REVIEW: “At the request of survivors, names have been changed, but, out of respect for the dead, the rest of it has been told exactly as it occurred.”
It’s a “disclaimer” that accompanied both the original 1996 movie and now five seasons of Fargo (the latest of which debuts on Neon tomorrow, November 22). It always comes right after the assertion that “this is a true story” and right before a dramatic or comedic moment that instantly undercuts that.
Having taken a microscope to Minnesota’s Bemidji, Luverne and St. Cloud and Missouri’s Kansas City in previous series, the action this time centres around the small Minnesota settlement of Scandia.
It’s 2019 and the local middle school’s Fall Festival Planning Committee meeting has descended into a brawl.
“If anyone tries to stop us, just bite them on the ankle,” Dorothy Lyon (Juno Temple) tells her daughter.
However, it’s her indiscriminate use of a taser, particularly on an officer attempting to defuse the situation, that lands her in jail.
For husband Wayne (David Rysdahl), the timing couldn’t be worse. They’re all expected at his maniacal mother Lorraine’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) annual family Christmas Card shoot, so paying Dorothy’s bail is his only option.
“They took my fingerprints, perp shot – you’re lucky they didn’t ask to look up my hidey hole,” Dorothy chirps while on the drive to dinner, while Wayne tells her that she might have to do community service for her “crime”.
“On top of the 50 hours I already do raising money for the school PTA, Guides and the new library?,” she scoffs.
After surviving a tense evening enduring the barely concealed scorn of her mother-in-law, Dorothy faces down an even bigger threat the next day. While she manages to defend herself from an initial attack by home invaders – injuring one through the combined use of hairspray and a lighter – she is eventually overwhelmed and bundled into the back of a car.
But even as Wayne and Lorraine debate whether to use her kidnap insurance and enlist the FBI or a private hostage negotiation team to get her back, Dorothy is taking her own steps to regain her freedom.
It all begs the question though, why would someone want to abduct this small-town mom?
While last season’s ‘50s-set tale was a welcome change in format, driven by a terrific performance by Jessie Buckley, this feels far more in keeping with the tone and style of the original Coen brothers’ conceit.
This a story filled with kooky characters, crazy situations and lashings of violence. There’s a killer with a distinctive haircut a la Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, a terrifically tense and brilliantly choreographed gas station face-off and John Hamm delivering a scene-stealing performance as North Dakota Sheriff Roy Tillman – “a hard man for hard times”. Whether it’s dishing out “instruction” to an abusive husband in a diner, or laying out the law of “his land” to the Feds from his hot tub, it’s a turn not easily forgotten.
Yes, Fargo series creator Noah Hawley’s story might bear more than a passing resemblance to both a certain mid-noughties David Cronenberg-directed tale and a 2011 movie where Temple played another “Dottie”, but there’s enough bloody twists and turns within the opening two episodes to ensure this story remains fresh and the audience invested and entranced, desperate to know how it all plays out.
Season 5 of Fargo arrives on Neon on November 22. Episodes will also debut on Sky TV’s SoHo on Monday nights at 8.30pm from November 27.