1979. Luverne, Minnesota. Offscreen, Ronald Reagan is being impaled with (fake) arrows whilst the extras playing the wounded soldiers at the massacre of Sioux Falls yell out for blankets to keep them warm whilst they wait. How is this relevant to Fargo, the terrific crime drama that manages to appear implausible whilst actually being directly based on true stories? To be honest, I have no idea. But I’m sure I’ll find out at some point.
‘At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.’ The familiar mantra pops up on the screen and is something that I bear in mind as the episode goes on, trying to wrap my head around how all of this–the odd dancing lights in the sky, the dim-witted younger brother eager to prove himself, and the absurd ritual closing-time goodbyes at the local butchers–actually took place in our world. Fargo is brilliant because it constantly subverts our expectations at the same time as taking place in a normal setting. It’s non-fiction. Believing that it’s not made-up–that’s the challenge.
The toned down wackiness that nudges at the edge of the Fargo reality, verging on hyperreality, is what makes it a compelling series. The emerging technology in the 70s seems banal to us now, especially when a crime family is trying to get in on the distribution of a new model of electric typewriter in Luverne, which makes the events that spiral from this premise even more incredulous. The soundtrack mirrors this unsettled tone, with an atmospheric off-kilter score that is halfway between sound effects and music, like something out of TheTwilightZone.
There are hidden aspects in those around us that we don’t always realise are there. Fargo draws out these dark streaks of their personality, these hidden potentials for violence and murder, out of people and we see them struggle with them, all while trying to maintain an air of normality. Well, at the beginning at least. Sometimes they’re not as scared of that darker side of them as we assume they would be, and sometimes they are. This isn’t done in a pantomime, notorious ‘evil’ way with cackling and glinting eyes under demure blouses. They just don’t shy away from something we logically think they should. It’s uncanny. Strange. Strange, because their former normality is determined to persist. But then that idea of the ordinary gets twisted as the episodes of Fargo reel onwards, which is what I’m looking forward to at the moment.
Nick Offerman and Kirsten Dunst pop up on the screen, amongst other vaguely familiar faces, with Offerman playing a conspiracy-theorist who ironically speaks the most sense with his familiar line from the trailer ‘this thing’s only going to get bigger.’ He’s right, and I cannot wait to see more. From the looks of the shadowy figure at the end lurking behind a whirring projector, digging has already started on someone else’s grave.
Featured image from The Metro.