The line between television and film is slowly starting to blur as more and more new TV series are emerging from films. FX’s newest series, “Fargo,” is but another sign of this growing trend.
“Fargo” is an adaptation of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of the same name. Similar to HBO’s “True Detective,” “Fargo” is a limited series anthology, which means that each season will feature a different cast of characters and a new story. The first season tells the “true crime” story of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), a manipulative drifter whose worldview and presence in a small Minnesota town have destructive effects on the town’s inhabitants, particularly insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).
For those familiar with the Coens’ original film, “Fargo” is sure to be quite enjoyable. However, for those who haven’t seen the original film, like myself, it takes time for the show to really hook the viewer. The bulk of the first episode is spent setting up the tone and atmosphere of the show, and it’s not until a twist in the third act that things start to become interesting. The episode’s biggest strength is its dark humor, which is easy to appreciate.
If there’s one thing that immediately stands out about “Fargo,” it’s how effectively the creative minds behind it use other technical aspects such as sound to create a distinct tone and atmosphere. For example, the soaring score that opens the episode is a strong introduction to the sprawling, snow-covered Minnesota landscape. The music successfully sets the tone for the rest of the episode and emphasizes the fact that this is indeed a fictional story, despite the opening text that says otherwise.
At other times, sound is used to foreshadow events and establish conflicts between the characters. Take, for example, the scene in which we are introduced to Lester Nygaard and his nagging wife, Pearl (Kelly Holden Bashar). A noisy, malfunctioning washing machine scores their interaction at the breakfast table. The disruptive noise of the washing machine is the first clue that all is not right in the marriage, and this is later confirmed by a close-up on Freeman’s face as Pearl challenges his masculinity by comparing him to his brother, Chaz.
Over the course of the episode, Lester is repeatedly emasculated by those around him. After trying to fix the washing machine, and failing, Lester has a huge argument with his wife. Lester admits that he tried to fix the washing machine because he was trying to be manly, to which Pearl nastily responds, “But you’re not a man! You’re not even half a man!” Sadly, Pearl’s characterization stops here—she is nothing more than a nagging wife. Elsewhere, Lester’s own brother tells him that he’s so embarrassed by his loser older brother that he sometimes tells people that Lester is dead.
At almost every turn, there are people challenging Lester’s masculinity, which make him easily susceptible to Malvo’s definition of what it means “to be a man.” Thornton does a wonderful job as Lorne Malvo, making his way of life seem very seductive. Malvo’s penchant for causing conflict is akin to that of Loki, the Norse god of mischief. For Malvo, being a man means taking and doing whatever the hell you’d like.
Malvo’s brand of masculinity, however, is not glorified. “Fargo” is highly critical of this worldview, and by the end of the episode, the viewer is shown the detrimental effects it can have on a person.
“Fargo” airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.