Imagine Ted Danson as a backwoods grandpa cop. In season 2 of FX’s Fargo, that’s what you get. Mr. Cheers isn’t the only reason to watch the show. Executive producers Joel and Ethan Cohen have a pedigree of effective storytelling. What makes the Fargo series—season 1, season 2, and hopefully season 3 which has been green-lighted—a success is its setting of Minnesota.
My parents lived in Minnesota for ten years. My sister was born there. I’ve heard stories of how cold it is in the winters and I’m convinced no one knows cold unless they’ve been in that region of North America. I’ve never been, but when I think a lackluster So-Cal day at 60 degrees is chilly, I most assuredly will go comatose in –60 degrees. There’s a story of my grandmother flying from Hawaii to Grand Rapids only to go from paradise to nightmare climate when stepping off the plane into 40 below.
Minnesota is not forgiving.
Fargo does an excellent job in terms of accuracy of the region. The culture there can be defined in one word: polite. One sees it in the temperaments and interactions of the characters. Phrases like “How ya doin?”, “Okie dokie”, and “Thanks a bunch!” are spread throughout and depict authentic parlance. And yes, they love to fish by drilling holes in frozen lakes and hunt with longbows—yes, bows and arrows. My father had a friend who was state champion in the longbow, and proved his skill right in front of him by hitting a deer hundreds of feet away.
What Fargo does so well is capture the eerie mystery to the Minnesotan's polite manners. Some of it’s genuine, some of it isn’t. Beneath the hospitality and friendliness are dirty secrets of corruption, greed, sex, drugs, crime and murder. In the small-town rural landscape of the northern Mid West, one would think the populations don’t deal with the type of problems faced by city dwellers. Well, Fargo proves the quiet spaces of frigid wilderness can become unquiet.
Rural problems mirror city problems. Wives are unhappy in their marriages. Young people are hooked on cocaine. People become discontent with their quiet existences away from activity and distraction, much like an urbanite may long for escape to the country away from a fast-paced, chaotic lifestyle. In a pastoral haven like northern Minnesota, there exist crime lords and gangs controlling illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons. Not unlike those of a metropolis. A cookie-cutter life in the pristine wilderness, or congruous suburban home, can turn to shambles overnight.
In setting Fargo in Minnesota, the producers illuminate one of humanity’s key tenets: we are never safe from ourselves. And blood stains snow more vivid.