Because True Detective is competing in the drama category, Noah Hawley’s Fargo has a fighting chance to nab some Emmys in the miniseries category (and like True Detective, Fargo was written entirely by one person). It’ll face stiff competition from Sherlock, a funny, self-aware show that also stars Martin Freeman, and the two shows seem like an apt odd couple to compete for the same statues.
Freely adapted from the Coen brothers’ classic, Oscar-winning 1996 film, Hawley’s series takes great joy in flirting with the Coens’ films while still venturing into uncharted territory. The main characters, initially, are Freeman’s neurotic, hen-pecked real estate loser Lester Nygaard, whose Coen brothers analogue is William H. Macy’s car salesman Jerry Lundegaard, and Bill Bob Thornton’s sinister, mysterious Lorne Malvo. Whereas Macy’s Jerry is a despicable cretin, he’s also a borderline idiot, as are so many Coen brothers characters.
Freeman’s Lester is a creep from the beginning, albeit one that feels emasculated. But as the show goes on, he makes himself feel empowered through the suffering of others (he staples a teenage boy’s neck, has violent sex with his dead enemy’s wife while glaring victoriously at her family photo, and sends his second wife to her death so he can get away). He’s irredeemable, even though we, the viewers, hold on to that last lingering hope that he will ultimately be a good guy — like we did with Tony Soprano and with Walter White.
Malvo has no analog equivalent in the Coen’s movie, but he’s also the most Coen-esque character, oddly. Toward the beginning of the series, Thornton seems to be on a different wavelength than the rest of the cast. As Hawley and his hired-gun directors are consciously uncoupling from the Coen brothers’ classic, the character gradually moving away from the ironic, cryptic whimsy that marks a Coen brothers film, Thornton smirks with the knowing, conspiratorial look of a man with a plan: a schemer. He is, after all, the guy who had a half-naked man stuffed in the trunk of his sedan, the guy who seems to get off to violence.
Well, no, that’s not really true: He doesn’t seem to enjoy the violence as much as he finds its fascinating, like an inquisitive higher being causing ripples in the pool of humanity and examining the repercussions. He’s at once alien and leaden, a hum-drum psychopath. Like Hannibal Lecter, he plays God; unlike Hannibal Lecter, who has exquisitely refined taste and lofty social standing, Malvo seems to exist solely to cause trouble.
As the series goes on, Malvo’s quirky likability dissipates, and he becomes an outright monster that makes Heisenberg look like Mr. Rogers.