FARGO REVIEW: From Bemidji to Duluth

Fargo TV show

The FX series “Fargo,” inspired by the 1996 Coen Brothers film, is based in northern Minnesota. As northern Minnesota’s leading pop culture, news, entertainment, iron mining and invasive species blog, MinnesotaBrown is here to review the show through Minnesota eyes.

The second episode of “Fargo” continues the grisly story that unfolded in the highly promising premiere. Lester (Martin Freeman), the sad sack insurance man who passive aggressively caused his nemesis to be murdered at a strip club before killing his wife during a washing machine repair argument gone very wrong, is still a sad sack trying to cover his tracks. The hit man Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton, has moved on to a new job in Duluth, where Colin Hanks’ officer Gus Grimly narrowly avoided his wrath. Now he’s on the hunt for the man he let get away.

This episode is a reset from the premier. It brought the drama into context and began to set up the next stage of the story. The action is now spread around a fictionalized Bemidji and a fictionalized Duluth. Malvo has taken a job for a generally unpleasant super market magnate who is being blackmailed. He’s going to hunt down the blackmailer for him, but one gets the sense — just as with the first episode — that this dark stranger operates on his own agenda.

Meantime, back in Bemidji, with the kindly police chief murdered in the first episode, officer Molly Solverson (Allison Tollman) is adjusting to her grief over the loss of her mentor and her new boss, a bumbler named Bill who is actually a pretty spot-on take on a northern Minnesota middle manager in over his head. She still thinks there’s something fishy with Lester, not only with the incident involving the murder of the Chief Vern and Lester’s wife, but also the murder of Sam Hess — the trucking boss stabbed in the back of the head at a strip club. In this episode we begin to see that the protagonist of the show will be Deputy Molly.

In addition to Oliver Platt’s supermarket CEO and his family/underlings, two more new characters arrive in the form of Midwestern trucking mob hit men from Fargo checking up on the business dealings of the now departed Sam Hess. We get a talkative eastern gangster (Adam Golberg, AKA Joey’s super intense roommate on “Friends”) and his partner, a mute and/or hearing impaired thug whose sign language is as brutal as his voice would be, if he had one. They are assigned the task of avenging Hess’s death. And though they do complete a murder by show’s end (one involving an ice auger and yet no blood), we know their work is not done. In fact, the show is setting up a showdown between two sets of hired killers and a number of law enforcement agencies.

My “Fargo” Minnesota observations (with my patented “Oh, ya!; Pretty good; Could be worse; Interesting” rating scale):

  • The two thugs from Fargo indicate there is no library in Bemidji. It’s an artistic aside by the writers, but kind of stupid if you know anything about northern Minnesota’s vast legion of libraries. Even Keewatin has a library.  Interesting.
  • We get a closer look at the “Fargo” interpretation of Duluth, which is — like the fake Bemidji — more imagined than real. The buildings are a shade taller than the real thing, and yet the institutions like the police station and post office are portrayed as being much smaller than reality. Could be worse.
  • (That being said, the weird Duluth post office that looks like a township hall and has only one employee and one customer is like a fever-dream, which is an enjoyable artistic effect — not intended to be “real.” The same is true of Gus Grimly’s strange Jewish apartment complex and his suggestive relationship with the woman in the place across the veranda). Pretty good.
  • Last episode we learned it was 10 below during the various and assorted murders, and yet in this episode all the corpses are comfortably in their graves. It’s damn hard to dig graves here in the winter and most people don’t try it. As obituaries often state, “interment to be held in the spring.” I am pointing this out for the benefit of the writers, as I highly doubt they’re done killing people in the Minnesota winter. Could be worse.
  • The accents are improving in that they are less pronounced, more conversational. Listening to Deputy Molly and her dad, the former cop-turned-cafe owner, was very real to this viewer. And Allison Tollman is going to be fantastic in this series. Oh, ya!
  • Not enough Billy Bob in this one. No sir. Could be worse.
  • To repeat my earlier point, the new “Chief Bill” is a guy straight out of city government in most northern Minnesota towns. They got that RIGHT. Oh, ya!

This episode of “Fargo” on FX? Pretty good. The tempo went down, but the show is clearly pacing itself for more action ahead.

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Finale
Episode 9

Episode 8
Episode 7

Episode 6
Episode 5
Episode 4
Episode 3
Episode 2
Episode 1

See the “Fargo” page

Comments

  1. If there is no library in Bemidji, then why did they state that the guy who was in to add his wife/partner to his insurance policy works at the library?

  2. I loved the callback to The Hudsucker Proxy with the guy scraping the police chief’s name off his office door.

  3. Laurie hamilton says:

    why Bemidji? There are No “actual pictures” of Bemidji in the series.

  4. Why name it Fargo which is in ND, when it takes place in two towns in MN? Not a big deal, just curious. I grew up in ND but now live in Dallas and it takes me back. Love the show! Sometimes the accents and other facets of the culture are exaggerated but I get a lot of laughs out of it. Thanks!

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