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Fargo thwarts the sophomore slump by completely reinventing itself

In its second season premiere, which aired on FX last night, Fargo was born anew.

The latest episode of the so-called limited series, ostensibly based on the Coen brothers film of the same name, indicated no interest in catering to fans of the first season. Nearly all of its characters are gone (and the ones who remain are unrecognizable). The change in era — from the 2000s to the end of the 1970s — effectively transforms the entire, distinctive setting.

What harkens back to season 1 are the stylistic markers: the mixture of wide shots and close-ups, the fearlessness in employing static, quiet shots, the way that tension is built so masterfully. Most reminiscent of the previous season is the tonal mash-up of gruesome violence and occasionally hokey comedy that lies front-and-center.

But for all intents and purposes, Fargo season 2 isn't much of a season 2 at all. It's a brand new show built by the previous series' team and riffing on some of its major components.

The show works so well because of its fearlessness in displacing the viewer, while still offering some of the core elements that were so effective in its first outing.

fargo still

While Polygon's True Detective beat reporter Dave Tach liked that show's sophomore offering more than most, the consensus was that it failed to capture the magic of the HBO hit's debut. As another show operating under the "limited" nomenclature with a similar, yet not as fervent, amount of hype surrounding it, Fargo had a lot riding on it for its second season. But where True Detective was hindered by its expectations, Fargo takes another route completely: ignoring them.

Because it was based on an existing property, the classic 1996 dark comedy film, the first season had far more to prove than True Detective, which was well-received out of the gate and without preconceived notions about its quality and direction. Fargo took some time to properly shake its comparisons, but hit its stride halfway through its short season. Winning over staunch Coen fans might have been its toughest battle, and having succeeded there, the team behind Fargo has now seemingly won the right to do as it wishes with the show.

Fargo's second season caters to those who appreciate the show for its atmosphere, craft and storytelling. Some of the beats echo season 1 with particular volume: Kirsten Dunst's character is effectively this season's gender-bent Lester Nygaard, for instance, and the clash between Midwestern niceties and bloody gore is still at the forefront.

Ultimately, however, the complete obscurity with which the plot unfolds — no characters are named until the very end of the show, and the main cast is introduced more than halfway through the first episode — renders Fargo season 2 something new entirely.

And that something is well-worth the watch thus far, for those who are interested in the unique and exciting stylistic affordances of a show that is looking only to please itself.

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