The third season of “Fargo” premiered last Wednesday, April 19, and thus far it seems that the show’s writer and sometimes-director Noah Hawley has done it again, despite the pressure to follow up his past two critically-acclaimed seasons.
When “Fargo” arrived on FX back in April 2014, skepticism ran high — how exactly would a spin-off of the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning film of the same name remade for cable television fare in both audiences’ and critics’ eyes? Yet the show quickly gained a niche audience and the respect of hesitant critics. The Guardian praised the series, saying “what could have been a disaster is a respectful homage.”
However, when it was revealed that the show would air for a second season with an entirely new storyline and a new cast of characters, audiences and critics again sat in nervous anticipation. But Hawley bested himself in the second season, creating an even more compelling story. And while Billy Bob Thornton shined in the first season, winning an Emmy for his portrayal of the sinister Lorne Malvo, the succeeding cast featured talented performances by the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart and Bokeem Woodbine — all of whom received Emmy nominations.
While “Fargo’s” first two seasons took place during 2006 and 1979, respectively, the current season is set in 2010, although the first of the 10-episode arc opens in 1988 East Berlin, just before the Iron Curtain was raised. In this scene, a man is falsely accused of murdering his girlfriend. Though the suspect insists that the police have confused him with the prior tenant of his current home and that he does not know the victim in question, the police officer is unrelenting in his insistence that the suspect in fact killed this woman.
Before the audience is given any context as to why the episode opens this way, they are whisked back to the more familiar setting of Minnesota. But knowing Hawley, who ingeniously interwove the existence of extraterrestrials into “Fargo’s” last season, the audience is excited to see where this mystifying beginning will go.
Like at the beginning of every season of “Fargo” and its movie version, as the camera pans across the barren Minnesotan winter landscape, the framing opening lines “This is a true story” appear on the screen to situate us within the “Fargo” world. The audience meets the Stussy brothers, “Parking Lot King” Emmit and parole officer Ray — both played by Ewan McGregor, whose natural Scottish accent is remarkably transformed into Minnesotan, with different intonations for each character.
Immediately, we are introduced to a rift between the two over inherited stamps that made Emmit rich, leaving Ray bitter with the rusty Corvette he inherited. Despite the obvious differences in appearance, thus far there is little to distinguish between them beyond this and their relative success — both men operate as the self-interested Jerry Lundegaard type who will soon become swept up in a plot more sinister than he can imagine.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango, the fiance of Ray, is a showstopper, quickly proving herself to be the most enticing and compelling character of the season. Her motives are not yet entirely clear, although money seems to be on her mind. Swango is reminiscent of Dunst’s character in season two, although her edge is far more apparent. When she and Ray are threatened by his bumbling stoner parolee Maurice (Scoot McNairy), she hatches a successful plan to murder him by dropping her air conditioning unit through her window and onto his head. The threat, in true “Fargo” fashion, comes after Maurice is hired by Ray to steal a stamp from his brother that would pay for Swango’s engagement ring — of course, Maurice robs the wrong address, linking the Stussy storyline with that of the not-quite Police Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon).
Meanwhile, Emmit is in some trouble of his own. After borrowing a million dollars from what he thinks is a loaner to save his parking lot business, it is revealed that he has entered his business into a fraudulent “investment” scheme, subjecting his livelihood to the criminal arena. And if this is not enough drama to pique one’s interest, after Gloria finds her dead stepfather’s body — spoiler, this is who Maurice accidentally robbed and killed instead of Ray’s brother — she finds a stack of science fiction novels hidden under his floorboards, hinting at the incorporation of the supernatural into “Fargo’s” storyline once again.
Judging from the first episode alone, it seems as if this season of “Fargo” will once again be anything but a disappointment. Everything — from the snowy backdrop to the perfectly executed score to the “dontcha know”s and “jeez”s sprinkled throughout the script — is perfectly sinister and in line with the world that Joel and Ethan Coen created back in the nineties. Comic, dark and dramatic, this season of “Fargo” is sure to keep us on the edge of our seats.
“Fargo” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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