The television show Fargo has concluded its third--and quite possibly final--season, and I'm no less amazed today than when I first watched Billy Bob Thornton take Martin Freeman under his antagonistic wing in Episode 1. The entire series exemplifies unrelentingly powerful and morosely fun performances from actors like those, as well as Ewan McGregor, Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, and even Ted Danson, to name a few.
But this show confidently and comfortably moves beyond its stellar performances, beautiful cinematography, and pleasant music, and makes itself at home in where it really shines. The real beauty of Fargo rests in its effortless ability to dance in both the formal ballroom of objective plot progression, while still enjoying the spontaneous jazz-bar of postmodern value theory.
It has consistently succeeded in blending dark, existential humor with the lightheartedness of a small town feel; pairing bleak nihilistic implications with bright and sunny environmental aesthetics; and even telling of the mundane life of running a parking lot business, while economic takeovers from international mafia loom ever so closely. Did I say succeeded? I meant mastered!
This is quite the narrative achievement in any climate, but it's paramountly relevant for our hybrid modern/postmodern culture today. So why should you care, and is catering to this sort of hybrid culture by recommending one narrative method over another even good? Here are 2 brief reasons why I think it is right, and in explaining them you'll hopefully see what I did.
Before moving further though, I first want to add one caveat: Fargo is dark. Although it's on network television, as opposed to a "movie channel" or the likes, it has some noticeably heavy/hard-to-watch--and even grisly--scenes. That being said, I cannot say this show is for everyone, so keep that in mind.
1) Phenomenological freedom within the bounds of a snow globe
In my opinion, the greatest achievement of the show is in how it genuinely allows each character to be their unique self. By this I mean they are like real people, though vastly different, with the contrasting worldviews to match. So naturally, when each is unbridledly allowed to be his or herself, they end up interpreting their own surrounding with a unique slant. The result: each person inevitably seems to crash into another's point of view, resulting in a large existential collision. But they can't run. It's small town life, and they have a historical context of learning to endure and maintain hospitality.
The snow-globeness of this isn't really the plot, but this very context. The smalltown Minnesota vibes restrict the given character from apathetically "living and let live." The ethos seen in this culture is one of servitude and kindness, humility and apologies. No one, save the out-of-towning antagonists, exude an "I don't care what you think" mentality often associated with their bigger brother American cities. A wonderful backdrop to force characters to work out their differences without losing the value of virtue and ethos, if you ask me!
2) The "model show" balances the model reader with the model author
Literary theorist Umberto Eco once lectured that "the text is a lazy machine" requiring something--if not nearly everything--to be done by the reader. The three-season story of Fargo is relatively simple. It's objectively presented and extremely accessible. So what does it "require"?
Its success, like most stories, requires empathy. While other stories allow you to attach to a protagonist who seemingly has every right answer, or at least stumbles upon them at the perfect moment, this series has you connecting with not only the protagonist, but almost every character, depending on the scene. This is because the show presents humanity as it is, broken and trying. That is, we are quickly drawn to the authenticity and vulnerability of the world it portrays. In other words, it displays their strengths and weaknesses in such a way that we sit back and simply mutter, "yep". And in that, no one character is able to autonomously maintain his or her story, to which, again, we connect. The characters that attempt to stay bottled up and cut off from others... fail.
So, how can we glean anything concrete if each representation it gives us to connect with is flawed and more or less grey? Again, context. The show tells its story in an objectively linear fashion. But to keep us from just detaching and jumping ahead mentally, the story's "white knights" don't always win. In fact, even the villains more often appear as the white knight for a time, and have their own unvindicated mini-victories. So, although the plot goes straightforward, we are asked to press in and do some work.
Fargo asks us to consider the whys and whats of everyday life? On a basic level, you find yourself asking "Why did so-and-so die?" Or "Why didn't this guy get in trouble?" Or more deeply, "What even is justice?" or "Does 'end x' actually justify those means?" We are asked to question these things because often in our lives we aren't given answers, and we detach, ignore, escape, etc.
How can you enjoy watching a story that seems open-ended?
I'm sure most of you, like I have at times, have wondered why shows like LOST choose to be so open-ended in their own unique ways. And, I'm sure you're thinking that Fargo sounds pretty similar. Well, to the first question, I have no answer. But to the second, it does... but it isn't.
Without giving away any spoilers, let me sell you on this series by simply saying this: Fargo shows how objective storytelling, with its concrete, absolute-truth aimed value theory, can exist within the pluralistic postmodernity of conflicting worldviews, expectations, and demands. Both paradigms are inevitably experienced in today's culture. Fargo simply illustrates that the venn-diagram of those paradigms share certain commonalities, and in that, overlap in ways we often assume incompatible.