Like a snowstorm blowing in across the plains, “Fargo” seemed to become a critical favorite almost without warning. Sure, reviews for the beginning of the first season were positive, but it wasn’t until the critics polls started to pile up that it became clear just how beloved the show had become. While its first season had to overcome the apparent impossibility of adapting the Coen brothers, its second season had to live up to the first — and according to nearly every review, it does. (My own opinion is very much the opposite, but I’ll save further thoughts on that for next week). Rewinding to 1979, the site of an infamous massacre occasionally referenced by police chief Lou Solverson in season 1, “Fargo’s” second season begins with another bloodbath, this one involving the inept son (Kieran Culkin) of a regional crime syndicate — basically the Fredo Corleone of North Dakota. The story, four episodes of which were sent to critics in advance, expands to involve well over a dozen principal characters, but the key ones (so far) are Patrick Wilson as the young Lou Solverson and Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blomquist, a hairdresser whose presence on the wrong road at the wrong time draws her into the bloody circumstances as well. (Let’s just say her husband’s job as a butcher comes in handy.)
Opening with mock on-set footage from a filmed black-and-white reenactment of a Native American massacre starring an offscreen Ronald Reagan, “Fargo’s” second season works a political subtext from its very first scene, repeatedly referencing Vietnam and Watergate, Love Canal and Carter-era malaise. (Reagan is, historically speaking, standing in the wings; he was elected president the following year.) But more than the themes, it’s the cast that has critics buzzing, a roster that includes Jesse Plemons, Ted Danson, Jean Smart, Bokeem Woodbine, and Nick Offerman — and that’s just the short list. Despite the first-episode bloodshed, the season still takes a while to build, but once it gets rolling, it’s something.
Fargo, Season 2, premieres Monday, Oct. 12 on FX.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
The Emmy-winning first season of “Fargo,” the limited series that was inspired by the Coen brothers film of the same name (and quickly earned their hard-to-get endorsement), was a triumph on multiple levels as one of the most creative and evocative works on TV in 2014. The second season proves that was no fluke. It’s thrilling to witness what creator Noah Hawley has dreamed up this time, and how the series fearlessly tackles the task of mixing drama, comedy, goodness, malevolence, hopefulness, tragedy and mundane everyday life — often in the same episodes, sometimes in the same scene. It’s the kind of ambition that can lead to stumbles, but even when it does you appreciate the attempt.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
The second season may be even better than the first. It’s a bigger field and a larger gallery of players, but that and an occasional fondness for overhead shots of the local roadways are about all that “Fargo” season 2 and “True Detective” season 2 have in common. Here’s an anthology miniseries follow-up that recaptures all that worked well in the original, even as it’s forging its own identity.
Brian Lowry, Variety
After “True Detective’s” disappointing second season, “Fargo” could have sent its fellow limited crime series a gift basket for its role in helping to diminish expectations. Yet after watching four episodes of this encore, such thanks turns out to be unnecessary, since FX’s frost-covered drama appears to have equaled its splendid predecessor, capturing the same off-kilter tone while actually enhancing the comedy quotient. If the first series deftly approximated the spirit of its movie namesake, this one works in a cheeky Quentin Tarantino vibe, with results as refreshing and bracing as the region’s abundant snow.
Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone
The audacious and intense second season of FX’s true-crime anthology series improves on the first installment in every detail. The first season achieved the damn-near-impossible task of taking off from the 1996 Coen brothers classic “Fargo “and telling a new story. The second chapter has a different narrative and a new cast — and the confidence level is through the roof.
Dan Jardine, Slant
Hawley’s aim is broader and deeper, and as a result he supersedes the show’s strong inaugural season both in terms of narrative complexity and storytelling sophistication. “Fargo” expresses a worldview that’s bleak, if not entirely cynical. It is, after all, a world where the lines between good and evil are clearly demarcated, and the audience is given decent people to cheer for. Unfortunately, it’s equally clear that these fine people, despite their competence and intrinsic decency, are outmanned by their sinister opposition. The series is many things, including an astute harbinger of things to come in Reagan’s America.
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
There are more Gerhardts – more of “everything” – in the terrifically acted, slow blooming second season of the Emmy-winning crime anthology inspired by the aesthetic and perspective contained within the cinematic oeuvre of Oscar-winning brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. “Miller’s Crossing. The Man Who Wasn’t There. No Country For Old Men”. And, most importantly, the 1996 snow noir classic that gives the series its name. Showrunner Noah Hawley and his collaborators employ a gamut of imaginative and mischievous strategies to create an allegory for a fragmenting and fogged culture at an ideological crossroads, from split-screen storytelling, to a myriad of competing personal narratives, to UFOs as symbols of personal doom and worldview flux, to Reagan himself: He haunts the narrative via fabricated outtakes and scenes from historically dubious Westerns and Red Scare-era sci-fi flicks starring the Hollywood star turned politico.
Allison Keene, Collider
Its greatest triumph is its connectivity. No characters this season feel ancillary, and no deaths are arbitrary. Everything seems part of a greater whole in a way Season 1 never quite managed — its world was almost fully chaotic, whereas Season 2 finds a narrative world that is completely connected. It’s a beautiful thing, both stylistically and substantively, showcasing some of the best acting of the years from nearly everyone in the cast. This time around, Fargo is firing on all cylinders.
Matt Brennan, Thompson on Hollywood
Echoing, or papering over, its preening, multi-pronged treatment of murder in exurban Minnesota as a sign of the times, the second season of “Fargo” veers into mannerism; it’s not any one of the stylistic fillips that can be identified as the culprit so much as their constant collision, an aesthetic pileup on an icy road. For every brutal, darkly comic moment of invention—the slow-motion sight of a severed finger slipping under the door, a pool of blood and spilled milk in a diner’s booth—there’s the long, overwrought montage that begins “Before the Law,” or an unseen narrator reading from the “War of the Worlds” broadcast, as at the conclusion of the season premiere. Inconsistent to the point of frustration, it’s “Fargo”—and not “the whole world,” like Lou suggests—that’s ultimately “out of balance.”