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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Small Screen must watch: #Fargo's bloodstains in the snow

This is a strange, surreal show that sucks you into its icy-white unsettling world. And now that you've watched the finale (shown on Colors Infinity on the weekend), you know that the Bad Guys have been finally overpowered by the Good Guys (more of that later).

tv Updated: Sep 10, 2016 18:46 IST
Poonam Saxena
Poonam Saxena
Hindustan Times
Billy Bob Thornton plays baddy-without-conscience, Lorne Malvo, in the TV series Fargo.
Billy Bob Thornton plays baddy-without-conscience, Lorne Malvo, in the TV series Fargo.( )

This is a strange, surreal show that sucks you into its icy-white unsettling world. And now that you've watched the finale (shown on Colors Infinity on the weekend), you know that the Bad Guys have been finally overpowered by the Good Guys (more of that later).

Warning: spoilers ahead.


, in case you somehow missed this fact, is based on the movie (also called Fargo) by the celebrated filmmaker brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen. Though the TV Fargo is produced by them, they are not the directors.

Unfortunately I haven't seen the film so I have nothing to offer by way of film-versus-TV show comparisons. But maybe that's a good thing (in any case, comparisons always make me uncomfortable). I saw the TV show with fresh eyes, not with this inevitable soundtrack playing in the background: 'Okay let's see if it matches the film, I'll bet it doesn't, oh my god, what have they done to this scene and that character!' And so on.

The weirdness of Fargo became apparent from the opening frame itself which said: "This is a true story." At first I automatically accepted the claim (no reason not to). But as the series got under way, it became more and more difficult to believe that statement unless you fell back on that hoary old chestnut: 'Truth is stranger than fiction.'

But Fargo is too strange even for the truth. (I believe some intrepid reporters did cross-check and discovered that no such events happened in the years mentioned). So why the claim? I'm sure there's an explanation out there but I don't want to find out; I've just left it as one of the odd things about the show that somehow adds to its surreal appeal.

Freezingly cold Minnesota is the backdrop to all the action and you can almost feel the chill leaking through the TV screen: huge drifts of snow submerging the landscape, everyone bundled up in big overcoats staggering through the whiteness, car headlights lighting up empty, icy highways…

We are introduced to the three key characters of Fargo in the very first episode, the most important being the man around whom the entire action throbs with a kind of wanton, diabolical violence. Solitary stranger Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton, and it doesn't take long to figure out that he's actually a cold-blooded assassin), arrives in the town of Bemidji in Minnesota (the sort of place that Fargo's executive producer Noah Hawley calls "Siberia with family restaurants"), and unleashes a trail of bloody violence.

At first Malvo appears curiously persuasive but as you get to know him, you start feeling as if an army of centipedes is crawling down your spine. Yet you're mesmerized by his soft voice, his calm self-assurance, his ability to dream up devious plots - and his remorseless ability to kill. It's like being fascinated by a lazily confident lethal snake.

When Malvo arrives in Bemidji, he runs into timid insurance agent Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman of The Hobbit fame). I must confess, in the beginning my heart went out to Nygaard because there he was getting viciously bullied by Sam Ness, the guy who used to torment him back in high school. And when Malvo offers to murder Sam, the *thought* is gratifying (the bully is *so* hateful and Nygaard is so helpless). But when Malvo actually does commit the murder, you're taken aback. You start feeling distinctly uneasy.

Then you see the diffident Nygaard being mocked so cruelly by his wife, and it is clear that this is a regular pattern of behaviour with her. When Nygaard finally hits her with a hammer, killing her, momentarily you feel that he was pushed beyond endurance, that he just snapped. But then Malvo turns up and helps Nygaard clear up the crime scene. And your uneasiness deepens.

Nygaard gets away with the murder and you realize that Malvo has already corrupted him. In the following episodes, we see the weak and non-assertive Nygaard's transform into an unscrupulous, aggressive alpha male, capable of hurting people without a pang. The stammering man who got bullied by Sam turns the tables when the dead Sam's equally thuggish sons come to threaten him in his office (this he does with a stapler!) When the show begins, you feel some pity for Nygaard but his dramatic transformation is disquieting. (Neither avatar is likeable.)

The third - and my favourite - character on the show is the cop Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) who investigates all the murders. What is so refreshing about Molly is that she doesn't fall into the default clichés of cop/investigator characterizations in American TV and movies. She is not troubled/disturbed/bitter/plagued with a dark past/a reforming alcoholic - all the regular tropes when it comes to leading men of the law. Instead, she is a polite, soft-spoken, likable single woman who is extremely competent at her job but unfortunately perennially combating her disbelieving, rather dim superior.

Her love affair with nice guy fellow cop and single dad Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) develops sweetly and tenderly. But Gus has a heavy secret to bear - he had once stopped Malvo for a traffic offence but been scared by Malvo's sinister, veiled threats. Gus let Malvo go - and regretted it. Perhaps that's why in the finale, it's left to Gus to shoot an injured Malvo. At first, I found it difficult to accept the fact that Gus turned out to be the 'deliverer,' so to speak. Kind-hearted, intelligent Molly had done all the dogged police work that led to the point where Malvo could be caught, so why wasn't she the one to pull the trigger? Because by then she'd got married to Gus and was pregnant too. Ah well… The upside - she does get to be police chief, so I suppose her cleverness and sharp investigative work isn't unrewarded. But it's not a question of reward, it's a question of what *feels* right. I would have liked to see Molly take Malvo down.

And as for Nygaard, he meets an icy end -- and you feel a twinge only because it's Martin Freeman.

The show is compulsive viewing though there are inexplicable moments where you're not quite sure what the hell is happening. (That's why I'm happy with English subtitles, as it's sometimes difficult to figure out the Mid-West accents. The unfortunate corollary is the annoying beeping out of "objectionable" words. The over-eager censoring of English shows on our English entertainment channels robs viewers of a full experience of the show -- but fortunately for all of us, the Net is always there).

There is a sub-plot in Fargo that revolves around supermarket king Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) who is being blackmailed. Stavros asks Malvo for help. But Malvo literally wrecks Stavros' world. Why? Just because?

Fargo is disturbing and addictive. It does make you ponder over American television's obsession with killers, serial and otherwise, but that's another story. Also, the mindlessness and amorality of Malvo's violence is creepy (where are all the "I-seek-world-domination' bad guys? Totally out of fashion, I gather. But being sadistic isn't. Malvo clearly takes some sort of evil pleasure in all the mayhem he unleashes).

Season 1 (which we saw on Indian television a year after it premiered in America) is being followed up with a Season 2, supposed to open in October this year. I hope we get to see it before another year passes. Here's the trailer:




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