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'Fargo' review: A winner of a prequel

Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), the Rock County sheriff,

Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), the Rock County sheriff, is a World War 2 vet who never thought the horrors of war would come to Luverne. They did. Credit: Mathias Clamer/FX

"Fargo," the FX drama starring Patrick Wilson, Jean Smart and Ted Danson, returns for a second season tonight. My review...



WHEN | WHERE Second-season premiere Monday at 10 on FX

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Vietnam vet Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) is employed as a state trooper in Sioux Falls, just in time to investigate some shocking murders with his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson). Meanwhile, a local crime syndicate headed by Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) is in turmoil and so is the private world of Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons).

You can be reasonably certain that the muscle sent by the Kansas City mafia, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), to give Floyd an offer she can't refuse, will eventually help them sort through their problems.  

Solverson was played by Keith Carradine the first season, and Molly (Allison Tolman) is seen here as a little girl.

MY SAY Besides the new cast, period setting (the late '70s), and one big surprise (no spoilers!), the second season is a reasonably close facsimile of the first.

Same menacing bad guys . . . same sudden percussive violence . . . same cops surveying the carnage with the same casual indifference of someone poking through the produce aisle of a local grocery store.

Like the first season, the second is also funny in parts.

Bleakly, bitterly funny, perhaps, but the same sentient universe is still observing the human ants scurrying about below -- and laughing. (Don't miss the opening sequence, which almost channels Woody Allen).

This is a prequel to the first season, so a little repetition is to be expected. Moreover, the drama also unfolds in the cosmos the Coen brothers built -- one now so distinctive that just to hear the name "Fargo" evokes that endless frozen prairie and the vast frozen sky above.

But creator/showrunner Noah Hawley is playing with some new ideas here, too, and the notion of repetition is actually one of them. Foremost, the whole spread of 19th and 20th century U.S. history seems to have touched on the lives of the people of Luverne and Sioux Falls. History may or may not repeat itself, but it does seem to be mysteriously repeated (and refracted) through these lives. 

The horror of Vietnam stalks this world, too. "Sometimes I wonder if you boys didn't bring that war home with you," Larsson says to his son-in-law, as they go over the crime scene in a quiet diner on a lonely highway. (Another figure here who possibly brought the war home with him is Karl Weathers -- Nick Offerman -- who is a Korean vet and soused conspiracy theorist). 

Food is another big theme -- or metaphor. Characters obsess over it -- meat, bread, clams, waffles, you name it -- and you're left to wonder whether they're foreshadowing something, or whether the cold just made them hungry.

 There is even a pair of scary dudes named "Kitchen." 

 As mentioned, the gods must be laughing. 

  But baked into every word, every gesture, is an implicit recognition of that brutal "Fargo" credo: People can be cruel, stupid, mean and unintentionally funny, even the nice ones.

 BOTTOM LINE Another winner.


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