TV Report Card | 'Fargo' Season 1 Review

Overview: In this FX drama; a twisted drifter, an unassuming salesman, and an upstanding police officer converge on a path for survival and justice.

Storyline Direction Pros: For 10 episodes Noah Hawley’s complex character study and straightforward plot progression, took viewers through the frostily riveting race towards a reckoning. In Hawley’s quest to investigate the dark side of humanity he also infused the simpler side of the human condition.

Malvo, a deranged hit man, and Lester, a bashful insurance salesman proved to be the linchpins of the season, as their cat-and-mouse game of psychological subterfuge and violent confrontations made for an ever-intriguing mystery. Who would come out on top? It was the question at the heart of the series’ neo-noir story.

Malvo, the professional evildoer, met his match with novice cutthroat Lester, who begins the series from an incredibly sympathetic position, only to descend from there. One thing the character consistently possessed was a squirrely intelligence that showed him thinking on his feet and outsmarting just about everyone, in the process. The question of whether he would get away with his crime permeated the series.

Storyline Direction Cons: The finale. For nine episodes the series seemed to be leading to a fight-to-the-finish showdown between Lester and Malvo. It was experience vs. a rookie craftsman of the warped. Malvo’s creation or discovery of Lester leads him to become increasingly fascinated with his new toy, their dynamic growing fraught with suspense.

By series end, there would be no doubt that Lester was a markedly intelligent individual who bordered on genius. Who held the key to victory, the seasoned pro or the brainy trickster? Certainly the last scenes would revolve around one or the other’s demise at each other’s hands, right? Wrong. More after the jump [including spoilers]...
[Image by FX]
The absolute dumbest character on the series, Gus, winds up putting down an unarmed Malvo. The ending is beyond implausible, based on everything viewers had learned of the grizzly Malvo. Sure people make mistakes, but he didn’t sense Gus when he left his hideout? He didn’t sense him when he returned? He was injured and was operating without a weapon nearby? It made no sense and seemed a last minute cop out (no pun intended) to give the good guys a win.

One of the problems with the series were the good guys. Molly, who remained fixated on capturing Lester, is only right about one of the three crimes she accuses him of and she never admits she was wrong about any of her theories. She also remains somewhat apathetic to catching a definitive psycho, until the finale when she is willing to risk her unborn child to capture him, a huge “no no.”

The script never explains why she is so consumed by Lester’s guilt in the first place and the connection she uses to tie him to Malvo is composed of the thinnest shred imaginable. The inference that a person's intuition or partisan suspicion is equivalent to evidential support is also dangerously implied. Rooting for her and Gus was something that was worth wanting to do. There simply wasn’t much reason to do so. They were the defacto “good guys” instead of being actively worthy heroes.

Production Caliber: A cinematic presentation made “Fargo” feel every bit a film-quality caper.

Performance Quality: Billy Bob Thornton knocked it out of the park with his best character in years, the maniacal Malvo. Chillingly sinister with a bent of charismatic panache, Thornton made Malvo magnetically inescapable. Martin Freeman’s brilliant turn saw the greatest character evolution of the series as he took Lester from bullied victim to cautiously optimistic opportunist to a full-blown scoundrel. It was a stunning performance that offered an entirely dimensional characterization.

Newcomer Alison Tolman’s earnest portrayal of the genuine Molly provided the show with an even-keeled character that felt authentic, and she proved to be the steady stream throughout the story's many turns. Bob Odenkirk brought a great deal of heart as Bill the sincere police captain and Kate Walsh gave a crucially colorful supporting performance as a wacky widow. Meanwhile, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (aka Key & Peele) brought the laughs as an FBI duo.

Musical Score: Hauntingly operatic and downright dazzling.

Overall Grade: A-, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and in that regard, “Fargo” delivered a thrill every week. It’s a show you can easily marathon watch, having peace there is closure. It was an exhilarating ride until it ended and though its finale can be debated, what it did have were two amazing characters that kept viewers on their heels, guessing what would come next. Not a lot of series can claim that and “Fargo” can.

[Featured Image by FX]