Most weeks, writing about the music of Fargo is relatively easy — the songs are usually interesting, eclectic and freighted with significance. Moreover, there’s also quantity of songs — it’s pretty rare for an episode of Fargo to be virtually devoid of music. Alas, this week’s episode was as close to being music-free as Fargo has ever been. There was that treacle-y version of “The First Noel” that plays over the opening titles as Varga menacingly opens Christmas presents. And that … is pretty much it.
Nevertheless, as someone who has committed to studying the musical subtext of Fargo this season, there were two things that caught my ear. One, toward the end of the episode, we see Nikki loaded into a prison bus and placed next to none other than Mr. Wrench, the deaf hitman from season one. The significance of this cameo is underscored by a reprisal of the percussive score that acted as a recurring fanfare that season.
As of now, anyway, Mr. Wrench’s appearance appears to be an Easter egg for long-time viewers rather than a major plot point. (Unless we can expect Mr. Wrench to rescue Nikki from Yuri Gurka at the start of the next episode.) However, it does serve as a reminder that this season of Fargo (contrary to the accusations of some critics early on) is hardly “more of the same” from this series. Back in season one, Mr. Wrench was a colorful though ultimately minor character in a season filled to the brim with colorful though ultimately minor characters. Outside of the core cast there was Keith Carradine, Kate Walsh, Stephen Root, Adam Goldberg, Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key populating the Fargo universe. This season, Fargo has scarcely wandered from the principals: Ray, Emmit, Nikki, Varga, Sy, and Gloria. And two of those characters are played by the same people.
Whereas the first two seasons of Fargo were expansive, this season started out relatively miniaturist and has only grown more claustrophobic. And that has translated musically as well — the audacious setpieces set to flashy classic-rock songs that were a mainstay of season two have almost entirely fallen by the wayside (episode three being an exception). Instead, the new norm are choral pieces and folk songs that will sound alien to most ears.