The illusion of freedom in contemporary America is pressed upon its citizens when we’re children, a drilled-in bit of misinformation that should never be challenged for fear of accusations of an unappreciation for one’s own country. But, really, is it not true to stake rebuttals against such an assertion that America is the most free country in the world? Freedom is a currency only attainable through socioeconomic factors, specifically the freedom to inflict violence against others. Heterosexual white men in the United States have, historically and statistically, administered staggering levels of brutality. Fargo is a series that allows its characters to all exist within these guidelines as the episodes raise the body count with each passing scene. The upcoming fifth installment is a precise blend of jaw-dropping violence and humor that showcases the best of what the anthology series has to offer.
Noah Hawley’s acclaimed anthology series returns with a ferocious season that follows one woman’s final escape from the life she once lived. Set in the typical Minnesota and North Dakota, the fifth installment finds Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Emmy nominee Juno Temple, Ted Lasso) on the run, being searched for by North Dakota Sheriff Roy Tillman (Emmy winner Jon Hamm, Mad Men). Roy believes himself to be the law, therefore above it with his own jurisdiction. His son, Gator (Joe Keery, Stranger Things), is a young man desperately seeking his father’s attention and approval that will surely have an intimate relationship with his own virginity for most of his life due an innate creepiness that exists around him. Gator is persistent with his insistence that he’s worth his father’s time, to which Roy could not seem more apathetic about, seemingly finding his son to be weaker than he would like.
Roy is persistent about his search for Dot, who loves her daughter and her husband, Wayne (David Rysdahl, Oppenheimer), but not his cold mother, Lorraine (Academy Award nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight), who wants nothing more than to control everyone she’s ever encountered. Dot attempts to keep her husband out of her affairs and the violence of the past, but these attempts attract the attention of local police deputies Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani, Never Have I Ever) and Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris, New Girl). Fargo has always paid special attention to quirky officers, and these two are no exception. Throughout the six episodes provided to critics for review, the ensemble constantly challenges one another to raise the stakes with earnest, endearing yet sometimes vicious performances.
Juno Temple is a leading woman. After three seasons of being a supporting player on Ted Lasso, Temple’s transition into the lead role of a darkly comedic series like Fargo makes sense: it allows her to test out her ability to be at the forefront of a television show without the commitment of multiple seasons. Her work in this installment is thrilling, the actor’s innate charm easily sliding into the upper midwestern accent emerging from her, but there is an explosive nature simmering under Dot’s skin. She’s resilient and resourceful, capable and quick-witted with a charm all her own. Watching Temple and David Rysdahl play this couple is a treat, a sweet investment of time through the nicely paced episodes. Any reprieve spent with these two is welcome, as any viewer of the previous installments of Fargo will undoubtedly know the violence in the series is punishing. The two together form a lovely couple that will cause uncontrollable smirking as they speak about the regular things married couples do, but with a genuine admiration for one another that puts most cinematic couples to shame. Dot prepares meals for her family not of duty, but of sheer love and admiration of their existence in her life. She protects Wayne from harm and provides him a safe space to exert his freedom away from his mother, who hilariously dead-eye gazes past anyone she’s speaking with. Lorraine Lyon is not a woman with patience for nearly anything and Jennifer Jason Leigh spits out lines with acid dripping from her mouth. Some of the lines given to Lorraine are already art, but Leigh elevates it to brilliance with the funniest deliveries imaginable; she makes an off-hand comment about getting someone removed from their position funnier than some entire network cable comedies.
The casting department of Fargo attains what could be considered perfect casting in every season the show has put forth so far. A sheer refusal to allow mediocrity on the show is what sets apart this department’s work from other anthologies. Each season feels more natural than the last, this season providing evidence of fine tuning to make an incredible new story. While the other supporting actors each turn in excellent performances, there should be a special focus put on Richa Moorjani. Moorjani’s portrayal of Deputy Olmstead has traces of Allison Tolman’s Officer Molly Solverson from season one of the series, though Moorjani’s Olmstead is unmistakably more assertive than Solverson. She’s a woman dealing with her foolish husband, just trying to maintain while digging herself out of a crippling debt. While aspirations exist within Olmstead, she’s never made to be deviously ambitious or close to criminal activity to obtain money. She’s a woman trying to show up and do her job every day and will, hopefully, one day not owe money to anyone else. It’s an admirable life, one that’s simplicity is its beauty, even with a buffoonish husband taking up space around her. Moorjani understands the complexities of crossroads her character faces, playing them softly but with the strict specificity of a veteran performer. If Deputy Olmstead is representative of an officer attempting to understand people, Jon Hamm’s Sheriff Tillman is directly oppositional. Tillman is apathetic towards the feelings of those he feels are underneath the law, or him, which is everyone else. Characters that are maliciously violent are inherently terrifying, only made scarier when they have nipple piercings.
The series works because of its understanding of violence and its connection to being inherently American, whether that be with malicious intent or in the form of self-defense. Fargo’s fifth season is shocking in its violence, but also meticulous in its delivery, managing to be both jaw-dropping and hilarious. There are moments of this season that feel like Home Alone when Dot prepares her home for a possible invasion from unwanted guests seeking her out, a full montage of her arranging traps across the house like a militant-minded Martha Stewart. The traps Dot sets are hysterical, making her two steps away from becoming a Minnesota Jigsaw begging to know from her victims, “Are ya trying to play a game, yah?” It’s a genuinely giddy time watching this woman construct a fortress out of her home to protect herself and her family, securing everything into place as she arms for the worst. Once again, Temple shines while developing Dot into a woman whose knowledge of violence isn’t a detriment but a beacon of hope when paired with her ability to perpetrate it. As local police become more involved in Dot’s life, everything caves in around her: Roy’s on her heels, Wayne’s in danger, and Lorraine is suspicious. The chess pieces move and the odds change quickly to match the pace of the episodes, keeping the audience engaged with the frenetic movement from the characters.
With so much television at audiences disposal, having a reliable source of entertainment is valuable. Fargo not only provides entertainment, but manages to yield fresh creative results with each new installment that urges viewers to seek out series like it. It’s a season lifted to new heights by Juno Temple’s lead performance where every other performance will beg for the audience’s attention. A hilarious tale of seeking resolution and closure through brute force and cunning, Fargo’s fifth season is an anxiety-inducing good time. Except when Jon Hamm’s nipple piercings are present, then it’s just anxiety-inducing.
FX’s Fargo Year 5 premieres Tuesday, November 21 on FX with two episodes and streaming the next day on Hulu every week.
Photo: Michelle Faye/FX