Jun. 18th, 2014

rockinlibrarian: (roar)
Here's a post that's been at least seven weeks in the making, because I keep thinking ALL THESE THINGS I want to say about my Latest Favorite TV Show, but then I'd see another episode and think, "Wait, maybe I'd better see how THIS plays out, first," or then I'd think about how I want to recommend it and I don't want to be spoilery and then after awhile I thought, well, maybe it's too LATE to tell people to watch live so maybe I should just wait until the end and recommend you watch it as a WHOLE, in one gulp, after the fact, on Hulu or Netflix or DVD eventually or, as I've been doing all along, on iTunes. Also then I'd be surer my theories weren't totally wrong. But I've had LOTS OF THOUGHTS swirling in my head for a long while, and NOW, finally, that the show is over, I'm going to SHARE them, in as non-spoilery a way as possible. Which I honestly think I can do. Because I'm going to finish off this post with a lot of my usual philosophical ponderances that are far more INSPIRED BY than DIRECTLY ABOUT, so...

...WHICH ANYWAY that bit of sentence there coincidentally describes my favorite show of the past couple months, Fargo. It's a miniseries-that-might-eventually-become-an-"anthology"-series-with-a-new-cast-and-storyline-every-season, a ten-episode story. It's... inspired by the movie of the same name: it takes the general setting and themes and tells its own story with its own characters and a few callbacks, here and there, to the original --you eventually find out that it DOES take place in the same universe as the movie, 20 years later, but you don't NEED to be familiar with the movie to enjoy it, and if you DO love the movie, you don't have to worry about it trying to recreate something that was fine already. The movie-guys gave it their blessing, so it's all good.

To be honest, I only heard about it because my Imaginary Husband is in it. I'd never seen (or even WANTED to see) the movie, and the show was on FX, a channel we don't get, but the more I read about it in my daily Martin-stalking perusal of social media sources, the more intrigued I got, and the more I realized I'd end up Spoilered if I wasn't watching along, so I gave in, decided to be legal about it, and bought season access on iTunes.

I don't regret a penny. I LOVE this show, and I love it for so many reasons that don't have to do with Martin (it might help that he's playing an awful person-- it's easier not to get distracted by his charm when he HASN'T GOT ANY). It's to the point where I watched an hour-long panel featuring OTHER cast members without even caring whether or not any of them at least mentioned Martin And His Brilliance (I can't say the same for any Sherlock panels. Oh, I've watched panels without him, but only in case people talked about him!) BECAUSE IT'S ALL AWESOME ANYWAY. So now I'll present my case:

Things I Love About Fargo That Have Nothing To Do With Being In Love With Any of the Leads:

1. The PURE STORYTELLING. That's the benefit of this miniseries format as opposed to your typical TV show. It's not just stuff happening, but stuff building to an inevitable CONCLUSION. It's fine-crafted.
1a. It's a moral universe. Which doesn't mean there aren't truly horrible people doing truly horrible things. It's more a sense that, no matter how dark and twisted things get (and they get very dark and twisted), Good will Ultimately Triumph and Evil will Ultimately Get Its Comeuppance. Because actions have consequences.
1ab. Speaking of morals, every episode is named after a fable, parable, or philosophical question. It gives the whole thing a mythic quality. You can also dig deep into the symbolism if you want-- and there's loads of symbolism-- and you'll be delighted how well it holds up to scrutiny, but you don't have to. You can watch it on many levels. Though, personally, I really dig all the symbolism.

2. On the other hand, the other benefit of a miniseries as opposed to a MOVIE is the time to develop characters, setting, and increasingly complicated plots. Whether it's a seemingly random detail that later MEANS something or just an unexpected character trait, you never feel like you're watching the same old tropes playing out in the same old ways, even WITHIN this archetypal framework. It's full of surprises. A friend on Facebook said she loves the show "though it's a bit odd." Odd is totally what makes it worth watching! It's like nothing else!
2a. Like where else have you ever seen a couple of hitmen who communicate in sign language? For that matter, how many deaf hitmen do you see on TV, period, just, you know, because that's who he is? I was, personally, surprised how attached I got to those characters. But that's the thing. UNIQUE, UNEXPECTED CHARACTERS.

3. Speaking of characters who refuse to be tired stereotypes, let's talk about our hero(ine), Molly. People talk about the need for "Strong" Female Characters but why is it so rare to find one that's just plain REAL? Who's smart but makes mistakes, who's strong but has emotions, who's NORMAL-looking and all the prettier for it? It's hard NOT to adore Molly. The few people I've seen online who DON'T adore her end up trying pathetically to justify their dislike through the same textbook arguments people-who-just-don't-like-female-characters ALWAYS give. Side note-- in one scene in the finale she was wearing the same slippers that I happened to be wearing while watching! It was awesome!
3a. Likewise, in real life Allison Tolman is STILL AWESOME. So glad they discovered her and cast her even as the only unknown in the main cast. SHE CANNOT STAY UNKNOWN. SHE IS TOO AWESOME. Yes, I'm totally girl-crushing on her.

4. Speaking of crushiness (and no, I'm still not talking about you-know-who), but good Golly do I love the romance in this show. Oh yes, there's romance! But not the swoony-passionate kind (heck, the sex that shows up occasionally is the very opposite of romantic-- you'd never see our HEROES being so animalistic as all that). It's subtle, sweet, and totally adorable, and now I totally want to quote things that would be spoilery to prove it (hint for people who've seen it: "spleen." That's all), so you're just going to have to take my word for it.

5. Okay, the acting's good across the board, and yes I WILL brag talk about Martin now. The transformation he undergoes over the course of the series is jaw-dropping (and yet somehow believable!). But I'll admit, he and his Mephistopheles, Billy Bob Thornton, will be up against each other for Lead Actor In a Miniseries for all the awards, and I HONESTLY CAN'T DECIDE who deserves it more. Because Thornton's villain, Malvo, is so genuinely scary. It depends which episodes you've been watching most recently, who stands out more. Plus there's Allison Tolman, as I mentioned, who'll be in the running for awards under "SUPPORTING Actress" only for because-no-one's-heard-of-her reasons (but THAT MUST CHANGE! ALL THE PARTS FOR TOLMAN! ALL THE GLORY FOR TOLMAN!). And I haven't yet mentioned Colin Hanks as her total sweetheart, Gus. If Martin had played HIS part, I'D be done for. But Martin's playing a total creep instead, and the show is all the better for it.

6. Finally, and probably most importantly, The Clowns of God Effect. It's laugh out loud funny one minute and utterly horrifying the next. Sometimes in the SAME minute. I LIKE my stories like that, that can make you laugh AND cry... or gasp in horror. Combining emotions just makes all the emotions THAT MUCH MORE POWERFUL.

Things I Don't Love About Fargo:

1. Make no mistake, this show is VIOLENT. Brutal, even. But in its defense, it's not glorified violence. It's not there for the sake of being violent. Not like one of J's action movies, or even your typical PG-13 superhero movie (I was thinking about this while watching The Avengers the other night)-- not endless fight scenes among faceless goons. It always serves the story, and you FEEL exactly how awful it is. And yes, not only do a lot of people die, even some animals die. *GASP* So if you're thinking, "Well, if AMY loves this show, the violence can't be THAT bad!" you're wrong. It's just that the violence is sufficiently well-built into the storytelling for me.

2. Admittedly, it can be a little disconcerting to watch ones Imaginary Husband playing a slimy creep. Not because it's freaky to see him being a slimy creep-- he's too good an actor for that: puts you in the moment and you believe in him and are appropriately disgusted when necessary. No, it's because every so often a little of his natural gorgeousness sneaks through and knocks you for a loop. Like in Episode 6-- the episode when he arguably crosses beyond repentance to the Dark Side-- he spends a lot of time barefoot, and dangit THAT MAN HAS PERFECT FEET. The best actor in the world can't make his FEET act sufficiently creepy. So you're like, "I CAN'T BELIEVE THE NERVE OF THAT OH WHAT GORGEOUS TOES I MUST NUZZLE THEM... wait, no, that's wrong." See? DISCONCERTING.

In Which I Get Around To Musing On The Deep Issues Of Character I've Been Thinking About

But for reasons having nothing to do with the actor, it's Martin's character, Lester, I've most wanted to discuss this whole time. The scary thing is, it's this increasingly despicable antihero I identify with most. Well, maybe I'm more like gentle, good-natured Gus, or a certain spoilery ill-fated character who shows up later who's blind to the bad in people and certainly shares some of my tastes, but from an examination of ones psyche angle, my connection to Lester is more important. We share a major psychological issue: we are both highly emotionally repressed. Tightly-sealed steam cookers. Our villain Malvo rolls into town and tells Lester it's OKAY TO STICK UP FOR HIMSELF, and that's true. So why does everything go UTTERLY, HORRIBLY WRONG when he DOES?

(Note: if you think that's spoilery, then the rest of this will be spoilery as well and you can stop reading. I don't consider it spoilery. I think Lester's arc is fairly well obvious from a basic archetypal standpoint-- remember point 1a?, and that's what I'm going to talk about here, while avoiding the SPECIFICS that in my opinion would be true spoilers. I won't give away any of THOSE surprises here!)

At first I figured it was because he let the pressure cooker explode instead of letting a little steam off here and there. I've got my writing, for example. I let my anger out through written snark, which you'd never see from me live in person. But I'm still pretty repressed, especially when I'm NOT writing, and I know in order to grow I have to somehow learn to channel all that inner turmoil and turn it into useful real-world energy. But how? You don't see many GOOD role models of emotionally-repressed people learning to use their powers in fiction. Explosions make for more interesting stories. Not like Lester is ever likely to strike one as a role model.

Early on, Lester still has a chance to redeem himself. Everything he's done has been panicky, out of control-- to deal with the fallout with his soul intact, all he has to do is come clean. Instead he gets tangled up in an ever more complex web of half-truths and flat-out lies, so when he finally takes control of his life it's the LIES he ends up mastering. So THAT'S his problem, I thought. He's embraced a life of UNTRUTHS. If he'd held firmly to TRUTH during his escape from Repression, he wouldn't have gone bad. In fact truth is now the one thing he IS repressing!

But the more he, on the outside, came out of his shell, turned himself into the opposite of the shrinking little man he'd been, the more I realized that, at heart, he hadn't really changed at all. He was still governed by FEAR. He'd just gone from flight to fight. He's still reacting to this panicked voice of self-preservation in his head-- "DON'T HURT ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!" -- it's just that, before, he'd thought the solution was to curl up and make himself invisible (yep, that's me), and later he thought the solution was to kill or be killed (only sometimes literally). Maybe, though, the REAL solution is to STOP LISTENING TO THAT VOICE.

So maybe the key is to face up to Truths and Fears, instead of facing up to people. It's just that people are corporeal and therefore easier to face up to. But THEY'RE not the PROBLEM. It's the intangibles, the Truths and Fears themselves, that we need to deal with, in order to TRULY put ourselves bravely into the world.

However one does that.

So maybe I still don't know the best way to turn repressed anger into productive energy, but at least Lester has shown me clearly how NOT to do it.

One last observation. The social media team for the show decided that #awjeez would be the official hashtag for the show. I guess because this is stereotypical dialect for the area so it would be memorable and unusual and funny, hah hah? Except I totally say that all the time, in real life. I've never even lived in the upper-midwest. Yep. Apparently I'm Minnesotan at heart.

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