by Gemma King |
Over the last few years, television has given us many refreshingly strong, complex, and inspiring women. Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen, Jessica Jones’s title heroine and (despite some problematic scenes) Game of Thrones’s Daenerys Targaryen are powerful and inspirational TV ladies, all for very different reasons. But one particular screen heroine is more well-rounded, beloved, accomplished, balanced, and real than almost any other female lead to have graced our screens.
Few characters can rival the quiet glory of Marge Gunderson, the warm-hearted, intelligent, and pragmatic star of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film, Fargo. Juggling a demanding job in a male-dominated field, a brutal series of murders, the North Dakota winter freeze and the advanced stages of pregnancy with aplomb, Marge blurs the lines between archetypes of femininity and masculinity and exudes a strength and perception none of her fellow characters can come close to attaining. Indeed, Frances McDormand’s heroine was so effortlessly kind, smart, and unique that fans of the film doubted the TV series Fargo would be able to do her legacy justice. But they needn’t have worried.
FX’s critically acclaimed Fargo, which has now racked up two very separate but complementary seasons, is not a direct adaptation of the 1996 black comedy. Nor is it a typical reboot, sequel, or prequel. Instead, the Fargo series takes what makes the original Fargo so great, and weaves it into a new storyline.
Both seasons are set in the bitterly cold, snowy and provincial settings of Minnesota and North Dakota, with references to the city of Fargo. Both include modest, funny, painfully-competent police officer protagonists with solid values and sharp minds. Both feature oddly charismatic and eerily threatening assassin villains; a Golden Globe-winning Billy Bob Thornton in season one, and a revelatory Zahn McClarnon in season two. Both feature pathetic secondary protagonists (the perfectly-cast Martin Freeman and Jesse Plemons) who have the misfortune of finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both take the accidental death narrative that makes the original film so brilliant, and revitalise it in disturbing yet hilarious ways.
Family, justice, panic, and integrity are dominant themes throughout. But it is the parallels between Marge and the protagonists of both seasons of Fargo that truly make the series shine.
Sharp, no-nonsense, and insightful, police officer Molly Solverson doesn’t conform to gender norms, body ideals, or social expectations. She is both womanly and unconcerned with the frivolity of certain feminine ideals. She is both compassionate and shrewdly pragmatic. She is both superhumanly brave, and humanly vulnerable. Like Marge, in work, family, and love, Molly cuts through the nonsense to get to the heart of what’s at hand. And when season two resituates itself twenty years earlier and focuses on Molly’s father, Lou, none of the nuance and beauty of season one is lost (apart from the wonderful Allison Tolman). Marge is nowhere to be seen in the Fargo series, but both Molly and Lou would make her proud.
Catch Fargo streaming on Hulu.
Read more by Gemma King at: www.lesmuseesdeparis.com
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