This is a true story. The events depicted took place in California in 2014. At the request of the writer, the names have remain unchanged. Out of respect for the still living, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
In case you didn't get the reference, each episode—and, apparently, the beginning of the film, too—begins with a variation of this line, which I edited for the purpose of this article. According to showrunner Noah Hawley, however, the statement and the events of the television series are actually completely fictional. He uses the warning as an homage to the Coen Brothers' film, which was largely based on several accounts of true stories woven into one narrative with some fictional elements. All in all, whether any of the series is fictional or not is inconsequential to the series itself.
When I saw the commercials advertising the new series before its April 15, 2014 air date, I thought it a quirky concept that only my film friends would appreciate (ironically, none of them has yet to watch the show). The only names and faces I recognized from the cast were Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, and I was surprised to see Colin Hanks in a pivotal role when the series began. Toward the end, however, the major power players of the cast were Thornton, Freeman, and Allison Tolman, who plays the up-and-coming sleuth of a police officer, Deputy Molly Solverson.
Set mainly in Bemidji, Minnesota, with a few scenes in Duluth and Fargo, North Dakota, the television series tells a brilliant whodunnit, fall from grace (or rise to power, depending on your perspective) story about Lester Nygaard (Freeman), a mousy insurance agent and frequent victim who happens upon Lorne Malvo (Thornton) on one fateful day. Malvo, a hitman of sorts, becomes Nygaard's metaphoric evil genie in a bottle as he grants him one wish of revenge against an old high school buddy.
As things start to quickly slide downhill for Nygaard when his wish comes true, he, Deputy Solverson, and Officer Gus Grimly (Hanks) become mired in a deadly rebellion led by lone wolf Malvo against a crime organization based in Fargo and their own hitmen sent to eliminate Malvo. To keep himself ahead of Deputy Solverson's pursuit for the truth, Nygaard learns to become something of a shadow of Malvo's evil as he finally discovers something that he and his peers felt was missing from his life.
The biggest draw for me into the series was Thornton's deliciously evil role as the seasoned, light-hearted serial killer with clever philosophies, riddles, and a biblical undertone that make his flavor of evil that much more otherworldly. Paired with his goofy, awkward appearance and knack for shedding identities, Malvo's antagonism is only that much more potent and attractive with Thornton fulfilling the role.
Tagging along on Malvo's sinister coattails is Freeman's clever Nygaard character, whom I can't help but see as Bilbo Baggins, fully corrupted by the One Ring yet still hiding behind the disarming hobbit personality. Freeman really played up the slow scenes in which we see Nygaard slowly slip into madness and begin turning the gears of scheming and betrayal in his mind.
The main heroes of the story, Deputy Solverson and Officer Grimly, get their fair share of development as well. Tolman and Hanks both play underdog characters in a placid society of peace, quiet, and conformity who soon realize that to solve the mysteries of Nygaard and Malvo, they need to break the mold and work together against the objections of their superiors. Perhaps the real breakout star of the series is Tolman, whose acting credits have thus far been limited to three minor roles (including a nurse role in one episode of Prison Break) and the pivotal role of Deputy Solverson.
The sound production is one of the highlights of the series as well: the audience quickly learns to identify Nygaard's further descent into madness with the audio cue of the faint rumbling of his malfunctioning clothes dryer, which plays a pivotal role at the beginning of his descent. The soundtrack sets the mood with its melodramatic, Siberian (I'm not sure if that's a proper way to describe the music subgenre) strings and horns to illustrate the sad and sober dark comedy of the plot. The cinematography is absolutely surreal and gorgeous: the stark white snow, the gray overcast skies, and the suburban, almost rural setting create a melancholic wonderland of simpletons in paradise (no offense to the actual residents of the real-world locations).
At the end of almost every episode was an "oh shit!" moment (at least for me) that hooked me to watch every next episode. The series is overall excellently written, and the cast was carefully and expertly chosen. My favorite scene of all was toward the end of the pilot episode in which Officer Grimly encounters Malvo for the first time. This scene really sets the tone for the rest of the series: "Because some roads you shouldn't go down. Because maps used to say, 'There be dragons here.' Now they don't. But that don't mean the dragons aren't there." Definitely check FX's Fargo out when you get the chance. You won't regret it.
Who was your favorite Fargo character? How did the series live up to the legacy of the film? I want to hear what you have to say about Fargo and its infinite glory in the comments section below! And don't forget to +1 and share this review with your friends who've yet to experience its genius.