Fargo is Back For An Unexpected (And Exceptional) Fifth Season

David B Morris
8 min readNov 30, 2023

And Minnesota Ain’t So Nice Anymore

Jon Hamm becomes the monster we all knew he could be and its glorious fun.

In the middle of seeing Fargo for the first time in 1996 Gene Siskel turned to Roger Ebert and said: “This is why I love going to the movies.” I have felt the exact same way every time Noah Hawley brings forth another version of the incredible TV adaption of Fargo to FX; blessed that I am able to glory in his genius.

The first three seasons were considered utter masterpieces by critics and audiences. For reasons I have never truly comprehended the fourth season, set in 1950 Kansas City with Chris Rock as the head of a black gang in the midst of an outrageous gang war, was never anywhere near as highly regarded by either group. I didn’t feel that way; I gave it five stars and ranked it as one of my ten best shows of 2020. It was, as the narration told us, a history lesson not just for the America we were living in (in the summer of 2020 when it was supposed to originally air it was more relevant) but in the nature of the saga that we had spent the previous three seasons learning about. While it might not have had the feel of the previous three seasons, it certainly had the scope of a Coen Brothers film; I’m pretty sure we got references to Miller’s Crossing and The Man Who Wasn’t There and the ‘East/West’ episode ended with a reference right out of A Serious Man. I was immensely disappointed when it went home empty handed not merely from the Emmys, but almost every other awards show (though not the HCA, which was just one of the reason it got on my good side right away.)

Hawley seemed to imply at the end of Season 4 that was all we were going to get, and if it had been that would have been more than enough for me. But Hawley got inspired in the summer of 2022 and said he was working on a fifth season. Now in the winter of 2023, we have been fortunate enough to get Season 5 and order has been restored to the critical universe. The raves for the fifth season have been universal across the board, not just for the entire cast and crew but because it is close as we have gotten to the original film since Hawley started writing version of it nearly a decade ago. The Easter Eggs were obvious by far in the first two episodes. I’ve only gotten through the first two episodes and what I have seen is magnificent.

The season premiere started with a definition of Minnesota Nice, the term that Hawley has used throughout the first three season and then immediately cut to a brawl in a school board fight. We should not be truly shocked about this; in the most recent chronological season (Season 3) Hawley wrote that we were witnessing the end of Minnesota Nice and the real world had infiltrated it. We don’t truly have to be told that this ‘true story’ is taking place in 2019; every aspect of it is built to remind us that we are in the midst of the previous administration even if we have yet to see anyone wearing a MAGA cap.

We are introduced to Dot Lyon (Juno Temple) being hauled away by a state trooper after tasing one of the teachers. “You don’t want to get between a mama lion and her cub,” she tells the trooper who is Hindi, but Frances McDormand all the same. Dot is booked and handcuffed but released thanks to her husband Steve, a man so much of a milquetoast he makes William H. Macy’s character a he-man by comparison. Yes, he is a car salesman with a rich family (and yes, in the second episode we see him at his dealership complaining about the VIN numbers)

The Lyons all go the mother’s mansion, where she is guarded by security, and has an attorney who has an unexplained eye-patch (Dave Foley!) and where they all they take a Christmas card photo (even though it isn’t even Halloween) carrying AK-47’s. The mother is played with great relish by Jennifer Jason Leigh, clearly having the time of her life as a woman who looks down on everybody and probably came lots of money to all the Republican Candidates in the election but didn’t bother to vote (too plebian)

The next day, when her husband takes her daughter off to school, two men in masks come to her door. We know this set up, but it definitely doesn’t play the same. Dot’s reaction is to begin to perform as if she were the female Kevin McCallister, incinerating one of them with hairspray and a blowtorch. She manages to elude them but it still captured. Her husband find the house broken into and calls the police, thinking it’s a kidnapping. The mother is bemused by this.

The kidnappers are clearly modeled after Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, though the larger one does speak more and is far more imposing. They are stopped by troopers on the road, but in this scenario Dot manages to escape. One trooper is killed: one wounded. Both Dot and the surviving trooper (Lamone Morris) get to a nearby service station. Dot gets their first, and starts laying traps, in pure Home Alone fashion, one of them is near a commode. There is a shootout that unfolds, one hood dies, one walks aways. And then Dot runs off saying: “This isn’t my first getaway.”

And then she comes back home and tells her husband that nothing happened. She was just in a mood, and she wants to forget all about it. That’s when we know we’re not in Fargo any more.

We see hints in much of the first episode of who Dot’s terrified of. In the next episode we meet him: Roy, the sheriff of a North Dakota town who says he is the judge of what is right and what is wrong. He says he has been elected to defend the laws of the Constitution, but by that point we know the only part is uniformly in favor of is the second Amendment and that he’s more fond of the Ten Commandments and probably Old Testament justice. Roy wants Dot back, saying she’s his wife. By this point Roy had remarried and has a son, Gator who is his (this may be the Strangest role Joe Kerry’s played yet) a man who is an incel in the making. You get the feeling watching Roy that he would have no problem with polygamy, considering we see he believes a woman must be dominated by a man in every respect. The problem is, he also thinks because he is the law he does not need to share any details with those beneath him, which is everybody else. When Wrench (the survivor) returns to after being beaten, he is enraged that he wasn’t given proper information and Roy and Gator feel he is unworthy because a woman disposed of him. Roy clearly equates being the law as being God and he doesn’t seem capable of understanding how people can just escape his wrath, something that Wrench does over four people who try to kill him the first time and then later in the second episode where he does so yet again.

After nearly fifteen years of just playing antiheroes Jon Hamm is clearly relishing getting to play someone who is pure evil incarnate. He doesn’t chew scenery (it’s not something he’s capable of) but he sure as hell licks it every time he says dialogue. And he still looks good. “Does my discussing law in nude repose bother you?” he tells a female FBI agent while bathing in a hot tub. Roy is capable of violence but not rage; I’d love to see how this turns out.

This is another glorious season and among other glories it is the first installment where a female antihero is at the center of the action. We’ve seen great versions throughout the series of course; Jean Smart’s matriarchal crime boss; Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s blackmailer; Jessie Buckley’s poisoner but Juno Temple’s Dot is unlike any we’ve seen before. Dot is clearly a survivor and she’s also a powerhouse hiding behind a soccer mom appearance; she has the perfectly natural Minnesota nice accent but is capable of calling her mother-in-law a bitch when she thinks she’s being threatened. She wants to protect her family, but she wants to keep her secret as long as possible. Right now, Wayne is so clearly in love with her (and so utterly easy to manipulate) that he seems willing to go along with everything she does and says, which can take some real leaps. “Why is there a sledgehammer in our hallway?” he asks justifiably at the end of the last episode and is so easily mowed under by Dot’s explanation. Dot has already proven herself up to the challenging of escaping from the outlaws; the question is can she from the in-law. Wayne’s mother is rich and powerful and does not trust her (justifiably to be sure) and it’s pretty clear that she’d be willing to sacrifice her son to keep herself safe. (“Slap him,” she tells her attorney over the speakerphone at one point, something he’s more than willing to do and not gently.)

I know Fargo well enough to know that there will be a lot of blood, but there has been already; at last count six people have been killed in two episodes; three by Wrench alone. And like so many episodes of Fargo, good might be able to triumph primarily because evil is dumb; certainly Gator is and it doesn’t look like many of Roy’s deputies are much brighter. They have a lot of firepower and they’re definitely stronger in weaponry and number, but anyone who remembers Sioux Falls knows all that might mean is a lot of people will end up dead along the way. The question is whether the few forces of good, which are right now these two troopers, can prevail or even survive.

I also want to know what the link between this story and the ones we have previously witnessed will be. The final moments of Season 4 revealed that the entire series is not just an anthology but a long interlocking story spread across decades. We’ve already received lots of Easter eggs for the movie; I want to see one for previous seasons.

I actually got better news even before the fifth season of Fargo debuted; Noah Hawley who once thought that the third season would be its last, now says he has idea for several more ‘true stories’ then he did. If any of them are even just a hint as good as this one is proven to be — or indeed any of the previous four — we might be in for years more of travails in Minnesota. Perhaps Hawley and his crew will get their share of Emmy nominations and maybe even some awards this time around. Fargo has not received nearly the love it deserves from the Emmys over the years (though to be fair Seasons 2 and 3 had to go up against People V. O.J. Simpson and Big Little Lies, respectively). It does seem that everybody’s glad that we got another version of it and hopefully ‘out of respect for the dead’, this show can get a lot of love from its fellow organizations in the months to come. In an era of uncertainty for the medium Fargo is why we love television in the first place.

My score: 5 stars.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.