The elements of Fargo

The show Fargo is pretty great. Each season though is familiar though not the same as the other seasons. The stories are different. But there are common elements. What are the common elements?

Setting

Each episode is set in some smallish town in Minnesota. Last names are Swedish. Tonnes of snow. Minnesota accents and ways of talking. Minnesota here represents ordinary, simple, basic decency.

Characters

Cop

Usually one cop, always a local and often a woman. She is decent, very down to Earth and extremely family oriented. Half the time she is pregnant or someone in her family is. This sets up a very strong contrast between her and the violence and criminals that surround her. She is a symbol of decency, goodness and vulnerability amidst a dangerous, evil uncaring world and her ability to overcome this evil represent the ultimate triumph of ordinary goodness over extraordinary evil.

The Devil

Usually a man. Extremely intelligent psychopath with zero compunctions about using violence to achieve his ends. Often extremely proficient and very good at what he does. He is usually charming, seductive, brilliant, daring, deeply philosophical, violent and evil. A lot of the most interesting parts of the show are parts where the Devil is articulating his philosophy.

The Loser

A person who is basically a loser. In their marriage or in their life. They suck. They are usually the setup for almost all the action that later takes place.

Often they end up being involved in a crime of some sort. This sets up a sort of triangle and the action is between the Loser, the Devil and the Cop. The loser in this situation is pathetic, nervous, scared, desperate. He is a counterpoint to the Devil and to the Cop. Whereas the cop represent ordinary good, the devil extraordinary evil, the loser represents someone in the middle…a sort of ordinary evil. He doesn’t commit evil because he is fundamentally evil but rather out of pathetic desperation. As time goes on the Loser who doesn’t want to be involved in what’s happening becomes increasingly involved and commits increasingly desperate acts.

Criminals

Usually there are a number of criminals involved and a lot of them are outsiders. The criminals are necessary to the plot because they basically add all the violence and death. The create the danger. They contrast hugely with the Minnesota setting which is normally boring, ordinary and simple.

The Devil is easily able to navigate this violent world and much of his obvious power is demonstrated in how he is able to manipulate any situation to his own advantage. The Loser, pathetic and desperate, is often able to figure out ways to survive but only by doing increasingly evil and dangerous things. We often end up rooting for him despite this because he is such an underdog.

The cop appears outmatched and its unclear how he/she who is just an ordinary good decent person can deal with a world of violence. A tremendous tension here is created by the extraordinary evil and the ordinary, simple decency of the cop. The cop in contrast to the brilliant devil and the desperate Loser is able to succeed not through daring acts or through becoming more more evil but instead by diligence, persistence, bravery and resoluteness.

The cop succeeds through ordinary good police work.

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