The thing to remember about Noah Hawley’s television adaptation of Fargo is that no one thought it was going to work. Not me, not you, not anyone either of us knew. Go ahead and lie to yourself if you want, but I know. I know you, like me, saw that someone was adapting Fargo for television without the Coen brothers or any of the original characters and you said “Feh, no thanks, sounds dumb and bad.” And then the first season aired, with Billy Bob Thornton terrorizing everyone he met as demonic hitman Lorne Malvo, and your tune charged. And then it kept changing during seasons two and three, which were also terrific and introduced us to a slew of midwestern criminals and a family of cops named Solverson and, yes, for some reason that worked even though it probably shouldn’t have, space aliens. At some point it became one of the best shows television has to offer, weirder and goofier than the weird and goofy show, more dark and menacing than the dark and menacing shows, always compelling and interesting and inventive. I am very pleased to report that none of that changes in the upcoming fourth season.
Quick plot rundown, with as few spoilers as possible: Season four of Fargo takes place in Kansas City in the early 1950s and focuses on two rival criminal organizations, a Black crime family led by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) and a local branch of the Italian mob led by the Fadda brothers, Josto and Gaetano (Jason Schwartzman and Salvatore Esposito, respectively). There’s a power vacuum and an ensuing power struggle, and child-swapping, and a jailbreak involving lesbian outlaws, and crooked cops and a badass carrot-chomping U.S. Marshal (Timothy Olyphant, playing a kind of “what if Raylan Givens from Justified were a Mormon from Utah?” character), and a Minnesota-nice nurse with a dark secret (Jessie Buckley, proving the Christoph Waltz Hypothesis true yet again by being more terrifying with each smile). Everyone spends the first few episodes cautiously circling each other, building the pressure and building it and building it, until it all finally starts to pop. It’s a blast. I missed this show very much.
But I’ll come back to that. It is important to me that you also know the following things about this new season, which, again, dives into issues of race and immigration and has a number of serious things to say through a wholly original filter, but is also goofy as all hell in the way Fargo is usually goofy as all hell:
- There is a character named Doctor Senator who is neither a doctor nor a senator
- There is a pretentious actual doctor named Dr. Harvard
- Timothy Olyphant’s character is named “Dick ‘Deafy’ Wickware,” and I encourage you to say that name out loud many times between now and the premiere, just as a treat for your mouth
- There are a number of truly delightful turns of phrase, like the time one of the criminals asks for a sit-down with another in order to “hash out the rumpus,” or the time someone describes a particularly troubled character by saying “your mind is a clutter of grievances”
- There are, and I want to stress here that I am simply reporting the facts, at least two dramatic fits of flatulence that are consequential to the action at hand
I honestly don’t know if any single show on television is geared more toward my specific set of interests. It’s violent and serious and terrifying in moments, and blatantly silly and bonkers in others. It’s what I liked about shows like HBO’s rightly celebrated Watchmen series and Amazon’s frustratingly underappreciated Patriot, this audacity to do just everything at once, to insert the stupidest joke in the world into a serious narrative about important issues and make it work somehow. I respect everyone involved in all of these programs very much.
The other thing Fargo has always done well and continues to do well in season four: sui generis characters. Just when you think someone is exactly what you expect, something will happen that yoinks them of the tracks a bit. Jessie Buckley’s nurse character, Oraetta Mayflower, is a fascinating creature, a well-spoken professional who throws around $5 words and is hiding something diabolical behind them. There’s an unrepentant outlaw named Swanee Capps who has a foul mouth and a cowboy hat and a heap of quickly developing problems. Salvatore Esposito’s Gaetano Fadda is a huge ball of chaotic dangerous energy, bringing an almost silent-film-era level of physicality to the screen, all bulging eyes and overly expressive movements and just the general vibe that he might literally or metaphorically explode at any moment. I love him. I can’t wait for the rest of you to meet him.
I could go on, easily. I haven’t even gotten to the family of funeral home operators who get mixed up in all of this through a fairly ridiculous set of circumstances involving loans and poisoned desserts and vomit-covered cash. The family has a daughter, Ethelrida (Emyri Crutchfield), who is too smart and inquisitive to avoid trouble and it becomes a whole thing. But if I keep going, I run the risk of spoiling some important, fun, dramatic moments for you, and I straight-up refuse to do that. The whole joy of watching Fargo is the unexpected, the things it does that no other show does, or would even think to do, the things that now, in season four, have become recognizable to the show in a way that makes the weirdness of it all almost comforting. There were a few times when I was watching the screeners where something so unexpected happened, or something maybe 30 degrees away from what I expected, that I found myself just smiling, happy that this stew of compelling storytelling and directorial eye-candy and bozo circus shenanigans was back on my television again, finally, after a three-year hiatus.
Fargo has always been good, from the very beginning, against odds so long you could wrap them around the earth like a lasso. None of that changes here. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this rumpus hashes itself out.
FX’s ‘Fargo’ returns for season four on Sunday, September 27.