Fargo: Season 3 created by Noah Hawley (FX, MGM Television)

Starring Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis, Michael Stuhlbarg, Goran Bogdan, Shea Whigham, Andy Yu, Ray Wise, and Olivia Sandoval.

The Problem of Success

Success often creates new problems. The lottery winner quickly encounters a relational shift with family and friends. When money enters the equation, relationships transform from intrinsic to instrumental quickly.

Success in television also causes problematic tension. Does the show lean on the elements that launched it into the stratosphere? Or, does the show use its acclaim to expand its creativity?
Season 3 of Fargo, aims for the latter.

The Fargo Template

In truth, Fargo holds an air-tight template. As an homage to the eponymous film, Fargo seems to require certain elements to exude Fargo-ishness.

With varying levels of potency, Fargo requires law enforcement—Midwest values and a connection to deep levels of altruism. Fargo also demands a philosopher criminal—someone leveraging reservoirs of intellect for selfish ends. In the middle, Fargo requests the over-the-head, ordinary citizen capable of breaking bad.

Within these templates, Fargo illustrates rash instances of shocking violence against a white, pastoral backdrop. Ultimately, Fargo demands evil to pay for its misdeeds and for good to keep evil at bay, if only temporarily.

When It’s Time to Break the Template

For many critics I’ve been reading, the first half of Season 3, remained true to template. Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) plays law enforcement as the moral center. V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) holds the role of philosopher criminal. And Emmit/Ray Stussy (a dual role for Ewan McGregor) illustrate the over-the-head motif through a Jacob-and-Esau-style sibling rivalry.

And yet, halfway through the season, Fargo changes course. Originally acting as a periphery character, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes the lead and sets the stage for a third-act unfolding a vengeance foreign to the tried-and-true pattern of Fargo.

While different and more ambitious than previous seasons, it’s hard to say that Fargo hit the home run for which it aimed. To me, Season 1 and 2 felt tighter and truer. And yet, Season 3 remains interesting and thought provoking. I’m glad Noah Hawley organized this season around high ambitions. I would much prefer something sloppy-yet-bold rather than the tried-and-true strategy.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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