“Oh what a day,” down-on-his-luck insurance salesman Lester Nygaard laments during the premiere of Fargo.
The FX series loosely based on the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film follows Lester (played by Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman), who is unaware that that day — his whole life, in fact — is about to get a lot worse, courtesy of the complicated character sitting next to him in a hospital waiting room.
Lorne Malvo (played by Billy Bob Thornton, Slingblade) calmly listens to Lester’s story about how he’d recently been bested again by a bully he’s known since high school, then makes a simple, psychotic offer: He’ll kill the bully, named Sam Hess, if Lester wishes.
Lester nervously laughs off the offer, not knowing that Lorne is a hired assassin who wound up in the Minnesota town by accident and has decided he’s going to stay a while.
Lorne unrepentantly creates chaos wherever he goes, and it doesn’t take long before Lester realizes that the killer made good on his offer to off Sam. “I never said yes!” Lester whispers, panicked. “You didn’t say no,” Lorne purrs.
The murderer lives by a code he then shares with his new pal: “Your problem is, you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There are none.”
Imbued with Lorne’s alpha-male nonsense, Lester returns home and impulsively drives a hammer into his shrewish wife’s skull during a fight. He quickly freaks and calls Lorne to help with the clean-up… but the local police chief (Shawn Doyle, Big Love), following a tip that Lester and Lorne had spoken at the ER, gets to the Nygaard home first.
Moments after the chief notices blood on Lester’s floor and calls for backup, he’s felled by a couple of shots from Lorne, who has quietly snuck out the back. His colleague Molly (relative newcomer Allison Tolman) arrives on the scene to find two corpses and the body of an unconscious Lester, who’s realized that Lorne fled the scene and quickly chose to fake a home invasion.
Meanwhile, Lorne makes tracks for Duluth, where his erratic driving causes lawman Gus Grimley (Colin Hanks, Dexter) to pull him over. But a menacing Lorne warns Gus to walk away, and the spooked cop does.
The cast also includes Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad) as Molly’s slightly dim fellow officer, Keith Carradine (Dexter) as Molly’s diner-owning dad, and Kate Walsh (Private Practice) as Sam’s not-that-grieving widow.
The series is darkly comic and violent in a way that fans of Breaking Bad or True Detective will find familiar. And, like the latter series, it’s set up as an anthology – meaning this self-contained season will have its own beginning, middle and end; if there are future seasons, they’ll center on different characters and circumstances. The format lends itself to tight storytelling, and with the talented Thornton insinuating his dark character into this salt-of-the-earth community, Fargo is likely to be a wild, snow-covered ride.
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