Monday, December 28, 2015

Fargo (The Series)

A critic in one of the newspapers I’ve read, rounding up the entertainment news of the year, said of the top ten movies of the year: “Fargo season 2, all ten episodes.” I think there are more than a few who would agree with him. Certainly this is the golden age of television. Stories are being told in a way that maximizes the format, and shows the strengths it has over cinema in telling complex character-driven stories.

Both seasons of Fargo have tapped into the quality and creativity of the cinematic work that the Coen brothers excel at, and into the spirit of possibly their greatest movie. It is what I would classify as stories of hope in a hopeless world.

In each of the stories (the film, season 1, and season 2) we get a character or two who embody everything that is decent, even good, surrounded by a world full of bent characters, some outright evil but even more who just “fall into evil” through their weaknesses.

In the TV series those good characters are a family: Hank Larson, his daughter Betsy Solverson, and her daughter Molly Solverson. Like Marge in the film, they are always ready to do the right thing, and brave a world of unbelievable, but realistic horror, not without fear, but trusting in the fact that “the right thing” is always the right thing to do. In the words of Betsy, talking to a teen who has been struggling reading a lot of nihilistic literature:

Noreen Vanderslice: Camus says knowin' we're gonna die makes life absurd.

Betsy Solverson: Well, I don't know who that is. But I'm guessing he doesn't have a 6-year-old girl.

Noreen Vanderslice: He's French.

Betsy Solverson: Ugh, I don't care if he's from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We're put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord... Well, you try tellin' him it was all some Frenchman's joke.

Each of the stories has outright evil characters, but the real contrast to the Solversons are the weakly evil characters. In season one we get Martin Freeman playing a hen-pecked man who kills his wife in a moment of exasperation. In season two it is Kirsten Dunst who hits a man with her car but decides to do nothing about it, forcing her husband to kill the wounded man and dispose of the body. In both cases the defining characteristic of these villains is that they see themselves as victims of life. They do not make hard choices and “do good,” they want an easy path to getting “the good” that life owes them. In that sense, they are the mirror held up to today’s society.

These stories are harsh and cruel, and definitely not for everybody. But, for those who can handle extreme violence in their stories, there is a beautiful message of hope in the form of some good examples amidst all the horror.

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