Icy Villains, Cool Lawmen Make ‘Fargo’ Season 2 Worth the Trip

FX’s outstanding noir series returns with a new cast, a new story and no signs of a sophomore slump.
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Tracy Phillips
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FX’s outstanding noir series returns with a new cast, a new story and no signs of a sophomore slump.

The first season of the widely acclaimed series Fargo defied the odds against movie-to-TV remakes and turned out terrific.

The second season of Fargo, which premieres Monday, is set to do it again, and maybe even better, from the looks of the first four episodes we’ve seen.

The “true crime” anthology series from FX delivers a chilling new tale -- a prequel story featuring a big-name cast of colorful characters who say “You betcha” and “Okay, then” a heck of a lot. The show resets itself with a trip back in time for a new crime, but it’s familiar territory: A snowy landscape littered with violence. (This time, there’s a meat grinder instead of a wood chipper.)

Fargo Season 2 Zahn McClarnon Photo

Zahn McClarnon as Ohanzee Dent. (Photo: Mathias Clamer/FX)

The Time: 1979. The Place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Luverne, Minnesota. The Crime: a massacre at a Waffle Hut.

State trooper and Vietnam vet Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) is on the case (the older Lou was played by Keith Carradine in Season 1), along with Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), who also happens to be his father-in-law. (How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti plays another doomed mother role as Lou’s cancer-stricken wife and six-year-old Molly’s mom.)

Their investigation into a triple murder at the Waffle joint will lead them to a Mafia war brewing between a small-town crime family led by Designing Women’s Jean Smart and a major Kansas City crime syndicate that has Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett as its front man.

Fargo Season 2 Kirsten Dunst Photo

Kirsten Dunst as Peggy. (Photo: Mathias Clamer/FX)

Then there’s Ed the butcher and Peggy the beautician. The married couple, played by Kirsten Dunst and Breaking Bad’s Jessie Plemmons, are involved in an unfortunate hit-and-run accident that ropes them into the mayhem.

Dunst was the first one to sign on to Season 2. “I read two of the episodes, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this character is going to go places, and I need to play her.’ Peggy is legendary,” the actress told reporters at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles.

Like the Oscar-winning 1996 Coen Brothers film that inspired the TV series, the hook of the storytelling is having streaks of violence infused with dark humor and absurdist moments. Creator/executive producer Noah Hawley appears to have mastered the right balance.

Fargo Season 2 Ted Danson Photo

Ted Danson as Hank Larsson. (Photo: Mathias Clamer/FX)

It’s the writing that hooked Ted Danson.

“You’re laughing at some of the most violent things you could think of,” Danson told Bio and a small group of reporters following a Fargo press conference. “The fact that it is legitimately earned by the writing, and the situation, is just astounding.”

The co-mingling plots are all building toward the looming family war (both internally and externally) that’s sure to be a powerhouse showdown.

Ya have yer menacing dimwits versus upstanding lawmen, and yer corporate mafia goons versus a mom-and-pop crime organization.

Fargo Season 2 Jean Smart Photo

Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt. (Photo: Mathias Clamer/FX)

The Pop of the Gerhardt clan has just had a stroke, so Mom (whom we already love because her name is Floyd) takes over the family business with her three sons. A mob matriarch at the helm in the 1970s? That comes much to the dismay of her disgruntled eldest son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan, playing wonderfully against type from his Burn Notice days), who thinks he should inherit his father’s throne sooner rather than later. Let’s just say Dodd thinks more with his fists than his head, so Mom’s reluctant. A power struggle ensues.

“I was lucky to be given Dodd, I don’t think a lot of people saw me coming off Burn Notice playing a 200-pound thug with a thick Fargo accent,” Donovan told reporters. “After seven years of a very groomed and coifed character that was always the smartest guy in the room, it was a joy to be the dumbest guy in the room, on set and in the show,” he joked.

Donovan’s Dodd is certainly quite the character – watch him whoop some ass, then order a glazed donut without missing a beat. Zahn McClarnon is another standout, portraying Native American Ohanzee Dent, the Gerhardt’s right-hand man, with commanding presence. And Nick Offerman, as boozy lawyer Karl Weathers, is a treat, as usual.

Fargo Season 2 Bokeem Woodbine Photo

Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan. (Photo: Mathias Clamer/FX)

But it just might be Bokeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan – Kansas City’s “enforcer” – who emerges as a favorite.

“Mike Milligan is a gift from the actor gods,” Woodbine told TV critics. “There’s a lot of complexity on different levels to him. He’s a bit of a jester. He’s sinister. He’s so focused that it’s sociopathic...It’s easily my most favorite role to date.”

After one intense, guns-drawn showdown with Lou Solverson, Mike cheekily drops a famous line of the era, quoting Nixon: “I am not a crook.”

But he is a crook, and he steals every scene.

Fargo premieres Monday, October 12 at 10/9c on FX.