The new TV series Fargo, despite sharing the same name with the Coen brothers’ film, is not a remake. It’s a new creation which adapted the tone and kept some elements of the movie, and the Coen Brothers’ world in general. You will get a similar sense of dark humor, characters that share similarities, and a visual style inspired by Coen bro’s films, but the story is almost completely original.
The basic structure of the series’ story is similar to the movie. An average man, not the epitome of machismo, has a problem. Both in movie and the series the problem revolts around the protagonist’s wife. Out of town criminal(s) are going to help him with his problem, but things get worse and more complicated. The out of town criminal(s) create a mess with a lot of bodies which attracts the attention of the police and especially of a female officer. Both set in the snowy Minnesota and in both the accent will make you question if people in Minnesota really talk like that in real life.
Each episode starts, like in the movie, with the false statement that, “This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006 (1987 in the film). At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” It impacts the sense of realism especially if you don’t know that this statement isn't true.
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The series follow Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), whose life is far from being happy. He has to deal with his unloving and unsporting wife who belittles him at any chance, a younger brother who tells people that his older brother is dead out of embarrassment, and his old high school bully who ridicules him in public. A mysterious stranger named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) comes in town, and changes Lester’s life forever. Lorne is the type of man who enjoys reaching out to people’s dark thoughts and encouraging them to do something drastic and extreme so he can enjoy watching them facing the consequences of their decision. The chaos that is created attracts the attention of the police and especially of a young deputy, named Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman).
THE FOLLOWING PART CONTAINS SPOILERS!
The first episode starts with Malvo driving a stolen car, with a semi-naked guy In the back of the trunk, probably part of a contract. He ends up crashing the car after hitting a deer, and the guy tries to escape from the trunk to the wilderness but he end up freezing to death. Leaving a crashed car and two corpuses (the dear and the overweight guy) Malvo fleets the scene. There is a similar scene in the Fargo movie where the two criminals (Buscemi and Stormer), which are the equvelant of Malvo from the series, were stopped by a police officer who they had to kill but the murder was witnessed by a group of teenagers passing by with their car. This leads to a car chase and ends up with the teenagers’ car crashing into the side of the snowy road in a similar scenery with the series. One of the passengers of the car tries to escape to the open field but was executed by the criminal. These deaths, from the series and the film, were the reason, at first, which attracted the attention of the police. And as in the movie and in the TV series the female police officer (Frances McDormand in the film) is the one who tries to solve the crimes and connect them to the bigger picture.
The character of Lorne Malvo is original and different than the two criminals in the film but still you can tell that he is inspired from another character from the movie No Country for Old Men, the contract killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Both characters look threatening by being mostly silent and laconic when they speak, but Lorne Malvo gives a more comedic vibe due to the overall comedic tone of the series.
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The series by presenting Lester Nygaard’s life tries to demonstrate what caused his actions. He has a job that doesn’t make enough money to even replace a malfunctioning washing machine. His youngest brother sees him as a source of embarrassment, instead of pride. His old high school bully with his two sons, who he runs upon on the street, ridicules him by saying that he had sexual relationships with his wife, prior of her marriage with Lester, in a disrespectful way trying to aggravate and humiliate him. It end up with Lester hitting his nose while trying to avoid a fake punch. His wife constantly complains about the lack of money, compares him to his successful brother and says that she chose the wrong brother. Even going so far as to say that he is not a man, that he is not even a half of man. She tells him that she shouldn’t have married him because he is a loser and finishes this “boost of self-esteem” by saying that she is not facing him during sex because she is trying to picture a real man. At that point Lester snaps and cracks open his wife’s head with a hammer in a scene which will make you laugh and cheer for Lester (at least that’s what I did).
The first encounter between Malvo and Lester, which happens in the hospital, was pretty iconic. Lester went to the hospital to treat his nose injury and Malvo for his minor head injury, after the car crush that he had. While both wait to see the doctor the conversation between the two begins when Lester gives Malvo the can of soda that he was unable to drink, because of his injury. After Lester shares what happened to his nose it’s entertaining to see how Malvo is trying to manipulate him to do something extreme about the way Sam Hess, Lester’s high school bully, insulted him. At one point, while the nurse was calling Lester to go see the doctor, Lester, jokingly, said to Malvo that maybe he could kill Sam Hess for him. Malvo took that as a verbal agreement, like that was just what he wanted to hear. Before Lester convince Malvo that he was joking the nurses becomes persistent about him going to see the doctor so he left the conversation with Malvo unfinished, while Mavlo was asking if he wanted him to kill Sam Hess by asking “Yes or No?”
Malvo visits Hess’ work to take a look at his target and size him up by insulting one of his sons in front of him. He kills Hess by stubbing him in the back of his head while he is having sex with a prostitute in a semi-comedic scene where Hess lays dead on top of the prostitute making her unable to move.
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The scene were Malvo is booking a room in a motel shows clearly what kind of person Malvo is. When he enters the motel’s reception the woman behind the counter (probably the owner or the manager) is railing against a teenager who works there. After Malvo books the room he approaches the kid outside in the parking lot, while the kid is shoveling snow. He says to him that the way the woman is talking to him is unacceptable and he should do something about it. He encourages him to urinate in gas tank of the woman’s car. While the kid is urinating into the gas tank Malvo calls the woman from his room to let her know that someone is urinating in the gas tank of her car. That pretty much says it all about how Malvo thinks and why he is so willing to advice and help people who are being disrespected.
After Lester kills his wife he calls Malvo, and pretends that he needs guidance and help. In reality, Lester wants to frame Malvo for the murder of his wife and detain him by using a gun. His plan doesn’t work out because the chief of police, Vern Thurman, comes to Lester’s house, at that moment, to question him about the murder of Sam Hess. Thurman notices blood traces inside the house and when he sees the corpse of Lester’s wife he orders Lester to get down on the ground and calls for backup, but Malvo shots him down with Lester’s gun from behind. Did Malvo do that to just to help Lester without having a motive behind it? I doubt it. Is this situation connected with what happened with the kid in the motel and the way Malvo manipulates people? Most likely.
After Thurman is murdered and Malvo fleets the scene, Lester attempts to stage a home invasion by hitting his head against the wall resulting in him falling down unconscious next to his wife’s dead body. The whole staging a home invasion is another scene inspired by the original film.
The pilot of Fargo is one of the best out there the recent years. A touch of Breaking Bad is noticeable, due to the direction by Adam Bernstein and the participation of Bob Odenkirk in the cast. It kind of reminds of early Breaking Bad episodes in relation to Lester Nygaard and how Walter White transformed from a quiet family man into a dangerous drug kingpin. Overall the first episode was very balanced between dark comedy and crime-drama. What makes the show very enjoyable are the characters. Either the character of Lester, portrayed brilliantly by Martin Freeman with a pretty good American accent for a Brit by the way, or the character of Lorne Malvo, who brings chaos to the nice small-town people of Minnesota. Even though Billy Bob Thorton doesn’t have a threatening appearance, the way he carries himself as the character of Lorne Malvo let us know how dangerous he is. Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson give as a sneak peak of a promising character which from a rooky police officer in the beginning of the episode, evolves towards the end and shows that she has a lot of potential.
I won’t write the usual “Why to Watch It” and “Why to Not Watch It” because you should watch the damn thing!