‘Fargo’ Season 2 Review: FX Drama Avoids the ‘True Detective’ Trap

Series evolves in second season featuring Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson

If the first season of “Fargo” was mostly about a good person who one day did a really, really bad thing, then the highly anticipated follow-up does indeed have something in common with the first. But it’s clear from the opening “Massacre at Sioux Falls” parody that this second season is all about evolution.

Like many anthology series that have appeared in the wake of “American Horror Story,” “Fargo’s” second season features an entirely new cast of characters and the sense that anything can happen to them by the time the 10 episodes are up. The exception is in a 6-year-old Molly Solverson and her father, Lou (played here by Patrick Wilson), who made it out of 1979 intact enough to become the protagonists in the show’s first season.

Sure enough, there are several gruesome murders to get viewers through “Waiting for Dutch,” the season 2 premiere, with plenty of awkward twists to keep the detectives (namely Lou and his father-in-law, Ted Danson‘s Hank Larsson) on their toes. Molly’s mother Betsy (Cristin Milioti) also gets in on the action as an advisor of sorts to her husband, throwing in a nice nod to where Molly eventually gets her ace detective skills from.

Solving the actual crime is just the beginning of the setup, however. As the detectives race to put the pieces together, the local crime family struggles to find its youngest, troublemaking son (Kieran Culkin). Meanwhile, an out of town mob boss (Brad Garrett) has honed in on the family, throwing a wrench in their plans. Then there’s Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed Blomquist (Jesse Plemons), a young couple with ambitious but conflicting dreams.

And that’s where the real key of Fargo’s second season turns. As each of the unique stories unfold, what binds them together is that aspiration. Culkin’s character wants more out of life, figuring he’ll never surpass his two older brothers to take over the family operation. Peggy proclaims she wants to be the best self she can be, while her husband has grandiose dreams of eventually taking over the butcher shop where he works.

It’s all foreshadowed by “actual” events predicting a “me” generation, in which everyday Americans were no longer content to just put in the hours at their job and come home to their traditional family. It was about self-improvement, self-realization and doing what it takes to get to that next level. The characters here embody that whole-heartedly, although the actions they take in order to cover up their mistakes and take back their lives are beyond reprehensible.

Visually, the same types of sweeping shots from the first season are coupled with brilliant split-screens, those can’t-miss accents and that cutting, “Fargo” humor viewers expect from the series. Few other dramas revolving around brutal murders can also induce giggles at every turn, and therein lies the real magic of “Fargo.”

HBO’s “True Detective,” — often compared to the FX series — suffered in its sophomore installment due to a convoluted storyline, uninteresting case and too much hay made over the search for an A-List cast. “Fargo” could have easily fallen into the same trap, opting to recast a newer version of Billy Bob Thornton or keeping the narrative surrounding another bumbling Martin Freeman type. Instead writer and executive producer Noah Hawley upped the game with a sharp, well-developed story involving multiple moving parts. It’s smart, thought out and full of watchable characters with convincing enough motives to create the perfect amount of viewer sympathy. The end result isn’t just a “Fargo” 2.0 (or 3.0 depending on your love of film), but an evolved story that takes television to a whole new level.

“Fargo” Season 2 premieres Monday, Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. on FX.