Even by Fargo’s standards, the moments seemed particularly bloody.
But they did spice up a two-day tour that took a dozen or so journalists to the rural locations and a makeshift studio in Calgary’s industrial area where Season 2 of the Emmy-winning series was filmed.
On Day 1, journalists witnessed a massacre, or at least the aftermath of a massacre, at a Waffle Hut. On Day 2, there was a rather uncomfortable scene involving a cattle prod.
These segments are violent, of course. But the particulars — Waffle Hut massacre, cattle prodding — also have an absurdity to them that seems vintage Coen brothers, the filmmakers whose 1996 film of the same name mixed gruesome true-crime noir, cheerful townsfolk and jet-black comedy and inspired the tone of the series.
And given that Season 2 of Fargo, which debuts Monday on FX Canada, kicks off in a different time and place and with a different cast than Season 1, there is a whole raft of new characters to experience this odd mix for the first time along with the rest of us.
“It’s so smart because you can’t lose your innocence more than once,” says Ted Danson, who plays good-guy Sheriff Hank Larsson. “So the theme is still good versus evil; decent, earnest people trying to deal with the savagery. If you had to come back and do Season 2 with the same people dealing with that, they would be jaded. They’d know what to expect. So you’d lose the fun of good versus evil.”
Given the epic scope of the new season, it may seem simplistic to boil it down to a good versus evil dynamic. After all, there is a lot going on. It’s 1979 in Luverne, Minn. — nearly 30 years before the events of Season 1 — and a turf battle is brewing between mom-and-pop crime family the Gerdhardts (played by Jean Smart, Jeffrey Donovan, Angus Sampson and Kieran Culkin) and a Kansas City syndicate (led by a moustachioed Brad Garrett). Young small-towners Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) get mixed up in the fray after a gruesome twist of fate. State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), the only link to Season 1, returns from the Vietnam War only to be confronted with a sudden burst of violence in his hometown. He’s also facing a family dilemma and seeks guidance from Danson’s Larsson, his wise, Second World War vet father-in-law who rocks a silver beard and pitch-perfect Minnesota-nice accent. Somehow, the story of Ronald Reagan (played by Bruce Campbell) embarking on his first presidential run is also weaved into the action.
It’s complicated but, as with Season 1, creator Noah Hawley is basically painting a picture of the best and worst in America; golly-gee, helpful good guys facing violent, predatory thugs in a frozen Midwest.
“It’s the juxtaposition of that innocent, earnest, slightly befuddled, really nice person who can’t believe what they are seeing,” said Danson, taking a break from filming in the blood-stained Waffle Hut. “And that’s funny.”
As with most epics, there are deeper undercurrents coursing beneath the plot. Season 2 was filmed entirely in Alberta — Didsbury, Fort Macleod, High River. The Waffle Hut was built on the sprawling CL Ranch near Springbank. Areas of Kensington and Calgary’s downtown were also used to sub in for Kansas City, Luverne and Sioux Falls, North Dakota. But the story is really about America stumbling towards the 1980s and, much like a few of our befuddled characters, losing its innocence.
“In this case, it’s not 2006 boom-time America, it’s 1979,” said Hawley. “It’s a country in turmoil. There’s a lot of veterans. There’s a lot of people who are back from the war and a war that was very confusing and hard to justify morally. It’s a more complicated time emotionally. But, ultimately, this war that they find themselves fighting at home is about winning their country back, to get it to a place where you can leave your front door unlocked and go back to just being decent people.”
But even not-so-decent people have to deal with invading forces. In Fargo’s world, the impending corporatization of America even extends into crime. In the first episode, Brad Garrett’s Kansas City gangster Joe Bulo oversees a presentation where he calmly discusses the need to take over the territory of the nasty, rural-dwelling Gerdhardts, who are in the midst of their own Shakespearean power struggles. It’s family business versus Wal-Mart, but in the criminal underground.
“The aspirations are the same: to rule,” said Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the eldest and most vicious of the Gerdhardt boys, Dodd. “But the tools at their disposal are a little more limited in the small-town gang. But it’s not lack of desire. I just think that when they go into the shed there’s a few tools missing.”
Judging by the first two episodes provided to the press, these somewhat heavy themes are delivered with a good dose of comedy, although of the extremely dark variety that Hawley established in the first season. Calgary actor and dialect expert David LeReaney was brought on board to help this new batch of actors perfect the Minnesota-nice accent that most of our heroes possess, a detail that is essential to the tone.
“There’s horrible things going on and yet this Minnesota vibe on top of it makes it palatable,” says Dunst, who plays an ambitious, small-town hairdresser who brings home a gruesome surprise to her baffled nice-guy husband Ed in Monday’s season opener. “That’s what makes it the dark comedy that it is. It’s having these characters doing these outrageous things and yet their behaviour is not how people from the big city would act.”
On the morning of the April set visit, it was announced that the first season of Fargo — which had already won two Golden Globes and three Emmys — had picked up the prestigious Peabody Award Award. Given the cynicism that greeted news that Fargo would be adapted to a series, it was continued validation for the show.
When Season 2 was announced, producers found no shortage of quality actors who wanted to participate.
“You know you are in such good hands,” says Cristin Milioto, who plays Solverson’s wife Betsy. “When something is written really well, you don’t feel the need to do actor backflips. You don’t feel the need to sell something. You can just come in and exist. It’s like the ultimate in acting. It’s rare. This is so specific and wonderful and so much of the work is done for you.”
Despite the differences between the two seasons, there are still through lines. Film buffs who got a kick out of Hawley’s sly references to the original Fargo and other Coen brothers movies in Season 1 will not be disappointed this time around.
“I’m a huge Coen brothers fan,” says Wilson. “There are definite — I hate the phrase shout-out — but there’s definitely recalls to different Coen brothers’ movies. If anything, I think Lou’s journey is closer to Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men. There’s a scene that looks straight out to Miller’s Crossing. So there’s a nice nod to Coen brothers fans.”
Speaking of through lines, in Season 1 a much less-innocent version of Lou (played by Keith Carradine) talks to his daughter Molly, the investigating officer in Season 1 played by breakout star Allison Tolman, about the perils of police work. He makes cryptic references to witnessing a period of strange brutality during his career as a state trooper.
Presumably, that’s the story that is about to unfold on Monday.
“You will not be disappointed,” said Danson. “I wish we could give away some of the stuff that is coming your way on this. It is truly imaginative.”
Season 2 of Fargo airs Monday on FX Canada.