Somehow, ‘Fargo’ Is Even Bigger, Better, and More Ambitious in Season 2

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What was most surprising about Season 1 of Fargo was that it was actually good. Not just “good for an adaptation,” but a season of television that was thrilling, gorgeous, and upfront about its origins while succeeding as its own entity. What is most surprising about Season 2 is that it’s somehow even better.

There have already been plenty of hints about where Season 2 is headed, but there is still no way to fully prepare yourself for what it’s about. It’s bigger than the first season, certainly, with a larger and bolder cast, even higher ambitions, and a more complex story. The premiere begins with a fake black-and-white Ronald Reagan movie — Massacre at Sioux Falls — that hints at the upcoming tragedy but also makes no damn sense and pulls you out of the story. But Fargo plays it all cool and confident: Noah Hawley knows what he’s doing, and we’re just impatiently, but excitedly, waiting to catch up.

Confidence is what makes Fargo work. The show has confidence in its wild plots, glamorized blood and gore, and sing-song-y, vaguely religious, and vaguely nonsensical dialogue, spoken in accents that lure you in with their politeness. The characters are beautifully simplistic, even when they’re anything but. An early exchange:

“Tomorrow has never been closer than it is right now.” “It’s nine o’clock in the morning.” “Metaphorically, I mean.”

The dialogue dances around details and horrors; it casually retells stories from scripture (when Job comes up, it’s no surprise). Season 2 of Fargo is a series where so many worlds coexist: the bible references, the bright blood spilling onto the ground, the perky housewife and hairdressers chirping about attending a seminar in order to be “the best me I can be!”

Season 2, a sort of prequel, jumps back in time to the late ’70s. Molly Solverson is now just a four-year-old girl, daughter of Lou (Keith Carradine in S1, Patrick Wilson in S2) and Betsy (Cristin Milioti, stricken with cancer and doomed for tragedy). Lou is a trooper, often working alongside his wife’s father Hank (Ted Danson, who alternately stands out and fits in, depending on the scene), and the season picks up as they are investigating a robbery gone wrong.

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.