be explained, if ever.)
Lorraine doesn’t care much for Dorothy, whom she dismisses as lower class and possibly because of her money. But it soon becomes clear that there’s more to her than a cheerful housewife, as Dorothy defends herself against a pair of masked kidnappers: Sam Spruell as Ole Munch is this season’s designated eccentric killer. Before long, it leads to a beautifully staged and suspenseful fight scene, the kind of scene that would form the climax of most movies, set in a lonely gas station store that introduces Lamorne Morris into the story as Deputy Witt Farr of North Dakota.
Incidentally or perhaps inspiringly, Morris’ “New Girl” character, Winston Bishop, ended that series in a police uniform; Similarly, Jon Hamm’s character played here, Roy Tillman, the sheriff of a very rural North Dakota county who quotes Bible verses to get his way, seems related to the cult leader he played in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” .” (Joe Keery plays her hapless son and helper, Gator.) We glimpse him only briefly in the opening episode, in a single shot, sitting sternly at the head of a table, but he tells us that whatever is mysterious about Dorothy has something to do with him.
The series always has at least a little to say about who we are, who we were, or how who we were still informs who we are. Last season’s final episode, which looked at racism through the framework of organized crime, was titled “American History”; Ronald Reagan, played by Bruce Campbell, was a real character in the second season, set in 1979. This year, the show is set in 2019, the season closest to the time of its release, and you would actually have to. Don’t watch the series to miss its points, about weak and toxic men, sexism, misogyny, religion as a tool of oppression and far-right paranoia.
Characters make references to “a nation under siege,” welfare mothers, Mexican rapists, and “the whole multicultural panoply.” Lorraine and her family pose for an automatic weapons Christmas card, obviously based on a similar 2021 one from Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky; These characters don’t necessarily have much to do with weapons (Lorraine says it’s about showing strength and projecting her family values), but she announces that the present is very present in the series.
(Even the strange murderer receives a speech that seems to speak of a certain American malaise: “Now, everywhere you look, you see kings. Everything they want they call theirs and if they can’t have it they say they are not free.” You see that around .)
For all its deeper thoughts, “Fargo” is at heart a cartoon, with over-the-top characters in extreme situations and a willingness, as with Season 3’s flying saucer, to get weird. (There may be a supernatural element to the current season, but it’s hard to tell.) It plays with cinematic conventions, referring where appropriate to earlier visual styles, and creating a world that, while always exquisitely detailed, is not exactly realistic, despite the false disclaimer, inherited from the film, that it all really happened. . And yet, it feels emotionally true. When talented actors play caricatures straight and directors film them without batting an eyelid, you can get something productive, wildly comic but recognizably human; it allows for broad gestures that do not deny emotional truth and subtle gestures in unexpected places.
As Lorraine, Leigh delivers her lines somewhat like Mae West filtered through Bette Davis, with a bit of the feline indolence of her Dorothy Parker in “Mrs. Parker and the vicious circle”; but the effect here is that of a person who knows that he does not need to move quickly or speak loudly to demonstrate power. She speaks like a refugee from a 1940s boiler: “Something smells bad here. I smell a rat” and “Listen, Slick, nothing would make me happier than putting that girl in a box marked return to sender,” but with a patina of acquired elegance.
Temple, best known here for “Ted Lasso,” is fantastic. As the most threatened person on the show, and also his action heroine, he uses his physical thinness to dramatic advantage; The “Fargo” accent, a legacy of the film possibly more than the actual state of Minnesota, is comical but also serves as a kind of mask for his character. (Not all characters use it.) Hamm’s sheriff is much more nuanced than he deserves; Dave Foley, who plays Lorraine’s right-hand man and lawyer, Danish Graves, sporting an unexplained eye patch as the man in the Hathaway shirt (Google it), is understated, like in “NewsRradio,” and essential for the arrangement. As a Morris fan, I hope (and hope) to see more of him as things develop. And Moorjani admirably continues the spirit of Frances McDormand, Allison Tolman and Carrie Coon, as the franchise’s Strong Woman with a Badge. (Although it is a season of strong women).
Where will this fifth land in the final ranking of “Fargo” seasons? With only six of 10 episodes pending review, it’s too early to tell, whether it’s even possible to say or whether it’s worth a try. Each season sings in its own tone, builds its own nest of details. Three-fifths of the way through, the story seems comparatively conventional, despite that medieval flashback. But with four hours left to go (two full “Fargo” movies), there are certainly surprises ahead, corner turns hidden behind corners. Things are probably going to get crazy and I can’t wait to see it.