The same old story told anew. Expect kookiness and violence.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
God. I missed this series.
The original Fargo—the 1996 film version by the Coen Brothers—was essentially about good people going bad. Set in Minnesota, the locals display a "Minnesota nice-ness" through their musicality of their Northern Cities Vowel Shift. One might describe them as "simple" but that is a gross oversimplification for such a homespun, earnest trait.
Watching Fargo, it felt like intruding onto a different America. One, where no one sought to be disagreeable and, instead, respond with an understated slow nod of the head.
The TV adaptation of the film by Noah Hawley (who created Legion) grounds the eponymous series. It's still "based on a true story", it still has the "good people gone bad" approach, but this time the issues of the TV series hit closer to home. Season one undertakes one of Tolstoy's two means of great literature—"a stranger comes to town". Season two touches on the idea of "(not) getting what you ask for". Season three questions the validity of the truth.
The current season—season four—is about finding a place in a world that rejects you… or, at least, what I could glean from the first two episodes of this season. It is 1950, where we're in the midst of the postwar booms and the slow beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Dominating the Kansas City scene are the Italian and Black crime syndicate, both are immigrants in a country that treats them as secondary citizens. Given their minority status, they should be working together but in a "dog-eat-dog world", it's every community for itself.
Chris Rock said in another interview that this is the best role he has ever gotten and he's right. In previous on-screen appearances, Rock always embodies the man-child role; this imp who is always ready with a retort to cut you down or have you doubled over with laughter. Rock did something dramatic with the movie Top Five. It was personal but it didn't flex his acting muscles. For Fargo, Rock shines as Cannon, playing him with a quiet dignity; a man who does right by the community and family by trading in the filth of the criminal underworld.
Another person to watch out for is Jessie Buckley's portrayal of Oraetta Mayflower. This is a nurse who exudes niceness and pleasantries but then she holds her smile a second too long that it feels like you're looking at a shark baring its teeth. Buckley balances that Minnesota niceness with a menace that's brewing under the surface, all the while virtue signalling whenever she converses with Ethelrida Pearl Smutney (Emyri Crutchfield).
What we didn't like
While I'm excited about this season, it does feel a little tired. Another rival gang, wanton violence, off-kilter characters… it's a template that the series is trying to break out from. One of which is the exploration of immigration and race issues. It's a heavy responsibility. Previous seasons may have skimmed it, like Mike Milligan (played by Bokeem Woodbine) from season two. He is atypical: a Black man with an Irish name, who is given to spouting truisms. The only time when the series somewhat acknowledges racial inequality was when Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon) kills a bunch of racists in Sioux Falls. I guess, that was something but that's just a reaction; a revenge fantasy and does nothing to open a dialogue on race.
These are strange times we're living in and it behoves the series to dive in, or at least, wade into a discussion of immigration and race relations. We see hints of it in the first two episodes and it might pick up later in the season but for now, that's the impression that we get.
What to look out for
It's a shared universe so it's fun to see references in the TV series that ties back to the Coen Brothers' oeuvre ("Girl, you've a panty on your head").
And the goddamn names in Fargo are always a delight—Odis Weff. Josto Fadda. Thurman Smutney. Swanee Capps.—It's like the writers dipped into a Captcha pool and drew out these appellations.
Fargo season four is now out online.