After a four-year break, Noah Hawley brings his groundbreaking crime series Fargo into the Trump era. Considering Fargo’s history of casting an eye on the foibles and flaws of the American experiment, it was only a matter of time before the MAGA psychosis made its appearance. The question then becomes: is it too soon? Based on the occasionally shrill results of season five, one could argue yes, perhaps. But at the same time. a brilliant final episode counters that it couldn’t have come soon enough.
Set in 2019, season five introduces an unlikely Fargo hero: Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Juno Temple), a pleasant Minnesota housewife happily living a simple life alongside her preternaturally mild husband Wayne (David Rysdahl) and nonbinary child Scotty (Sienna King). Dot hardly seems the kind of person to have a checkered past, but when a rowdy school board meeting erupts into violence, she reflexively tasers a cop and ends up arrested. Dot’s mugshot in the system alerts the monster in her past: Sherriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm), a Bundyesque MAGA lawman with a murderous streak and a god complex. As it happens, Dot is Tillman’s ex-wife, who fled the abusive marriage to change her identity and started a new life. Roy sees Dot as his property and her defection as not just a personal affront, but a sin against the lord. Determined to get Dot back, he sets his militia-cosplaying deputy of a son Gator (Joe Keery) to kidnap her, an operation that employes terrifying mercenary Ole Munch (Sam Spruell). But the abduction attempt unleashes Dot’s inner survivor, setting off an explosive chain of events that leads to a standoff between two extreme elements of America’s right wing.
By and large, season five continues Fargo’s impressive track record, but let’s set one thing straight: subtle, it ain’t. In keeping with its integration of the post-2016 madness of the right, the overall story is easily the series’ least nuanced, with enough heightened-reality villainy to populate the Legion of Doom. Hamm’s monstrous Roy Tillman couldn’t be more on the nose, a walking embodiment of the libertarian right at its most narcissistic and deranged. Slightly more interesting is Keery’s Gator, a pathetic excuse of an alpha male wanna-be whose gradual deterioration lays bare the weakness at his core. There are similar moustache-twirlers on the opposite side of the melee: Dot’s mother-in-law Lorraine (Jennifer Jason Leigh, channeling her inner Hepburn) is the sociopathic CEO of a debt-leveraging empire. She’s abetted by ruthless attorney Danish Graves (Dave Foley), who sports an eyepatch and injects comical Nick Offermanesque gravitas into his coldness. Entertainingly, the wider conflict eventually boils down to Tillman’s true-believer MAGA evil against Lorraine’s cynical GOP opportunism: the Trump era in a nutshell. But at the end of the day, Hawley uses a backhoe where a hand trowel might do. Even if it’s deliberate commentary on how fucked up everything is, it’s not exactly artful.
Nonetheless, Fargo’s high production values, characteristic intensity, and masterful creation of tone are still in fine form. Better, it brings something new to the table with Dorothy Lyon—the “Minnesota-nice” housewife whose outer harmlessness masks a vicious inner MacGyver. For Juno Temple, it’s a juicy, career-defining showcase, and one that refreshingly centers an actual hero in the physical action rather than situating them on the edges, cleaning up the mess (a la Allison Tolman in season one or Carrie Coon in season three). The other heroes are less flashy: Rysdahl delivers first-rate comic obliviousness as her car-dealing husband, and Fargo’s trademark underdog cops show up in the form of Lamorne Morris and Richa Moorjani, both sympathetic and appealing.
Then there’s Ole Munch. Holy fuck. Fargo has an unparalleled history of unpredictable troublemakers—Peggy Blumquist, Lorne Malvo, Oraetta Mayflower, Nikki Swango, V.M. Varga, and more—but Ole Munch takes the fucking cake. With a wild, mouth-contorting accent, Spruell brings this bonkers, out-of-left-field character to glorious life. As usual with Hawley chaos agents, Munch contributes unpredictabilty, dark comedy, and random violence to the table—essential Fargo ingredients, of course. But he is also the thematic masterstroke of the season, a key element for sticking the landing. A finale that might have been a fairly conventional confrontation brilliantly picks an unexpected direction to go in, utterly kneecapping expectations. Munch, that relentless embodiment of brutal white male grievance, is a force of nature that seems as though he will never meet his match. The way he does so is season five’s slick coup de grace.
There are other random aspects of season five that are pretty great, including one of the funniest deaths in the series, and one episode, “Linda,” that copes with the domestic violence in Dot’s past with an inventive, empathetic eye (and features a welcome appearance from the underrated Kari Matchett). There are also moments where the season feels too obvious, over-familiar, or underwhelming. But on the whole, Fargo is still Fargo, another welcome return to a delightfully weird and entertaining crime universe. And the season’s final scene may well be my favorite of the entire series.