Season four of the Fargo television series (FX/Hulu) kicked off this week and like the three previous seasons, it is NOT based on a true story. However, that doesn’t mean that history hasn’t influenced it to some degree. Kansas City (Not Fargo, North Dakota) does indeed have a rich criminal history with organizations such as the Black Hand and Pendergast Machine, let’s examine Noah Hawley and which work he is pulling from this time to tell this story.
I have been under the impression that Fargo as a series has been allowed to borrow references/nods and call-backs/call-forwards from the Coen catalogue with their permission. That’s not “ripping off”. That’s just adaptation. Some see the most egregious sin is when he tried to rework one of the most indelible moments in cinema, and maybe modern storytelling as a whole – the “look in your heart” scene from Miller’s Crossing but with none of the power and emotion. Using really powerful moments in different, lesser contexts. I mean, Fargo was written partly with the intent of subverting Hollywood’s depiction of criminals, such as the ones seen on the show, with what the Coen’s perceived as being closer to the truth. That’s why some people could mistakenly believe it was a true story.
Previous seasons of the television version have all been little mish-mashes slash amalgams of the other Coen films but mostly Fargo – lady cops, dum dum hitmen, down on his luck Macys etc. I’ve only seen the first two episodes and I think Season 4 is a nod to The Hudsucker Proxy with the shared eras and use of the language? It seems like the previous three seasons sort of overlooked Hudsucker. There has been some No Country For Old Men characters and Simple Man spin offs but this one looks new. You’ve got rivals swapping kids, the awesome funeral home parents, Timothy Olyphant being Raylan Givens 2.0, a character named Doctor Senator, Jesse Buckley as a polite Jane Toppan like terror and an Easter Egg hinting back at a season 2 villain connection.
If we can infer that The Milligans are probably somehow the ancestors of Mike Milligan, Bokeem Woodbine’s character. Dr. Harvard may be a callback to deaf actor Russell Harvard who played Mr. Wrench, calling the Timothy Olyphant character “Deafy” might be another callback to that actor/character, and who knows what else they might have done. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a dramatic Chris Rock playing the head of a Black organized crime syndicate, who finds himself at odds with an antagonistic outfit of Italian gangsters? And as with previous installments, it is all about Allegory- this time around it is about who gets to be American and how they are recognized as such.
If you have watched the series, would you say Fargo make you think? More importantly, does it make you think constructively and guide you to consider specific issues, instead of just throwing a bunch of unrelated clever questions at you? I think that’s what makes a show smart. Not “smart” … informed. Informed might be a better word. I would say Fargo is both. More importantly, I think it is a lot of fun as well. Also, this season is Raising Arizona.