I wait for very, very few things in the film and series category with more excitement and enthusiasm than for a new season of Fargo. Why is that? Well, because over the years, Fargo has spoiled me with some of the finest storytelling tropes, and most idiosyncratic sets of characters out there. There is something magical in how the seasons are linked thematically, and sometimes also very little by characters, but for the most part, every new entry is a blank slate, free to do whatever it so chooses. And across its now 5 seasons, it certainly tried and succeeded some daring things.
Back in 2020, I reviewed Season 4, and while stating that I was not a huge fan, and that I definitely found it to be the weakest out of the bunch, I still found it to be better than most series. Which might say a thing or two about 2020 as a whole in terms of content, but also about Fargo’s resilience when faced with hardship. Even a weaker story managed to deliver memorable characters and actually probably the single most Fargoesque moment across the whole Fargo universe – I do mean Gaetano Fadda’s ‘clumsy moment’. In the same review, I wrote that despite not liking Season 4 that much, I was still very much positive about the future. I had to wait 3 years for it, but Season 5 came and brought me exactly what I had hoped for.
❝The very first episode… is one of the very best across all seasons.❞
From the very start, Season 5 does two main things. First of all, it immediately makes the Minnesota flavour central to its very existence – and it’s not subtle about it, either. And retaining the knowledge of how exactly it does this – alongside some of the more veiled metaphors it attaches meaning to in the very first episode – will really elevate the experience of both the final episode, as well as the final ending scene. Which, while we are at this topic, is one of the very best across all seasons. For me, it might not top the final scene of Season 3, but damn it was close to – and I never expected that to happen.
Secondly, it provides homage after homage to Fargo the film – because just like its movie counterpart, it involves a botched kidnapping (in a different manner than the film, of course), and many of the ensuing events bare some sort of similarities to some of the film’s key moments. Set in the present day and boasting such tricks in its arsenal, Season 5 not only signals a return to its roots, but also a return to form – which it certainly delivers. First of all, through its central characters. There could be a couple of candidates up for the role, but I have finally decided upon Dorothy Lyon and Lorraine Lyon, played by Juno Temple and Jennifer Jason Leigh respectively. Both of them have very different starting and ending points in their journey of character development. Dot is a great unknown to begin with, and packs a variety of surprises along the way, and Juno Temple plays this extremely layered role to perfection. She might be less quirky than nurse Mayflower, but on the whole, Dot has the upper hand – and Mayflower was my favourite part of Season 4. Lorraine seems to be her complete opposite – self-assured, boastful and with a massive ego – but peeling away this surface level understanding of her is part of the season’s charm. Certainly, Fargo teaches everyone a lesson in how to write strong and complex female characters, and I would hope more filmmakers are paying attention.
❝Season 5 reintroduces an actual villain in Sheriff Roy Tillman.❞
There are quite a lot of interesting characters in Season 5. Beyond the two I’ve already mentioned, Ole Munch definitely is the most memorable. His backstory is one of the craziest things that Fargo has done till now, and fits in perfectly with the series’ history of inserting slightly supernatural twists – that’s all I will say about him. Indira Olmstead and Witt Farr are alright, but they are allowed to function alongside the other characters with similar screen time, and are simply eclipsed by them. They are not bad by any means, but do not really stand out in many ways. My main issue, and the principal drawback I see this season, is the fact that it fails in delivering a really good antagonist.
I mean, Fargo antagonists have been the top of the crop pretty much always. Starting with Lorne Malvo, continuing with Mike Milligan and then V.M. Varga, it’s been a dauting task to make someone even come close to that level, let alone top it. Season 4 dodged that bullet by making the whole thing more family oriented, and thus not exactly having an antagonist per se. Season 5 reintroduces an actual villain in Sheriff Roy Tillman, but does a rather poor job of it. Roy is a brutal, old-fashioned, mysoginistic lawman who rules his county with an iron fist, but has very little to show for in terms of intelligence. Perhaps it’s okay to get a break from the crop of antagonists mentioned above, but Tillman is unidimensional, uninteresting and unoriginal. I understand why we needed his character – especially for the domestic violence angle that Season 5 makes a central theme of (adding Indira’s own angle there), but beyond that, there is nothing Fargo-esque about his character. He still delivers some of the best scenes in the season, and Jon Hamm certainly delivers one of the best performances, but I can only imagine what he could have been with better writing.
❝Best series of last year?❞
All in all, however, Fargo is certainly back, and Season 5 delivers the usual mix of action, random craziness, laughs and deeper philosophy with expert skill. The music is as well chosen as always and really elevates many of the scenes (the Halloween sequence stands out), and the characters are excellent for the most part. It’s so refreshing that where other series tend to trail off after a few seasons, Fargo is again back to its best. Well, not its best – I’ll rank Season 5 lower than Seasons 1 to 3, but that doesn’t take anything away from its sheer brilliance. Best series of last year? Absolutely.