Tillman defines himself as a “hard man for hard times,” though as Hawley and his co-writers depict them, the times are only hard because of men like Roy Tillman. Hamm, like Temple, is quite good in “Fargo,” recalling Coen performers like Jones or M. Emmet Walsh as much as he seems like he and Hawley are delivering a slam against the popular Western drama “Yellowstone,” with its own brand of old-fashioned justice. As has been the case with previous seasons of “Fargo,” the issues here have nothing to do with the performances. Temple is the true standout, as we learn that Dot has far more multitudes than just being a doting housewife. (Another example of how Hawley remixes familiar images: in the first episode, Dot appears to be the victim of an abduction a la how Jerry’s wife is captured in the original “Fargo,” before she flips the script on her kidnappers.) It’s not just that Temple has an impressively good Minnesota accent, though that helps; it’s that she’s able to reveal layers upon layers within Dot’s psyche that enable us to understand the choices the character has made. The entire ensemble is solid, including Moorjani and Morris as decent lawpeople and Dave Foley as a cheerful, eyepatched enforcer for Leigh’s businesswoman.
No, the issue with “Fargo” is that Hawley is unable to stop himself from underlining his half-sketched-out thematic preferences. Early on in the season, Dot is compared to a tiger, which is both apt and so heavily echoed that it becomes tiresome. (One of the mid-season episodes is not only called “The Tiger,” but also includes voiceover narration explaining the mental prowess of a tiger, as if what’s occurring on-screen is enough emphasis enough.) Some of the real-world commentary is understandable, but also feels half-realized. That this show takes place in the era of Donald Trump is no accident, as we see glimpses of the ex-president on Fox News and characters like Roy criticizing the concept of the federal government to some of its representatives, along with loaded images like Dot and her extended family posing for a Christmas card with assault rifles in hand to show off their “values.” But the briefness of these images flit by, in what is an effectively compact pulp story about a wronged woman that would be better off with a more limited focus.
“Fargo” remains a remarkably well-acted show, and for all the opening nudges to the Coen brothers, there’s a reasonably entertaining thriller at the core of the fifth season. Juno Temple and Jon Hamm are about as good as you would hope or expect them to be, and the show manages to avoid seeming cartoonish in its depiction of “Minnesota nice/” As has been the case in previous seasons, this show has no right to be even as entertaining as it is considering that it’s inspired by what is basically a perfect movie. If Noah Hawley could get out of his own way and stop avoiding all the obvious connections to “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men,” he could make a brilliant show. As it is, with the new “Fargo,” he’s made a moderately compelling one.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
“Fargo” season 5 premieres Tuesday, November 21, 2023, on FX, streaming the next day on Hulu.