Fargo: TV that tells the truth in Trump's post-truth world

Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, right, with  Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz in Fargo, season three.

Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, right, with Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz in Fargo, season three.

When it was announced that there was to be a small-screen spin-off of Fargo, the classic 1996 Coen brothers thriller set in the snowy expanses of North Dakota and Minnesota, there was understandable scepticism about whether it could live up to the directors' idiosyncratic vision.

And yet the first series scooped both the Emmy and the Golden Globe awards for mini-series, managing to replicate the film's mix of folksy humour and intense menace.

"But the Coen brothers never make the same movie twice, so, my feeling was, well we can't either," says the show's creator, Noah Hawley.

David Thewlis is among the new cast of Fargo.
Eamonn M. McCormack

David Thewlis is among the new cast of Fargo.

To that end, no matter the success of the previous one, every season of Fargo is a brand new story – season one was set in 2006, season two in 1979 – albeit taking place in the same set of small Midwestern towns, and with connections threading and weaving between the stories.  

READ MORE: Ewen McGregor on his Fargo role

Similarly, season three, which began airing on SoHo on April 20, is set in the 'city' of St Cloud, and the (even) smaller town of Eden Valley, Minnesota, in December 2010.

At the centre of the brand new band of characters are brothers Emmitt and Ray Stussy, both played by Ewan McGregor. Emmitt is a wealthy, self-made success story, 'the parking lot king of Minnesota', while Ray is a lowly parole officer; the sibling rivalry that dogs their relationship is one source of this season's drama.

It is not, however, the source of the malevolence and evil which has become a calling card of the Fargo anthology. This time, that is embodied by the mysterious VM Varga, played by David Thewlis.

"He's a true capitalist whose only interest in humanity is how he can exploit it, and he's certainly someone who's into exploitation," says Thewlis. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, Vargas is working in the shady margins of the sector. "He's all about the accumulation of great, great, great wealth, although he's not ostentatious - he doesn't display it."

Indeed, Varga lives in a truck, albeit a tricked-out truck that looks more like a control room inside, with a sinister bank of mainframe computers.

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"He's living under the radar, literally," says Thewlis, who also believes Varga to be the most esoteric character he has ever played. "He certainly doesn't socialise, you rarely see him out and about, and you wouldn't notice him if you sat next to him on a plane. When he flies, he flies economy, and his tie is secondhand. He's trying not draw attention to himself as a rich man or give away who he's working for."

Unlike the dastardly character of previous seasons, Varga is not a violent, blood-spilling force, but, according to Thewlis, "more insidious and pervasive, working his way into people and systems like a cancer". His reach extends to the cyber identity of others. "But anyone who tries to get into his system is punished for it."

On the side of the angels, or, at least, attempting to do some good, is Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon. "Noah's so great at slightly reinventing the show every season," she says. "He'll take a trope like the female sheriff and make her a little bit on edge or a little depressed."

Gloria is, perhaps, both. "She's at a real low point in her life," says Coon. "She's going through a divorce, she's raising her twelve-year-old son as more or less a single mother, and she's getting back into the dating world. And she's about to be demoted in her job because her tiny police precinct [so small that it shares space with the town's public library] is being absorbed by the county – she'll no longer be the chief anymore."

Added to which, she feels like a woman out of time, with serious Luddite tendencies; she eschews using a computer for her police work, choosing to hand-write reports instead. "She looks around and sees all these people on their cell phones and says: 'Everybody feels that they're being brought closer together because of this technology but all I see is people not connecting to each other'."'

Though the action takes place seven years ago, it's impossible not to view this season in the context of the current political turmoil in the US and elsewhere. "Every season starts with the claim that this is a true story, when we know very well it is not," says Thewlis. "And there are elements in the show regarding what truth is that may be pertinent in terms of where we are in the world today."

The subversive, ever-surprising show is not so explicit as to mention the notions of 'alternative facts' or 'fake news'. ''But quite a lot of this series has been written in recent months, during the first 100 days of Trump's presidency," says Thewlis. "And there are elements of today's world being discussed within it."

Fargo is now screening on SoHo and Neon.

 

 - Sunday Star Times

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