‘Fargo’ Season 3 Review: FX’s Homespun Murder Yarn Is Starting to Fray
The last comparison with Fargo I’d ever expect to make would be Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but bear with me. Imagine a filmmaker tasked with delivering a new spin on classic material, and succeeding with enough personal style to earn a second, grander year; free to embellish with enough scope and vision to make a rural mob war seem like Shakespearean tragedy. Given enough time, that filmmaker’s eye wanders to newer projects, leaving the requisite third chapter retreading old ground without the same sense of urgency or passion.
The third season (or “installment”) of FX’s Fargo winds the clock forward from 1979 to 2010, the advent of – as creator Noah Hawley would put it – “selfie-oriented culture,” though the two episodes offered to critics don’t mine the significance of that technology much yet. Instead, Season 3 begins with the same sort of homespun parable as always, led by Ewan McGregor playing both Ray and Emmit Stussy; brothers divided by an inherited stamp collection the younger (but balder) Ray believes dictates their entire fortunes. Pushing both brothers closer towards the darkness is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ray’s bridge-playing parolee girlfriend Nikki Swango, and David Thewlis’ scenery-nibbling V.M. Varga, a shadowy “investor” who muscles in on Emmit’s business like the personification of a nasty virus.
Caught up in all of this is Carrie Coon’s Chief Gloria Burgle, a single mother whose distaste for technology takes a back seat to a random act of violence that hits close to home. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the Fargo format is pretty well-tread* at this point: Place some sing-song oddballs and striking, snowfallen imagery into a blender, and splatter it across the canvas. Sure, Noah Hawley’s keen eye for composition and dynamite musical selection remains intact, but absent some of the ’70s style that made Season 2 pop it’s not immediately clear what tone this third installment means to strike.
*I will say that the very first scene of Season 3 takes place in a completely foreign time and setting for the franchise, but isn’t given any explicit connection to the subsequent episodes as of yet. It’s attention-grabbing, but almost weird for weird’s sake, which seems to be a running concern here.
McGregor’s dual role is similarly disorienting. Other than the cosmetic changes and differences in fortune, there isn’t a great deal differentiating the Stussy brothers and their minor moral failings, at least enough to justify the gimmick. Hawley also has to find enough material for Coon, Winstead and Thewlis; the latter two seem like they’re having the most fun. Thewlis exudes a Beaky Buzzard-like physicality and Winstead brings a mischievous energy to Nikki Swango that keeps the character from retreading Peggy Blumquist’s panicked opportunism too closely.
And that might be why Fargo’s spark feels a trifle faded; we’ve seen so many of these characters and elements in different configurations before. I had the same sort of feeling with Legion. You can toss in all the classic rock and stylized montages of urine samples as you like, but the story beneath is still lacking. The boxes are all checked, and decent Fargo is better than 70 percent of the TV out there, but it’s especially daunting in a month that brings us more urgent meditations on existential dread like The Leftovers, Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale, or even Starz’s American Gods.
It’s admittedly difficult to get a sense of Season 3 in just two episodes, and I took time to come around on Season 2 as well. The benefit of Season 3 returning to the present with all-new characters is that no one’s necessarily safe, and I think we’ll need more of that unpredictability to improve this stylish but unremarkable start to Season 3.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- Also worth noting among the cast are Coen alum Michael Stuhlbarg’s intimidatingly mustachioed Sy Feltz and Scoot McNairy as stoner con Maurice LeFay, basically channeling a Minnesota Tommy Chong. It is exactly as delightful as it sounds.
- There’s at least one line that seems like it could be setting up a Fargo Season 2 connection, but Hawley has only promised a brief “kiss with the past” for this year.
- FX apparently confirmed that Jim Gaffigan couldn’t participate in Season 3, due to a scheduling conflict, in case you’re wondering.
Fargo Season 3 will premiere on FX Wednesday, April 19 at 10:00 P.M.