Thursday, July 24, 2014

Series Review: Fargo

By Snow Drift

Fargo (2014) is an American, crime-drama television series inspired by the 1996 film of the same name directed by the Coen brothers. Created and written by Noah Hawley, the show stars actors such as Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Allison Tolman (Deputy Molly Solverson), Colin Hanks (Officer Gus Grimly), and Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard). The story centers on assassin-for-hire Malvo, who arrives at the town of Bemidji, Minnesota and influences Lester to indulge in violence and malice. When a series of murders happen in a short time, Deputy Solverson puts it upon herself to investigate and find the real culprits of the crimes.

One of the aspects I loved most about this mini-series, along with the original movie, is that the situation is self-contained and low-key, to an extent. While in the movie the murders were exclusively contained within the boundaries of the small towns and its few characters, the TV series lifted its limits a bit to indulge itself in more out-of-town characters, from the FBI to a mafia-like organization in the town of Fargo. However, it is still within certain limits, the mini-series giving the viewer the opportunity to observe the few characters of the show. It is with these limits that each character can be explored to its completion without the show worrying about having to develop dozens of them at a time. The self-containment, furthermore, assists in not over-complicating the plot, which may distract the viewers from what is important.

While multiple TV series and/or films attempt to portray every murder as fantastical, exaggerated, and even surreal, Fargo decides to ignore those tropes and leave each murder as simple and to the point. It is with this technique that the mini-series could guide the viewers’ attention away from the grotesqueness and gore of the murder victim and towards the living characters themselves. The fear and interest is not on how many people have died and the manner in which they did: it is in the worry of what might happen to the rest of the characters. After watching various murder-related stories, one would believe that everything would become a sort of murder-fest or free-for-all. However, Fargo concentrates more on the emotions and mentality of the characters and how these are affected and developed as the series progresses. It is not about Deputy Solverson’s possibility of dying or of uncovering a complex conspiracy: it is about her investigation, her determination, her horror, and her disbelief at what she is witnessing. Along with the other characters, it is not simply about saving or killing or an end-justifies-the-means situation for heroes, villains, and anti-heroes: it is about the concept of inaction; the willingness to not only do what’s right, but to face the horrors of reality, accept their truth, and still be willing to fight against dangerous men. It is also an exploration of how small-town people deal with extreme situations without turning the story too overly dramatic. Although Malvo, Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) give the story an aspect of the extraordinary, they are limited within their own boundaries too: they are highly trained assassins, but are clearly mortal and vulnerable to any attack. It is in fact their personalities that make them unique and not particularly their skill-sets.

Furthermore, the dark comedy of the series helps avoid submerging the series into an extreme level of psychological “grim and gritty.” With the humor, the viewer will not have to always perceive the world as a constant stream of death and lies. It is within this dark reality that people can still laugh and have joy, even if it’s just an attempt to levy their fears. This humor is accompanied by a sense of realism that the story has, seen how many of the characters react to their particular abnormal situations with a sense of confoundment; there is no exaggerated or extreme reaction to what is happening in their lives. Instead, each character attempts to access the situation with what they perceive is rational to them. Instead of screaming and having hysteria, the characters get to go through shock. Additionally, it is in this silent observation of their situation that the audience can see the characters project their inner fear: for with just a few heavy breathings, widening of eyes, mumbling and stumbling in their speech and particular choice of words is enough for the viewer to understand who these individuals are. 

All in all, Fargo is a fascinating series for the type of viewer that enjoys self-contained and low-key crime dramas that concentrates heavily on the character development than on the murder victims and their mode of dying. It is short and to the point, without delving too much in multiple subplots.

(Warning: Fargo contains violence, blood, gore, and sexual scenes.)

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