(MA15+) Created by Noah Hawley
Starring Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson

by Mark Hadley

Hollywood film-makers the Coen brothers have spent their career teaching us to chuckle at crime. Triumphs like The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Though, Fargo and now its small-screen spin-off have set audiences rolling in front of some dark scenes. But their black comedy isn’t a perversion of morality so much as a profound insight. Evil is, in the final analysis, a laughing matter.

The first series of Fargo hinted at a bizarre string of killings, “… that terrible business at Sioux Falls.” The second season jumps back to 1979 to let us in on just what that means.

Patrick Wilson, best known for Watchmen and The Conjuring, plays State Trooper Lou Solverson. Lou and his father-in-law Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) are called on to investigate a triple homicide involving a judge. What looks like robbery is revealed to be a bungled attempt at intimidation by Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), the youngest son of South Dakota’s leading crime family. But before Rye can escape he’s hit by a car driven by Sioux Falls beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst). Afraid the accident will spoil her dreams for the future, Peggy drives home with Rye’s body embedded in her windscreen. Unfortunately Rye’s not dead. So begins the series of bloody incidents that build out this season’s Fargo farce.

Danson’s performance is well seasoned and Dunst has transformed herself to reflect a housewife struggling under the twin weights of small town expectations and winter fat. Possibly the most endearing performance, though, comes from relative newcomer Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights) as her bemused but supportive husband. Writer/director Noah Hawley has also crafted a perfect trip down memory lane, not just with his 1970s setting but with lessons learned from previous decades.

The entertainment industry likes to sell stories about the criminal masterminds but, as a court reporter, I learned an interesting truth: there is no such thing as a smart criminal. The overwhelming truth is their lives rarely measure up to the myth. Fargo reminds us that super criminals never exercise as much control as they claim. That’s why God laughs at evil.

The Bible mentions several types of laughter but by far the most chilling is that God directs towards those who delude themselves into thinking they can set aside His plans. They’re rebellious toddlers who don’t realise their father is watching everything, the same perspective Hawley affords his audience.

The all-powerful Gerhardt crime family and the Kansas City mobsters dig deeper holes for themselves even as they think they’re shoring up their empires. But Fargo’s tantalizing truth is that it’s not just criminals who can build on sand. As the law closes in on the criminals, spare a thought for everyday Peggy whose attempts to avoid justice are just as juvenile.

God has decided who His king is. Any decision to reject Jesus, cleverly planned or well intentioned, is going to look just as silly on the last day.

This article was first published by The Melbourne Anglican, November 2015. Click here to check it out.