Fargo: secrets and success of an anthological fairy tale about reality

Almost 25 years have passed since the period that marked the release of Fargo in theaters and which allowed the whole world to get to know the cinema of the Coen brothers. Thanks to the peculiar use of black humor in an ambiguous, dense and nuanced context, the two directors managed to consecrate themselves to the eyes of the general public as great authors, gaining a prominent place among the main filmmakers of our time. Fargo, with its atmospheres and its multiple levels of interpretation, immediately made it clear to the spectators that under that veil of references to the grotesque and situations bordering on bewilderment, something very different was hidden: a constant dialogue between themes and elements intertwined by the thin thread of violence, which made it possible to face the contrast between the real and the unexpected with no frills and merciless rawness.

These pivotal points, peppered with clear and recognizable stylistic elements, were the basis for the FX network, when it ordered the creation of a TV series inspired by the Coens’ feature film in 2014. From the skilled hands of Noah Hawley thus came Fargo – The Series, a work that has upset the television series reaching the highest peaks of the medium. The showrunner, who more than any other seems to have understood the spirit behind the creature of those who in the meantime have become two cinema giants, has created an anthological series that does not aim to follow the Coen trait, but to exploit it to move towards a new design. Although far from the events of the film, the series takes up its spirit in a more than faithful way, even evolving its language and elevating it in all its parts.

Over the course of three seasons – pending the fourth season of Fargo, now close to its arrival in Italy – the FX production has acquired more and more allegorical charge and narrative depth: focusing the analysis on the complex relationship that the show has with the work of reference and digging deep into the new developments that led to its success, it will be possible to see much more secret and unsettling interpretations of its surface.

A blow to the heart … of the narrative

From the very first scenes, the entire narrative of the feature film and the series has shown itself to be similar in its most direct and obvious aspect: a tale of the real, the common and the banal, that suddenly goes mad faced with an absurd event, an unexpected turning point.

The whole merry-go-round of meanings revolves around the construction and search for the meaning of this event Fargo: truth and reality are always present, even in the face of the unimaginable, but they lead the common man to distort his own nature in the face of a possibly favorable situation. In that moment, where every trust falters and every logic begins to change, the tale of the common man turns into a criminal epic. And the series re-proposes this theme by altering times, spaces and contexts

“Fargo is not a place, it is a state of mind. It is a true criminal story where reality is stranger than fiction and the good guys have to face something horrible”. Hawley, as well as the Coens, highlights the importance of the concepts of truth and history at the basis of his narrative. We do not look back, we seek new answers. Even without its parent minds, the world of Fargo it works and moves freely between its lights and its horrors, showing the distinctive and recognizable elements of that film world without ever revealing itself as its actual representation.

While playing with references and quotations, the only one Red string that binds the opera, the series and its various seasons is the tale of crime in the American mid-west, with particular emphasis on that “True Criminal History”. Behind these words lies precisely that conflict between good and evil, between truth and history (or story) that intertwine and mess up each other, battling each other with no holds barred.

In fact, each story manages to show itself similar in the atmosphere, but always different and evolved in what it communicates: if the first, phenomenal season focuses on conceptual references to the film and on providing solid foundations for the dialogue of subsequent stories, concentrating the dominance of the scene on a few key characters, already the second one moves away from it by adopting a choral style and more ” absurd “- net of the interesting temporal link with previous episodes.

A rudimentary form of evolutionary thesis based on antithetical elements, which with the third season becomes a synthesis: after two excellent seasons, the last episodes of the anthological series close the circle perfectly and allow us to fully understand the complex design of Hawley and associates.

Contrast: a key to understanding

Excluding analysis and plot spoilers, it will be easy to guess that the real engine of the narrative lies in the individuals who inhabit the stories and the world: the characters of Fargo, each with its own character, represent the only element observable directly by the viewer to receive what happens in the appropriate way. These subjects live the contrast, they are part of it and at the same time they are consumed by it: if on the one hand there are characters of strong moral value, with nothing to hide, on the other anarchist forces constantly move under the track, mysterious and inscrutable.

Yet the most disturbing and fascinating detail lies exactly in the limbo between the two sides the element that takes the dialogue of the show to another level is represented by the subject reacting to the unexpected: the ordinary being who, faced with the randomness of fate, finds himself having to face the consequences of his choices and avoid everything else.

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Following the course of their misadventures in their respective narrative arcs, three cycles are configured that are repeated in different ways: the “good ones” often arrive at their own truths or at a resolution of their conflict, but never to a real victory – just think of Molly in the first season, her father in the second or Gloria in the third.

The “mysterious” are configured as pure agents of chaos, with objectives for their own sake, never granting real answers on their work; the “protagonists”, taking an extreme choice, caress the idea of ​​getting away with it but end up paying the bill for a fortune they don’t deserve – see Lester in the first season, Peggy in the second or Emmit in the third.

Observing with particular attention, the unexpected can be considered as a character above all suspicion: moving through the darkness of the world, relying on its secrets and the most mysterious characters, this dark force often takes over in the twisted intrigues of the events narrated.

Of violence, truth and lies

In fact, faced with the absurdity of violence that strikes the characters and the spectator himself, it is inevitable to ask oneself where the meaning of reality lies in events that appear crazy and meaningless. Everything acquires more and more macabre outlines for the characters themselves, who find the affection of their loved ones as their only refuge from chaos. But, however unthinkable, violence also has its logic: it acts on the basis of the truths the characters tell, those they tend to hide and those they try to make credible in the eyes of others. As evidenced by the characteristic poster of the first season of the series, it is the dialogue between the truths of each that makes the intertwining of Fargo, bringing to light realities far more absurd than the lies that the characters try to make believe.

Yet, as already mentioned, violence maintains its link with reality despite events turning towards the incredible. On the one hand, it represents the only instrument of effective liberation of being; on the other, it shows itself fragile when fate claims those who have used it. In the world of Fargo there is an ineluctable sense of justice that hits coldly who is not worthy of the peace and success gained through certain means.

The aforementioned is linked to these concepts dialogue between truth and lies: already in the first season this is the engine that, as in the film, leads Lester to his actions, as he is strong in his own truth and intent on making it real. In this, the second season tackles the subject much more directly, bringing to the stage a veritable “problem of language” – the constant alternation between what one says and what one thinks.

The third, on the other hand, aims to exploit it to make any natural element complex, highlighting how the context has been so changed by the stories that the truths, however easily detectable, are considered absurd.
In a world like that of Fargo, who relies so heavily on beliefs and truths, anyone can be considered right despite everything, and for this reason the full understanding of the truth is always more complex than it should be. As the fish hint, who says you are the wrong one? Who says you are not right and others are wrong?

The importance of the Order

If one thing always emerges, in every season of the series, it is the absence of control. The characters are unable to be fully masters of themselves and, indeed, always find external and violent forces that alter the course of their actions. Hawley understood how important the illusion of control is for a character – and therefore also for the viewer: order is the thing that the human being needs most of all and, if absent, it leads him more easily to get lost.

That’s why all the characters in Fargo they constantly try to rearrange and rearrange themselves, to recompose compromised balances. It may seem that chance acts without criteria, that fate has no answers, and it is there that man trembles in the face of his own uncertainties. Rather than asking whether it is possible to decipher the meaning of a world devoid of truth, the series surpasses itself when it demonstrates that, beyond questions and perplexities, reality remains as a function of the search for order.

Even in the face of absurdity, order leads man to move in reality and therefore to continue interacting with it, seeking its meaning. The thought of Hawley and his creature might seem tremendously selfish, but just like in a fairy tale it shows its cold morality: we need things to make sense and we want reality, but we’re always too interested in stories to fully grasp it.

Storytelling proves to be a very strong tool, therefore, which, despite the absurdities of the case, leads the observer to remain within the narrative, focused and eager for meaning. In this, the policemen and the lawmen embody order in a world full of fragility, but also the spectator, with his questions, his truths and his desires. That’s why, despite everything, there will always be a “policeman” in Fargo.


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