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5 Things That Fargo Season Two Got Right (That True Detective Season Two Got Wrong)

by | December 15, 2015 | Comments

When True Detective and Fargo both premiered in early 2014, they shared many similarities: they were both “prestige anthologies,” revolving around weird, dark crime stories, created and written by novelists (Nic Pizzolatto, Noah Hawley), both starring Oscar-winning Southerners (Matthew McConaughey, Billy Bob Thornton). Detective ended up getting all the buzz, while Fargo got all the Emmys and Golden Globes.

When both shows returned for a second season this year, one turned out to be better-assembled than the other. People were quite disappointed with season two of Detective, as viewers found the story to be both monotonous and pretentious. Meanwhile, the second season of Fargo had audiences and critics saying it was better than the first (and in the same league as the 1996 Coen brothers movie that jump-started this whole thing). Hawley has said that he wanted to make sure his show was perfect since he believed he was making a movie. As the show ended its second season last night, let’s list the several things Fargo did right that Detective unfortunately did wrong.


FARGO SHARED THE WEALTH IN THE WRITING DEPARTMENT

In both their respective first seasons, every episode of Detective and Fargo were written solely by its showrunner. However, although Pizzolatto had fellow novelist Scott Lasser share writing credit on a couple of episodes, the rest of the season was still Pizzolatto’s show. As for Hawley, he assembled a crew of seasoned TV writers, including Steve Blackman (Private Practice) and Bob De Laurentiis (Providence). Being a veteran TV writer himself, Hawley must’ve realized that if he wanted to do a sophomore season that was just as good — if not better — than the first, he couldn’t do it all alone.


FARGO TOLD ITS COMPLICATED STORY IN A COHERENT MANNER

As this season of Fargo quantum-leaped back to 1979, replaying the hellish crime spree that defined the career of then-Minnesota cop Lou Solverson (played by Keith Carradine last season and Patrick Wilson this season), this season had everything: a bevy of homicides, a turf war, a crime family dismantling Greek tragedy-style, an on-the-run couple, Ronald Reagan – hell, even aliens! And I could pretty much tell you exactly how everything went down. Don’t even ask me about the specifics of Detective this season, with its trio of tormented California cops (played by Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch) chasing down murder suspects and uncovering a conspiracy, while a gangster (Vince Vaughn) aching to go legit, finds he’s no match for corrupt government officials and shady, sinister businessmen. It was a cluttered mess that, to quote Matt Zoller Seitz, felt like “a first or maybe second draft rather than a polished final product.’


FARGO HAD BETTER-WRITTEN WOMEN

Since its first season, Detective has had a problem coming up with decent female characters who weren’t hateful harpies or straight-up sex objects. Even this past season’s main heroine, McAdams’ perpetually bitter Antigone Bezzerides (without question, the worst TV character name this year), had to get dolled up and go undercover in order to infiltrate a David Lynch-worthy orgy. Fargo didn’t have this problem. The show had its share of complicated, dangerous-but-sympathetic ladies: Jean Smart’s ruthless yet level-headed big momma Floyd Gerhardt; Kirsten Dunst’s somewhat unhinged but always optimistic Peggy Blumquist; Cristin Milioti’s cancer-stricken but still proud Betsy Solverson; and Rachel Keller’s doomed femme fatale Simone Gerhardt. Thanks to these characters (and the amazing work done by the actresses who inhabited these roles), the women of Fargo were often more fascinating than the men.


FARGO HAD BETTER-WRITTEN WAR VETERANS

By far, the worst-developed character on Detective this season had to be Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh, a cop who had seen some hellish action in Afghanistan. He’s also a closeted gay man so determined to go/be straight, that he jumps at the chance to marry his on-again/off-again girlfriend when she tells him she’s pregnant. All through the season, it was hard to tell if it was his PTSD or his inner struggle with his sexuality that made him look like such an intense, emotionally confused fella. (It didn’t help that Kitsch played him like he was constipated all the time.) Fargo also had war heroes who were dealing with the aftereffects in their own ways. Some of my favorite moments from the series had Vietnam vet Solverson and his WWII-serving father-in-law Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) recalling all the good and bad times they experienced during wartime, wondering if they brought all that carnage home with them. There was also Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon), the Gerhardt’s Native American henchman and decorated Vietnam soldier who basically reaches his breaking point, inflicting his own carnage through the season’s final episodes.


FARGO’S MUSIC WAS WAY COOLER

Shout-out goes to Hawley and music supervisor Maggie Phillips for assembling many of the 1970s-era deep cuts that played all through the season. The score covered the gamut, from the decade’s biggest arena-rock stars (Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac) to little-known players (Billy Thorpe, Cymande). It’s like the world’s coolest classic rock station is always on while the show is in progress — rather than the throat-slitting melodies performed by Lera Lynn, the guitar-strumming singer who played many a bleak, depressing tune to accompany Farrell and Vaughn’s intense bar chats.

Craig D. Lindsey is a North Carolina-based TV and film critic. Follow him on Twitter: @unclecrizzle

  • Lucas Rizzotto

    All of this to say “It had better writing… also music”

  • A Guy

    Oh my God will you just fuck off already.

    “Better-written women”

    Oh, so sending a female character into her own personal hell wasn’t gratifying enough? Should the show not have confronted her with something difficult? Because, you know, confronting a character with something difficult to them on a personal level is the key to a little something you may have heard of called, I dunno, DRAMA.

    “Better-written war veterans”

    Wait, so a war veteran can’t have PTSD and personal issues at the same time? It can’t be that a sexually closeted man is emotionally closeted too?

    “Cooler music”

    Now I know you’re just fucking with me. What the hell kind of criticism is that? So what if the music didn’t appeal to you? Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference.

    You know, I won’t even contest the first two, because True Detective did have issues. But when you write click-baity bullshit like this and then three out of your five reasons are obvious reaches, maybe you should consider whether or not you really had anything to say at all.

    Oh, and by the way. Aliens? The Hanzee twist? The pointless references to Miller’s Crossing and Raising Arizona? Yeah, there are a few bones to pick with Fargo S2 also, but no one’s gonna pick them because the circlejerk is just too strong. And you call yourself a critic. Good Christ.

    • Jon

      Sore loser? Fargo was 1000 times better than T.D. I couldn’t wait for each new episode of Fargo. T.D. was boring and disjointed.

      • A Guy

        >Sore loser

        Not really. I don’t consider myself a loser when I’m interested in both shows.

        But I know how to call bullshit when I see it, and this article was a heaping load of it. Fargo had problems that for some reason nobody wants to talk about, so instead of actually exploring how the show works and doesn’t work, we get to repeatedly spout the same crap about how great it is. Vice versa for True Detective.

        Critics should try to add to and prompt discussion, not cancel it before it’s even off the ground. This article does nothing for either show.

        • nolucktoday

          Well said.

        • Jon

          What a coincidence, neither do your comments.

          • A Guy

            The only losers are the people who pull an artist’s pud because an arbitrary number convinces them to.

    • ben

      Yea, the reasons in this article may be bunk, but TD S2 did suck. It just came down to a better story, and better villains.

  • CT

    I can only come up with 4 reasons why Fargo got it right…..better writing, better directing, better acting and a better story.

  • Jess Feltz

    Better music is incredibly debatable. T-Bone Burnett was as on point as ever this season. It’s easy to point out Lera Lynn as she appeared on the show and was featured in most of the marketing, but let’s not forget the perfect use of Leonard Cohen in the opening titles, as well as music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Bonnie Prince Billy, Father John Misty and the Black Angels. The music was a damn delight and was possibly the only area that surpassed the first season.

    And despite the writing, True Detective had a knockout performance by Collin Farrell that nothing in Fargo has quite lived up to.

  • Fraulein Bauer

    I agree that this season of Fargo was a bit better than True Detectives last season, but I think these comparisons are unfair, especially the “better war veterans” and “better women” segments. I personally related to Paul a lot, and he represented a totally different generation of veterans.

  • parissucksliterally

    I am crushed that Fargo is over!!! I could not wait for Mondays!

  • mizuno10K

    Fargo 2 equaled and surpassed Fargo 1
    True Detective 2 failed to meet expectations.

    Fargo 2 will receive multiple Emmy nods and most likely win some,
    can’t say the same for the latter.

  • Sir Baronish

    As great as nearly all the elements were in this second season of “Fargo” (one of the best shows on television in years), the creative aspect that struck me the most was Dana Gonzalez’s cinematography. The crane shots, the angles, the coordination with the art department – everything about the film’s ‘look’ was damn-near perfect.

  • Felipe Mayol

    6)

    Mike Milligan

  • Ezra Tross

    I liked the 2nd season of Fargo but I really disagree that it was better than the first season and I don’t understand how that’s a popular sentiment. Season 1 pulled you in a lot faster and didn’t really have any filler episodes. Sorry, there were at least 3 episodes in 2 that did very little to further the story. The season finale was possibly the most anticlimactic and dull finale I’ve ever seen. The show tried to get too “artsy” and the story suffered because of it. I was just way more into season 1. That being said I still enjoyed season 2 and am really looking forward to a 3rd season. Its still a top notch show.

    • nolucktoday

      I agree with this. The first episode of the first season made me eagerly await for the rest of the episodes whereas the second season was too busy indulging itself. I don’t know how to say it but the entire season was so tonally weird and caught up in itself. For me both TD and Fargo had far more superior first seasons than the second. Although I do have to say I didn’t like either of the second seasons of TD and Fargo.

    • I liked the first season, but I loved the second because I felt way more invested in ALL of the characters. I hated Colin Hanks in Season 1, and I can’t even really explain why. His scenes just bored me to tears, and it’s not that I don’t like slow scenes, they were just a little too slow and dull. Season 2 just killed it as far as character development and constant suspense due to caring about those characters. The suspense was relentless almost every episode, and it really grabbed me in ways the first season didn’t as much. I love both seasons, but I did like the second one more despite a less satisfying finale. I think S2’s finale suffered from an unbelievable penultimate episode that was hard to top.

    • MetaphysicalMan

      It’s a critic’s dream because they can gush over all of the technical aspects, the allusions, the artsiness, etc. But Season 1 simply told a more interesting story and that’s what I care about.

      • Johhny Sasaki

        Season 1 was more of a real tribute to the original movie. Season 2 was smart to do something that just felt a lot different from the artsy style to the aliens. However, I feel like it took some obvious liberties from recent TV shows…

        This may have been intentional, but this one plays out much more similarly in tension to Breaking Bad than Fargo and I don’t know if the nods are intentional or not: the kid with cerebral palsy, and the two hitmen that don’t talk.

    • Whoa whoa whoa…the entire middle section of S1 was basically filler. I loved the Malvo/Lester stuff probably more than anything in S2 BUT…the whole story about the grocery store guy for the middle half of the season really was an unnecessary detour.

      Plus some of the casting choices were questionable. I’m all for casting comedic actors but Key and Peele are way too “current”. You can’t watch any of their scenes without assuming it’s a Key and Peel sketch. It’s like Mike Meyers in Inglorious Bastards…just too distracting. S2 has some similar casting miscues but they weren’t as distracting (the big guy from Everybody Loves Raymond and Nick Offerman cut it close but ultimately worked because they did a better job at playing characters than Key and Peele did)

      The finale was a bit of a letdown, I will agree with you on that. However, as a whole, I think Season 2 just worked better in almost every category as a seamless story.

    • redeyedjedi410

      Lol people don’t understand how stories are told. Theres the climax, the falling action and then the conclusion. The climax was episode 9. The falling action and conclusion are the final episode. Why the hell do people expect every second of a story to be action packed? Then there’d be no character development and plot progression.

      • Rooby Doo

        Yep, I agree completely. And as far as the climax being in episode 9 is concerned, GOT does the same thing virtually every year.

        • redeyedjedi410

          I know right?!

    • ben

      I simply thought S2 had a more engaging story. I can barely recall what the story-line is in S1. The only aspect that REALLY registered is Billy Bob Thornton’s character… and did it rain rish or something?

    • Stew

      Season 1 had episodes that weren’t related to the over-arching story. Even if season 2 had episodes with little action, it was always related. All of the storylines actually revolved around the other, where in season 1, the whole Malvo grocery store subplot was a bit odd and didn’t directly fit the Nygaard main plot. Season 2 is superior, not to say that season 1 wasn’t, it just wasn’t quiet as amazing.

  • Leo-Jan Jonkers

    I had my thoughts when a TV serie Fargo was made. I love the movie and a tv serie can only be a laugh. But I was wrong, I liked it and the second season even better. It is a nice serie but not something very special. Not as good as the movie offcourse.

    True Detective first season was magnificent, one of the best tv serie I had ever seen. Matthew McConaughey and Billy Bob Thornton where very very good, the serie was “art”. I always say, it’s a pity that the Sopranos was made, otherwise True Detective was without doubt the absolute best TV serie.
    The second season was sad, I do not even understand that the season has the same name. It is simply another serie and has nothing to do with the first. It was bad.

    • MaryQueenofSnots

      SerieS.

    • search9286

      True Detectives was better than Breaking Bad?

  • Darin7

    True Detective is getting a lot of unfair criticism. The show was, at times, a jumbled hard-to-follow mess, for sure, but still an entertaining piece of television. I think history will be much kinder to True Detective’s Season 2. And people who decide to watch it now with their expectations lowered will be in for a nice surprise.

    Fargo just plain rocks. The finale could’ve benefited with a bit more substance, as I’m still wanting to learn more of the fates of Mike Milligan, Hanzee, and Peggy. Perhaps a season 3 will see them reprise their roles in some manner.

    • Rick_Sanchez

      Hanzee becomes the Fargo mob boss we see in season 1 – Moses Tripoli, http://fargo.wikia.com/wiki/Moses_Tripoli, and was shot to death by Malvo, I’m sure you caught Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench there at the end playing baseball. Also, the Gerhardt’s maid was Hanzee’s mother and Otto’s bastard. I would love to see some Mike and Peggy in season 3 in some way though, hopefully we get that in some way.

    • haroldpark

      Yeah i’ve come to TD2 after hearing how it was a big disappointment and I can’t say I feel the same way.

      On the other hand I wasn’t a massive fan of either Fargo Season 1 or what I’ve seen so far of Season 2. For me it just takes me back to that post Pulp Fiction period of the 90s where for about 5 to 10 years every independent movie was about quirky small time criminals. Fargo has had its moments but its never really transcended that for me (havent seen all of Season 2 yet bear in mind) and so it feels pretty overrated and derivative. I also suspect history will judge TD2 a little less harshly.

  • John Luciano

    I think the main character Ani of True Detective 2 was the best character in the show. She did a great job, much better than the other actors, and her character was compelling. I remember how many people were whining about how there weren’t any strong female characters in season I (apparently, since this season was so brilliant there wasn’t anything else to complain about except some PC issue), the creator did a great job in responding to this criticisms with both a complicated and compelling character with Ani which was performed masterfully. It’s beyond my understanding how you are still faulting the show in this respect. Some people, especially the PC police, are never satisfied.

    • MaryQueenofSnots

      Women are half the population. Seeing a criticism about female characters does not automatically make it a “PC” issue. It’s a character issue.

  • MetaphysicalMan

    I don’t agree with giving Fargo a ‘win’ on the women. All the women mentioned for Fargo were fine characters, but they were very much characters on the sidelines except for Peggy. Ani on TD was a very strong lead character and as another poster has said here, to think that party scene was about her being sexy is really missing the point!

    • Ace Stephens

      Wasn’t many of the female characters being “on the sidelines” part of the point? …I thought the show was exploring gender roles of the period in some quite interesting ways. “Lying” (about the circumstances of the period setting it was attempting to explore) by shoving a half-dozen women into prominent, centrally-active roles involving these crimes or investigations (when it doesn’t seem like something a notable number would have been very likely to be leading the charge regarding – particularly during the period) would have been rather misguided in my view. That they influence matters a good deal despite not necessarily taking active roles in all instances felt very meaningful to me and conveyed a sense of their power/character in ways that I think pushing them to the forefront might have undercut or caused to have felt disingenuous.

  • Bill S

    I was wondering how one could find out the ACTUAL EVENTS. I have watched the TD series, and the Coen brothers – but what really DID happen? Did a car salesman actually try to have his wife kidnapped for example? Confusing- – –

    • Bill E

      No. The film and both TV series begin by claiming the events are true, but they are 100% fiction.

  • idij

    I haven’t seen TD2, so won’t comment on it.

    Fargo2 was great, but I think if Fargo2 has a weakness is that either Lou Solverson as written, or the actor’s portrayal of him, is a bit too standoffish to be the everyman character you are emotionally invested in. He has a lot going on there that ought to elicit sympathy and empathy and identification and so on, but he left me a bit cold in all honesty. Ted Danson’s excellent portrayal of his father in law was much warmer by contrast, but in a much more minor role.

    He was also slightly detached from the climax of the finale. I can see that they wanted a tension around him being right but thwarted by incompetence, but it didn’t quite work for me. Not that it was bad or anything, far from it.

  • TocTeplv .

    Season two sucks compared to season 1. Style over substance

  • Lera Lynn was one of the only strong points of True Detective Season 2

  • Ayala

    All true, and I’d add to that the complete lack of humor in TD, while in Fargo you’d find yourself almost all of the time with a silly grinn on your face

  • Crantz Bingle

    I think to judge both seasons of Fargo against each other fairly, you’ve got judge them on how well they tell their stories, not the kind of stories they’re telling. Season 1, as complex as it was, was arguably about three main characters (Molly, Lester and Malvo; sorry, Gus). Season 2 was a whole other kettle of fish, going the whole epic saga/crime family route. And I’m glad it did, since I’d be mighty disappointed it was just another variation on Season 1’s template, just in another decade.

    And while I love Season 1 dearly, I feel like it took a few more narrative detours than Season 2 which, by the very nature of its sprawling cast and multiple intersecting storylines, had to be a tighter narrative ship than the previous season.

    Season 2 > Season 1, but not by much. 🙂

  • Rooby Doo

    Both shows pull in A list talent, but Fargo goes on and pulls stunning performances out of B listers, too. Jean Smart, Ted Danson, and Jeffery Donovan were amazing this year. All very good actors, but who knew they could create such memorable characters that were nothing like we’ve seen them do before?

  • ben

    When I was watching Fargo season 2, at no point did I ever think.. these are some well-written women and/or war veterans. Nor did the actual songs used make any difference to my enjoyment of the show. Well-written characters are good, no matter what category they are put in. And do the actual songs in shows really make much difference to people? There is much more to sound design than the soundtrack.

  • KJM

    Most of these reviewerss are pretty much full of shit and don’t know what they are writing about. Both of these seasons are great television which has been so lacking until somebody (HBO, FX) thought about bringing us The Sopranos and Breaking Bad! They broke the mold and most everything after them are much better than “TV” and great story telling (… EXCEPT True Detectives 2 … a total SUCK disappointment!).

  • vincent

    I just wanna say for me, season 2 of fargo was still slow and sometimes boring for me just like season 1, but overall I enjoyed it more. and I’m probably the only one who didn’t even like true detective season 1, so i didn’t bother watching season 2.

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