Fargo Season 5, Episode 1 Recap: Welcome To Release Date

Fargo Season 5: After drifting steadily away from its source of inspiration over the years, “Fargo” appears to be creeping back.

Fargo Season 5: Episode 1, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’

Fargo Season 5, After drifting steadily away from its source of inspiration — Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 neo-noir thriller about the bloody unraveling of a criminal scheme in Minnesota and North Dakota — “Fargo” appears to be creeping back.

Over its past few seasons, the series has been mostly a regional crime show with period trappings, seasoned with references to “Fargo” and a host of other Coen brother’s movies. (Last season, set in the gangland Kansas City of the early 1950s, tipped its fedora most frequently at “Miller’s Crossing.”) Now we open in Minnesota in 2019, a setting contemporary enough that the politically-connected pose for Christmas photos with assault rifles.

Fargo Season 5, The new episode begins, inauspiciously, by citing the end of “Fargo,” when Marge Gunderson, the pregnant small-town sheriff played by Frances McDormand, philosophizes with the dead-eyed pancake enthusiast (Peter Stormare) in back of her squad car.

Only here, the cop is Deputy Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani) of the Scandia police department and the perp is Dorothy Lyon (Juno Temple), more commonly known as Dot, who has been picked up for tasing a police officer during a melee at the middle-school board meeting.

Fargo Season 5, Dot claims it was a case of “wrong place, wrong time” for her victim — and she appears to be right about that — but Olmstead is unmoved. “What’s the world coming to?” she wonders, before adding a quote lifted directly from Gunderson: “It’s a beautiful day.”

Fargo Season 5

Moments like these are when the TV “Fargo” is at its worst, glibly referencing a scene that takes moral stock of all the pointless tragedy that had unfolded for, as Gunderson put it, “a little bit of money.” In the movie, Gunderson’s lament follows a bloody and stupefying sequence of events spinning out from a ransom plot.

Fargo Season 5, But here, Olmstead is shaking her head over a P.T.A. dust-up that climaxed with an accidental tasing, which gives it no resonance beyond adding another Coens homage to an episode that is absolutely loaded with them.

The series’s creator, Noah Hawley, who wrote and directed this first hour, has been oddly undiscerning about his quotations throughout the show’s run. But “Fargo” is most effective when it pivots unexpectedly off the Coens rather than merely tipping its hat.

Fargo Season 5, In the season premiere, Hawley pulls off a sequence that lifts directly from the daytime abduction in the movie, which leans into the serio-comic folly of a housewife scrambling to evade two subprofessional kidnappers. Many details are the same, but Dot is far more capable than was poor Jean Lundegaard, whose desperate terror was mostly played for laughs. Beyond their Midwest domestic habit of knitting while watching talk shows, Dot and Jean have little in common.

We got a sense of Dot’s capabilities in an earlier scene at the police station, when she frets about her fingerprints pinging some national database. She seemed content to let her mother-in-law, Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh, using her haughty accent from the Coens’ “The Hudsucker Proxy”), clean up the cop-tasing incident, but the kidnapping later makes clear that Dot is capable of handling things on her own.

Fargo Season 5

Fargo Season 5, So as her colorful past finally catches up to her in the form of her abductors, she’s ready to fight back with a lighter, a can of hair spray and an ice skate. Later, she improvises an escape from them during a showdown at a gas station convenience store.

Fargo Season 5, More intriguing than Dot’s ability to wriggle out of such a dangerous scenario is her determination to pretend that it never happened. During the time she was under capture, her ineffectual husband, Wayne (David Rysdahl), had contacted the police and enlisted his deep-pocketed mother, who assumes she will be on the hook for ransom money. (“I don’t know why they think I’d break the bank for some low-rent skirt my son knocked up,” Lorraine says bitterly.)

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Fargo Season 5, Yet when Dot returns home in the wee hours and immediately sets to whisking the Bisquick for her daughter Scotty’s breakfast, she acts as if nothing is amiss. She’d gone away to clear her head, she tells Wayne, and she doesn’t even suggest an explanation for the two different blood types, neither hers, the police found on the floor.

Dot’s behavior connects back to the definition of “Minnesota nice” offered in the beginning of the episode, in which “a person is chipper and self-effacing, no matter how bad things get.” What’s missing from that definition is the fact that “Minnesota nice” also can refer to the passive-aggressive hostility that is often nestled beneath the surface sweetness, though perhaps that is a side of Dot we will discover later.

Fargo Season 5, For now, she’s a question mark to everyone who knows her, despite her desperate desire to return to the Jean Lundegaard-style role she had fashioned for herself. But she can’t play the chipper Minnesotan for long.

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Fargo Season 5, Among the many Coen references: Dot’s booking at the police station is scored with “Gloryland” by the bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley, whose rendition of “O Death” is featured in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

References to the Coens’ “Fargo,” specifically, are even more strikingly abundant: Leigh’s accent may recall her performance in “The Hudsucker Proxy,” but she is filling in the role of Jerry Lundegaard’s rich, tightfisted father-in-law. “Scotty” is the name of Jerry and Jean Lundegaard’s only son, but here she’s a girl.

Fargo Season 5, While Olmstead seems to be the series’s equivalent to Marge, her husband is into playing golf rather than designing postage stamps; he also seems far more self-absorbed than the solicitous Norm Gunderson. The goon dabbing his severed ear with a paper towel recalls the injured kidnapper played by Steve Buscemi and, in perhaps the funniest nod, the tourniquet Dot uses on the wounded cop (Lamorne Morris) is secured by an ice scraper, which is a source of great frustration for Jerry.

How much you like this episode may relate to how funny you find the word “commode,” because it is used as a punchline three times. Another colloquialism to watch: “hoosegow.”

Fargo Season 5, Wayne joking about voting twice for the attorney general is another hint that this season of “Fargo” may be engaging with contemporary politics in a way previous installments have not.

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