Chaos is the order of the day in Season 5 of the FX series “Fargo,” starting with the opening scene: a meeting of a “Fall Festival Planning Committee” in a middle school auditorium in a suburb of Saint Paul in 2019, where all hell has broken loose. With parents and administrators flailing away at each other in slow motion and prog-rock greats Yes on the soundtrack (“Take a straight and stronger course, to the corner of your life …”), a petite mother who is trying to guide her daughter to safety unleashes her Taser twice — first on a teacher who has screamed at her, “No one is listening to me!” and then on a local police officer who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each way, so satisfied I’m on my way,” is the chorus from Yes, as the mother is cuffed and placed in the back of a squad car.
“I tell ya,” says the arresting officer. “What’s the world coming to is all I’m saying. Neighbor against neighbor …”
The marvelous Juno Temple (“Ted Lasso”) is the mom in the back seat of that squad car, one Dorothy “Dot” Lyon, and the quietly wonderful, scene-stealing Richa Moorjani is the arresting officer, Minnesota Police Deputy Indira Olmstead, and while this is the first time their respective lives will meet head-on, it’s not the last, oh no, not by a long shot.
With that dark and hilarious opening sequence, we’re off and running with the fifth season of “Fargo,” which was inspired by the classic 1996 film from the Coen Brothers. Over the last 10 years, creator and primary writer Josh Hawley has delivered a sometimes great, occasionally just really good anthology series, with a host of first-rate talent including Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Chris Rock, Jessie Buckley, among many others, taking star turns in various seasons.
This time around, the action is set in the Minnesota and North Dakota of 2019 America, just before COVID and during a time when the country was deeply divided. (Unlike today, chortle-chortle.)
Juno Temple leans heavily into the almost-cartoonish yet not entirely inaccurate Minnesota accent and is her usual fantastic self as Dot, Richa Moorjani is wondrous playing a variation on Marge Gunderson — the small-town, self-effacing lawperson who is NOT to be underestimated — and Jon Hamm adds yet another memorable performance to his prolific post-“Mad Men” career, playing a “constitutional” North Dakota sheriff and rancher/preacher who surrounds himself with militiamen and believes in the letter of the law, as long as he’s the one with the pen.
Six of the 10 episodes were made available for critics, and we’re going to tread lightly so you can experience the wicked twists and turns fresh and clean.
Each chapter begins with a title card claiming, “This is a true story. The following events took place in Minnesota in 2019. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” That’s nonsense. None of this happened. It’s pure, crazy, inspired fiction that seems mostly plausible, though there is a flashback that flashes WAY back and introduces the possibility of supernatural influence on certain events.
Dot’s arrest at the school board meeting sets off a chain of events that ripples across two states and results in a mounting body count. For the last decade-plus, Dot has been living the quiet life of domestic bliss with her mild-mannered husband Wayne (David Rysdahl), but when her fingerprints are entered into the system, we learn she has a connection to Hamm’s Sheriff Roy Tillman, who enlists the services of a couple of thugs to track down Dot in Minnesota and kidnap her.
The kidnapping goes sideways, in bloody fashion. Dot returns home, claiming it was all a big misunderstanding and she wasn’t really kidnapped. Wayne’s mother, the ruthless and wealthy Lorraine (the great Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has never liked Dot and considers her trash from the wrong side of some tracks somewhere, is instantly suspicious.
Sheriff Tillman’s son, Gator (Joe Keery), proves to be an idiot, but a dangerous idiot. Dave Foley kills it as Lorraine’s shark of an attorney, one Danish Graves, who has an eyepatch and comports himself like something out of an old “Batman” episode. Oh, and we’d be remiss not to mention Ole Munch (Sam Spruell), a chillingly menacing killer who could be a cousin to Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men.”
There are moments when Season 5 of “Fargo” seems to be trying almost too hard to be weird and great, but that’s a fine ambition to have. There are also moments of absolutely inspired lunacy, as when Dot and her daughter Scotty (Sienna King) rig their house “Home Alone” style in advance of an onslaught. As we’re reminded time and again, Dot Lyon is a Mama Lion. If you come at her, you better bring everything you’ve got and hope that’s enough.