Many a movie and TV show — American Beauty, Desperate Housewives— has sneered at suburbia, the American dream and so-called traditional values. These things were jokes. Not only were these ideals obsolete, they were rotten in the core.
But Fargo, (FX, Mondays, 10 pm) amid all its violence and crime, has a refreshingly old-fashioned take: There is good and decency and small-town simplicity in the world, and those things are worth fighting for.
Fargo's central motif is blood splashed on snow — or, in one case, blood splashed on spilled vanilla milkshake. But the point of this symbol isn't that beauty is phony or purity has been corrupted. It's the contrast. The blood brings out the white. The snow brings out the red. Evil brings out the value of good.
Setting the second season in 1979, when the national psyche was caught between an old-fashioned idealism and a weary cynicism, gives these local themes a worldwide echo.
Showrunner Noah Hawley repeats themes from the second season, but these are themes worth repeating: He regales viewers with another operatic tale of the good, the bad and the morally weak. The bad is represented by feuding mob families, (including a mob matriarch played by Jean Smart in an imperious but sympathetic performance). The morally weak is represented by the striving Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her blue-collar husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), torn apart and driven to crime by diverging versions of the American dream. The good is cop Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), channeling Andy Griffith without irony.
Just having a good person — not a brilliant genius or a virtuous asshole or a wisecracking superhero —is quietly revolutionary in today's cynical TV landscape. Heck, Fargo's basically what a Frank Capra movie would be if George Bailey walked in on Mr. Potter feeding Uncle Billy's corpse through a meat grinder.
After the march of so many ugly, nihilistic shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective, Fargo is a breath of cold winter air.