Forget The Walking Dead, Fargo is The Most Brutal Show on Television

By  · Published on November 18th, 2015

We can’t talk enough about Fargo. And by we, I mean you and I, dear reader. It’s been a long time coming – we’re already 6 episodes into the 10 episode second season of this fantastic show – but that doesn’t change the fact that we need to have a conversation about it.

Remember Game of Thrones in its third and fourth seasons? There was a raw, exposed nerve of unpredictability, especially for viewers not already familiar with George R.R. Martin’s books. The show experienced a lot of death. No one was safe. People have been telling me for weeks that this is where The Walking Dead is in its sixth and current season. On any given Sunday evening, one of your favorite characters can be snatched from you, their previously vivid presence snuffed out in some horrible manner. For shows like this, it’s all about “who” is going to die that brings about the horror.

Fargo is a different sort of beast entirely. Sure, there’s plenty of investment. I really like Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson, the Minnesota State Trooper with the adorably cancer-ridden wife, the young daughter (who is the connective tissue to season one) and the charming relationship with his local sheriff father-in-law (played gruffly by the living legend that is Ted Danson). But if Lou didn’t make it out of this second season – he’s still around through 6 episodes, sorry if that’s a spoiler – I’m not sure I’d be worried so much about the “who” as I would be about the “how” and “when.” Because when Fargo decides that it’s your time to go, you go in an unapologetically harsh manner. Everything is on the table at all times. And the show, oozing with style and kitschy accents, is a finely tuned weapon of anxiety creation. It’s easy to get swept up in the high-wire act, equally enthralled in the beautiful, silky smooth rhythm of its visual presentation, while also being tight as a fisherman’s not inside.

The most recent episode, “Rhinoceros,” is a perfect example of this matching of elegance and pre-trauma storytelling. If you haven’t watched it yet, go catch up. I’ll wait.

What you’ve just seen is an episode that is all about the consequences of sometimes rash decisions. As Kirsten Dunst’s Peggy explains, sometimes we make decisions and it feels like we’re deciding inside a dream. The core theme of Fargo, both seasons now, is that in times of crisis, normal people don’t usually stop and take stock of their options. Bad things don’t happen in a vacuum. And the result of allowing yourself to be hurled forward toward a wrong decision can cause utter chaos.

In the Fargo universe, that chaos is splendid. Chaos is the engine that drives the narrative. And the methods they use to convey this chaos, mostly via split-screen in season 2, amplifies what we already know: that at any one moment, characters are being hurled at each other with immeasurable force. And only rarely, as we saw this week with Nick Offerman’s spectacular scene outside the police station, does reason prevail.

Death comes for us all. Fargo understands that and isn’t intrinsically focused on who gets the bullet, or the clever, or the front end of someone’s car. It’s core goal is to keep us tightly wound, ready for the brutality of the “how” and “when.” Which is what makes it all so exciting. Season 2 appears to be building toward some kind of grizzly, chaotic end. And that’s wonderful, no matter who ends up in the cold ground.

Fargo’s next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” airs on November 23rd at 10pm on FX.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)