Blood On the Snow

Fargo: Season 5

There is absolutely no denying that Fargo, the 1996 black comedy from Joel and Ethan Cohen, is an absolute classic. Even now, close to 30 years later, it’s still hailed as one of the best movies of all time. It’s not just a good crime film, but it’s also a perfect encapsulation of so much of what the Cohen Brothers loved to put into their movies. Greed and desire leading stupid people to make stupid decisions, all while the one smart person in the film is someone you’d normally laugh at because of who they are and how they talked. The film mines so much humor out of all of it all while telling a pitch black story in the process. It is, simply put, brilliant.

The idea of doing a continuation of Fargo in any other form, considering the movie told its tale and moved on, was absurd. There was no reason to think anything based on that film, and continuing its legacy, would be needed. But the series, created and overseen by Noah Hawley, has proven, time and again, that it’s a perfect complement and continuation of the ideas and themes of the original movie. It helps that the Cohens are executive producers as their influence can clearly be felt across the whole of the series. Each season takes inspiration from the works of the Cohens, and the series really does feel like a love letter to their body of work broadly and the 1996 Fargo most specifically.

Season five, despite not being a direct sequel or prequel to the events of the movie (we already had that in earlier seasons) does feel like the closest answer to the meat of that film. It stars Juno Temple as Dorothy “Dot” Lyon, a housewife who is arrested after accidentally hitting a cop while trying to defend herself during a riot at a PTA meeting. Once her fingerprints go into the system, suddenly she has a new kind of trouble on her hands (despite the charges basically getting wiped away). It seems that someone from her past, her old husband Sheriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm) from back when she was going by Nadine Tillman, wants her back and will do anything to get her.

Thus, one fateful afternoon after her arrest, when she’s at home, knitting and watching TV, two men come for her. She tries to fight them off, but they manage to grab her and load her up in their truck, ready to bundle her off to Tillman. Except that Dot is able to escape and, with the help of a State Trooper, Whitley "Witt" Farr (Lamorne Morris), she’s able to fend off her kidnappers until the authorities arrive. She vanishes, though, going back home and acting like it was all a mistake and she wasn’t kidnapped. But Roy is out there, looking for new ways to get her, and one way or another a confrontation is coming.

Season five feels most like a parallel of the original film, at least in that first episode. You have a housewife, Dot, married to a car salesman, Wayne Lyon (David Rysdahl), who suddenly finds herself the target of two kidnappers, all before she’s bundled off for parts unknown. The intro of the season is specifically set up to make you think that we’re getting another crime story where Wayne is the bad guy and Dot will end up dead, all in the middle of a series of unfortunate events. Except that’s exactly what doesn’t happen and that’s all because Dot is a fighter. The season wants you to know that.

The season is about domestic abuse, with Dot being a survivor of all the things Roy did to her when they were together. The intro of the show establishes, very clearly, that if Dot is going to be caught is a standard Fargo situation, she’s going to bend the story to her will and not the other way around. She fought her way out of her previous life, tooth and nail, and remade herself, finding a loving husband, and wants nothing to do with Roy ever again. Fate had other ideas of course, but because of that, Dot will make his whole world burn if he doesn’t let her go. Before we even meet Roy and learn his story we already know that whoever wanted to kidnap Dot is in for a world of hurt because she’s a tiger and she will kill anyone that fucks with her. It’s perfect storytelling.

Really, the Fargo kind of character isn’t Dot (despite her accent) but Roy, the good ol’ boy sheriff. Roy sees something he wants, Dot, and he just can’t stop going for it. This despite the fact that clearly, at every step of the path, it’s obvious Dot will cause his whole world to burn down. He’s going to engage in a series of actions that will see his whole life crumble, piece by piece. If he could have just let her stay gone, if he could have let it go and not be an idiot about everyone, then he might have made it out of the story intact. Of course, he’s a bad guy and, in the Fargo universe, the bad guys get what’s coming to them. His story was sealed the second he appeared in the show.

I would argue that this is one of the darkest seasons of the show so far, and that’s on a show that is as black as any of the darkest recesses of the movie. It has that same perfect juxtaposition of comedy and darkness that the movie had, but this season really goes to some places that just feel awful. The domestic abuse storyline, which is necessary to Dot’s story and is handled well here, is one aspect of it. But it’s also just a violent and bloody story that ends with almost no one coming out okay in the end. The blood conclusion, which is inevitable in these seasons, feels especially hard this time around. The season hits you hard and, often, makes you sad.

It also makes you kind of depressed at times, too. The show doesn’t shy away from politics this time, commenting on the current state of the U.S., especially in and around Minnesota and North Dakota. Dorothy’s mother-in-law, Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a rich, conservative, powerhouse of a woman, and she absolutely dominates political life in their town. She has her whole family pose with guns for their Christmas cards. She’s a debt collector who leverages other people’s lives for her own benefit. Hell, she owns judges in the Federalist Society, the ultra conservative organization dedicated to stacking the courts. And Lorraine is (eventually) one of the good guys (more or less).

That shows you how much worse Roy has to be. He can’t just be a good ol’ boy cop; he runs a criminal empire, abusing his privileges of power. He has people killed to further his own goals. He leads an alt-right militia group looking to one day take down the Federal government (all because of “the deep state”). He’s so far to the right of Lorraine that she looks great by comparison. Naturally Dot is still several layers above both of them, but it does show just how fucked up and strange that part of the country has gotten. It feels very scary and very real, this despite Fargo being fictional (whatever the “this is a true story” next might say).

The season is, without a doubt, brilliant. The show comes and goes at its own pace, releasing a new season every couple or three years, and while that would feel like a long time for a normal series, it’s the perfect pace for Fargo. The show does what it wants when the time is right, and then everyone involved waits for a new idea to come to mind before making another series. Fargo doesn’t outstay its welcome or overdo its stories. It’s properly paced, both in this season and season-to-season. Season after season comes out and is met with acclaim, and season five is no different, and watching this season you’re reminded why. This season is brilliant, just like the whole of the series, and it’s all a fitting continuation for Fargo, the one we didn’t expect and didn’t realize we needed in our lives.