Minnesota homemaker Dot Lyon (Juno Temple) has a nice, quiet life. Her husband (David Rysdahl) worships her. Their preteen daughter (Sienna King) is Dot’s whole world. The only apparent obstacle to her happiness is a haughty mother-in-law (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who happens to own America’s largest debt collection agency—and is convinced that Dot’s motives for marrying her boy were less than pure. Then one day, a pair of thugs show up at the Lyons’ doorstep to drag Dot back to a painful past that she never disclosed to her family. She doesn’t go quietly.
So begins the fifth season of FX’s Coen Brothers-inspired crime anthology Fargo, premiering Nov. 21. As a follow-up to Season 4’s ambitious yet cluttered, 1950s-set exploration of American identity, which aired in 2020, it’s a tighter, funnier, but equally dark return to form for creator Noah Hawley. This time, gender and class are the battlefields on which the show’s eternal war of good vs. evil are fought.
Set in the portentous, pre-pandemic and pre-Jan. 6 autumn of 2019, the season is crawling with law-enforcement types connected to Dot’s case who become avatars for different visions of justice. Fargo’s stalwart good cops include a pragmatic officer from Minnesota (Richa Moorjani) and her fairness-obsessed North Dakota counterpart (Lamorne Morris). A stiff pair of FBI agents worship at the altar of rules. Best—and worst—of all, Jon Hamm plays the pompous, violent, virulently misogynistic “constitutional sheriff” Roy Tillman, whose certainty that he has the authority to mete out divine justice allows him to run his squad like his own personal mafia.
Along with a wonderfully deranged soundtrack (Nightmare Before Christmas fans, prepare yourselves for Easter eggs galore) and reliably gorgeous cinematography, this smartly cast menagerie of oddballs makes Fargo a pleasure to watch. Ted Lasso alum Temple’s signature effervescence conceals a steely tenacity. Leigh drips cynicism and condescension, and has her own convenient theories on justice. The police, she explains to one officer, exist “to separate those who have money, class, intellect from those who don’t.” Hamm is her perfect foil, all macho bluster. He gets some of the most audaciously baroque dialogue in the series’ history—which is saying a lot—and never squanders a line. Approached by colleagues as he bathes in a capacious outdoor bathtub, Roy drawls: “Does my discussing matters of state in moist repose bother you?”
If you’re looking for contemporary political resonance, you’ll surely find it in the inevitable negotiations between Leigh’s billionaire girlboss elitist and Hamm’s Bible-thumping, he-man populist over the fate of one poor, desperate woman. But, as the spookily ageless self-described nihilist in a kilt (Sam Spruell) lurking at the story’s margins suggests, this is a parable, not a hot take. In bringing so many mutually exclusive perspectives to bear on Dot’s traditionally male quest to defend herself and her family, Hawley has more elemental questions in mind.