Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson.CR: Chris Large/FX
Fargo is a wonderfully intriguing blend of big and small stories. Season 2 finds the huge crime world of the Kansas City Mafia trying to take over a smaller crime syndicate (which is having its own internal problems thanks to the death of the family’s patriarch, leaving the rest of the family jockeying for position) that’s made a home in the tiny town. But mostly the season is propelled by what happens when the big crime collides with an anonymous couple, well-meaning but a bit dim Ed (Jesse Plemons) and his wife Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), a storyline that twists up Midwestern Nice with the violent world outside of it.
Ed and Peggy get accidentally mixed up in a bloody mess and learn that the crime is much easier than the cover-up. The cover-up is where things go awry, where lies stack on top of each other, where self-preservation turns into a true hell. Both characters are rich; Peggy proves to be darker and quicker on her feet than her simple smile would imply, while Ed is ready to do anything for her and happens to work in a butcher shop with easy access to soon-to-be-useful equipment.
The first four episodes are great, pulling us into a convoluted story and trusting us to keep track of the story as the complications keep piling up. It’s not always easy; there are strange visual effects, split-screens and freezes, that are meant to be helpful but feel a little weird. There is also a massive cast of talented actors: Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan play members of a crime family, each battling for control; Nick Offerman is a small-town conspiracy theorist; Bruce Campbell will show up as Ronald Reagan. Brad Garrett, Kieran Culkin, Bokeem Woodbine, and Keir O’Donnell all have roles.
Anthology series have been increasingly popular on television in recent years, with Fargo and True Detective being two of the most talked-about and surprising debuts of last year. But while True Detective‘s second season spoiled basically everything that made its first season special, Fargo goes the opposite route. It takes everything that made the show good, unique, and entertaining and ramps it all up to 11 — Season 2 doesn’t get louder or self-important, just bigger and better.