DISCLAIMER: This review contains mild spoilers for Episodes 1-5 of Fargo. Information about the plot of Episode 6 is included, but not so much that it should spoil the episode. There are no spoilers for the remaining episodes.
“I’m telling you folks, things are shaping up to make this one of the worst blizzards in Minnesota History – The perfect storm, or what have you.”
There are some shows in the history of television that were handed the goods on a plate. There are some shows that were destined for fortune. There are some that had the budget and the expertise gifted to them at conception. And then there’s Fargo, which works for its fame.
Fargo, the 1996 film on which the series is based, was something special. But its success has been heavily overshadowed by the success of the 2014 series of the same name. Based on the so-called true events (though some of the events in Fargo stretch credibility) surrounding a series of killings in Minnesota, 1987, Fargo – the series – tells several interconnected stories at once.
In fact, Episode Six follows three (or six, depending on how you look at it) major story arcs following on from Episode Five and its four predecessors. And, quite like Spooks would, it apparently ends at least three (yes, three) of these arcs in a heartbeat.
First in the story arc line-up are the police officers investigating the case. Two hit-men are also on the scene. Then there’s Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, with a stressed American accent), whose run-in with the law makes him Suspect Number One. Stavros Milos, a retail god who made his fame by chance, also makes his due appearance, along with his blackmailer.
But none of these compares to the story of the cool, calculated Lorne Malvo, who is played menacingly by Billy Bob Thornton. His character shines – or rather glares, literally – in every scene. His pure bloodthirstiness and willingness to kill men, women, children and (worst of all) cute animals without flinching leaves us questioning our own morals. Why? Because we like him unconditionally.
And, with the best of respect for Thornton, the impressive quality of acting only goes so far – it’s the casting that makes this character and the story so wonderfully cold (and not, in fact, the Minnesotan winter). It was clearly a good choice to throw Thornton into a mix of character-driven violence and fist-pumping plot, even if the name “Malvo” was plastered onto him like a mislabelled spice (are you really going to tell the difference in the final dish?). I’m sure there’s a part of Thornton playing himself here, in Episode Six especially, and you can tell he loves the role.
The casting triumph extends to the supporting actors too. While the sixth episode in the series is so well stuck in the groove of its three-to-six story arcs to introduce too many new supporting characters, the ones that are there out of necessity are as convincing as the rest – even if they are destined for a violent death.
The extreme violence in Episode Six could be seen as excessive. Where critics go wrong in saying this is in their attribution of it to sheer gore fetish, where it is instead a device to develop the characters. And even where this could fail in lesser shows, Fargo protects itself by including enough character development outside of the violence. Along with the other elements, this contributes to what I am happy to say are five big, shiny stars out of five.
It’s not often I get the chance to review something worthy of five stars – and it’s all the more difficult to do so. I’m sure, for one, that you would prefer to read about the problems in the piece than to hear undying praise. But in Episode Six of 2014’s Fargo, I simply can’t find any problems, other than the unbelievable claim that the story was exactly as told. It doesn’t matter, because each story is interesting and effective as fiction. They grow in tension until the perfect syntheses of pure acting, convincing script and effective soundtrack collide in a glorious, near-angelic crescendo.
It’s just so good, and we’re only half-way through the series.