‘Fargo’ offers true story of dull lives gone dangerous

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Human hamburger, a shoe up in a tree, a gangland takeover, UFOs, a sociopathic hairdresser, long shots of cars driving down snow-covered roads and twin hitmen.

Yep, sounds like another “Fargo” story.

Things must get pretty weird up around Minnesota and North Dakota. How else could the area foster the twisted tales of murder and dull lives gone dangerous that have built the “Fargo” brand? First there was the Oscar-winning movie and then last year’s television season, separate stories, both built around real crimes.

And now here’s another bizarre true story filled with creepy characters, unlikely events and far-fetched turns told, the opening credits boast, “exactly as it occurred.”

Well, not precisely exactly. A character in the opening episode experiences something he doesn’t live long enough to tell anybody about, so there’s got to be at least a bit of conjecture and license at play here. But if even half of what’s going on actually happened, there’s something in the water up there.

As always, this is a scattered story with multiple moving parts. Among the most dangerous of those parts is the Gerhardt family, which runs a criminal empire from a farmhouse outside Fargo. It’s 1979 and mother Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) has taken over the business since her husband had a stroke, and while amiable son Bear (Angus Sampson) seems fine with that, hothead son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) certainly isn’t. Meanwhile dimwitted son Rye (Kieran Culkin) has disappeared.

It’s an inauspicious time for family feuding, though, since the Kansas City Mafia has decided to move in on the Gerhardts’ territory. This charge is led by Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett), a corporate type, and his main muscle man, the ever-smiling Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), who is assisted by the aforementioned twin hitmen (Todd and Brad Mann).

Wait, this sounds like an outright mob movie. Where are the quaint, deluded or well-meaning regular folk who are integral to a “Fargo” landscape?

They’re all waiting in docile Luverne, Minnesota. That’s where Vietnam vet Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), a state trooper, is based, and where he often works alongside his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson). Then there butcher’s assistant Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons) and his beautician wife, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), and assorted other down home characters.

Other strong characters — most notably the Gerhardts’ bloodless Indian henchman (a chilling Zahn McClarnon) and Luverne’s loquacious lawyer (Nick Offerman) — pop in her and there.

They all get unwittingly wrapped up in the impending mob war when the youngest Gerhardt, Rye, pursues a scam near Luverne. Once he makes his clumsy move, our small town bumpkins will find themselves in a quicksand pit of complications.

Which is the point, of course. “Fargo” revels in presenting ordinary folk with extraordinary problems, in stripping away their everyday guises and peering long and hard at their dark potential. That it can do this through adaptations of true stories makes it all the more jaw-dropping.

It’s the juxtaposition of the mundane, the profane and the hugely coincidental that fuels the “Fargo” universe. It’s wondering what you or those you know would do in similarly strange circumstances. Surely you wouldn’t do THAT. Or would you?





10 p.m. Monday