The Emmy-winning FX limited series “Fargo” returns Tuesday with a new season, its fifth, that stars Juno Temple and Jon Hamm and goes back to the basics: Minnesota cops, North Dakota bad guys and plenty of snow-covered landscapes.
Created by Noah Hawley in 2014, “Fargo” is named after the Oscar-winning ’90s film by Joel and Ethan Coen and often repeats that film’s character archetypes: kind but determined police officers that echo Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson; greedy, conniving husbands like William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard; and bumbling bad guys à la those played in the original film by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare. But the series takes as its inspiration the whole of the Coenverse, referencing and remixing characters, themes and aesthetics from films like “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “No Country for Old Men” — as well as “Fargo,” of course — in original stories the tend to center on the evil deeds of stupid men.
It has been three years since the last season of “Fargo.” With the new one about to premiere and the other four available on Hulu, here is a look at the who, what, where and you betcha of “Fargo,” season by season.
“Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t.” — Lorne Malvo
Set in 2006, Season 1 shifts the Jerry character into the form of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), an insurance salesman who crosses paths with a sociopathic hit man named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), shades of Javier Bardem’s terrifying Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.”
After Lester kills his wife and Lorne helps cover it up, Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) of the Bemidji, Minn., police department, investigates the increasingly violent case, assisted by the wonderfully named officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) of Duluth. All four of the lead actors received Emmy nominations and “Fargo” won best limited series, the only season so far to do so.
“And isn’t that a minor miracle? State of the world today and the level of conflict and misunderstanding. That two men could stand on a lonely road in winter and talk. Calmly and rationally. While all around them, people are losing their minds.” — Mike Milligan
The second season of “Fargo” was more ambitious than the first, moving the action back to 1979 and expanding the scope of the show. With shots that echo “No Country for Old Men” and “Barton Fink,” and even an alien subplot that recalls “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” this season uses the entire Coen filmography as a sandbox while maintaining a centerpiece that is still very “Fargo.”
The protagonists are again ordinary people caught in a violent world when Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons) cover up her hit-and-run accident. The problem is the guy Peggy hit is the son of Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart), the new head of a North Dakota crime family in a battle of wills with a Kansas City crime syndicate looking to expand their reach. (The role helped to return Smart to prominence.) Patrick Wilson plays Lou Solverson, the Minnesota state trooper who stumbles into all of it, assisted by his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson).
Bokeem Woodbine, who plays the Kansas City enforcer Mike Milligan, leads an exceptional supporting cast that also includes Cristin Milioti, Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Donovan, Rachel Keller, Angus Sampson, Nick Offerman and Zahn McClarnon. The second season of “Fargo” received 18 Emmy nominations.
“The problem is not that there is evil in the world, the problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care?” — V.M. Varga
Is it still “Fargo” if none of it takes place in North Dakota? The third season moves the action to 2010-11 and takes place entirely in Minnesota. The protagonist lawman this time is the wonderful Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), who gets caught in a battle between twin brothers Ray and Emmit Stussy, both played by Ewan McGregor.
When Ray, a probation officer, collaborates with his girlfriend, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), to steal a rare postage stamp from his brother, mistaken identity leads to a bystander getting murdered. Emmit, powerful businessman, has his own problems as he tries to escape from a mysterious stranger named V.M. Varga (David Thewlis). Michael Stuhlbarg, Shea Whigham, Hamish Linklater, and Scoot McNairy co-star.
“You know why America loves a crime story? Because America IS a crime story” — Josto Fadda
The most ambitious season of “Fargo” also arguably feels the least like the others, moving south all the way to Kansas City and unfolding in 1950-51. More interested in the structures that allow for abuses of power, it serves as a kind of origin story for the crime syndicates seen in previous seasons. But it is also a commentary on race, privilege and the kind of criminal operations that destroy basic decency.
Chris Rock stars as Loy Cannon, a new crime boss who goes to war with Kansas City’s Italian mafia. Jessie Buckley gives one of the season’s strongest performances as Oraetta Mayflower, a nurse who commits a murder that sets fire to the entire turf war unfolding between the two syndicates. Jason Schwartzman also stands out as Josto Fadda, the heir to the Italian crime family, and other co-stars include Ben Whishaw, Jack Huston, Andrew Bird, Glynn Turman and Emyri Crutchfield.
(November 2023–January 2024)
“With all due respect, we’ve got our own reality.” — Danish Graves
The 10-episode new season of “Fargo” returns to the show’s roots, both physically and narratively. The premiere includes more direct references to the film than any other episode in the show’s history, including masked intruders attempting a home invasion, a criminal with a giant face wound and even a cop who speaks of a “beautiful day.”
With this season, Hawley inverts the victim role of the film, making Temple’s endangered housewife, Dot, someone who is capable of fending for herself. Hamm plays against type as a vicious sheriff with a grudge. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who starred in the Coens’ “The Hudsucker Proxy,” is all cruel calculation as Dot’s wealthy mother-in-law, Lorraine Lyon, and Dave Foley plays the family’s lawyer and fixer, Danish Graves. Lamorne Morris and Richa Moorjani team up as investigating officers who get stuck in the violent middle.