Squawk Box: Fargo Season 5/Criminal Record

Fargo Season 5: Fargo is one of those shows that the Missus and I started watching immediately when it debuted. We devoured Season 1 and although I remember starting Season 2, I don't remember the end of it at all and then we sort of... watched other things until we started seeing previews for Season 5. Jon Hamm, Jennifer Jason Leigh and- since we had just finished watching Ted Lasso and she was fresh in our minds, Juno Temple? Sign me up.

Set in the fall of 2019, Juno Temple is Dorothy 'Dot' Lyon, who is a seemingly typical Midwestern housewife, living in Scandia, Minnesota who turns out to have a mysterious past when she accidentally tasers a police officer during a school board meeting which descended into a riot. Her husband Wayne (David Rysdahl) bails her out but her appearance in the criminal justice system sets off alarm bells for people from her past. She is soon kidnapped by Ole Munch (Sam Spruell) at the request of her estranged husband from a decade prior Sheriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm) who is a corrupt rancher and 'constitutional' sheriff of Stark County in North Dakota. Wayne goes to his mother, Lorraine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who runs a debt collection agency and agrees to pay any random- but Dot, as it turns out has other ideas.

When they get pulled over by State Troopers in North Dakota, Dot makes her escape, evades Munch, and saves the life of Trooper Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris) before simply walking home and pretending like nothing has happened- but Tillman knows where she is now and her past won't leave her alone. More criminals are sent-- this time including Roy's son, Gator (Joe Keery), and Wayne is severely injured in the process. Dot holes up with her mother-in-law for a while, as she can afford the security and offer real protection for Dot and her daughter Scotty (Sienna King)-- but, thinking that Dot is the problem, Lorraine tries to have her institutionalized instead. Dot escapes from there too and manages to sneak Scotty away to hide with a friendly local cop, India Olmstead (Richa Moorjani) who is struggling with her wastrel husband, but sympathetic to Dot's plight and agrees. 

Dot then makes for North Dakota to have it out with Roy, once and for all. But Lorraine, having been threatened by Roy has had enough of him as well and employs some interesting tactics to scupper his re-election bid for Sheriff. The FBI is also on the case, concerned about the growing number of weapons and links to extremist groups and frankly, non-constitutional behavior from Tillman and they all converge for one final showdown at the Tillman Ranch.

A lot of critics are hailing this season as 'return to form' and while I haven't seen all the seasons to say if that's true or not, it was an excellent season of the show. (I also didn't realize that it didn't have connections- other than geographical of course- to any of the other seasons, marking a first for the show.) I did love how this show pushed the boundaries of the medium and went unexpected places in a couple of episodes-- 'Linda' features Dot telling the story of her abuse at the hands of Tillman in the form of a puppet show that actually might be more impactful and haunting than showing it in real life The character of Ole Munch (the assassin/killer) is also heavily hinted at being a 'sin-eater' who is over 500 hundred years old from Wales-- that last sentence seems absolutely crazy when you consider that this is a show set in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2019, but Fargo makes it work and makes it seem believable- it doesn't knock you out of the show, in fact, it keeps you anchored deeper in the story.

Overall: Just excellent, from start to finish, this season of Fargo has more than convinced me that I need to circle back and catch up on this show. But, an all-star cast, a great story, and a satisfying conclusion-- what more could you ask for? Juno Temple is great, and Jon Hamm is even better, but Jennifer Jason Leigh might just steal this entire season out from under everyone. My Grade: **** out of ****

Criminal Record: We found this on Apple TV and the Missus and I (since we were in a crime show kind of mood) gave it a whirl. Starring Peter Capaldi as DCI Daniel Hegarty and Cush Jumbo as DS June Lenker, Criminal Record is the story of a frantic call to 999 by a female saying that she was a victim of domestic violence. She also mentions that her boyfriend admitted to killing someone and bragged about the fact that an innocent man was put in prison for the crime.

June (Cush Jumbo) gets assigned the call just to do some basic follow-up: find out if they can determine the address or identity of the female caller and, if they can do that, to hopefully intervene and extricate her from her situation. When June reaches a dead end, she is drawn to the murder case the caller referenced. There, she encounters DCI Daniel Hegarty (Peter Capaldi).

The old murder case in question involves Errol Matthis (Tom Moutchi) who was found guilty of stabbing his then-partner Adelaide Burrows to death and then fleeing the scene with their child, Patrick (Rasaq Kukoyi). Lenker starts to research the case and immediately finds questions that Hegarty is not interested in answering. Errol's mother (Cathy Tyson), along with local lawyer Sonya Singh (Aysha Kala) have long been convinced of his innocence and have been campaigning to have him freed. They provide Lenker with more evidence indicating that Hegarty and his colleagues  Tony Gilfoyle (Charlie Creed-Miles) and Kim Cardwell (Shaun Dooley) might have framed Errol up, as they have a checkered and sketchy past on the force, which includes links to far-right groups.

Even as Lenker puts her career on the line, she keeps finding more and more things until even Hegarty begins to question how the case was handled. Eventually, they find the truth Errol is vindicated the actual murderer (and boyfriend of the original caller) is found and Lenker is forced to admit that they managed to get the job done with Hegarty's help- but a part of her... wonders.

Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo are absolutely electric in this. Just brilliant together and they bounce off each other perfectly. (Part of the reason I'm glad to see this is getting another season on Apple TV!) As crime shows/whodunits go, this one was a good one-- there were plenty of twists and turns and the ending worked. 

If there is one thing we do need to talk about with this show, it might be the racial dynamics within. Lenker is a person of color in a relationship with a white man and Hegarty is white. Very, very white. I saw some commentary on right-wing blogs bemoaning this show for 'trying to cast the white guy as the bad guy yet again' along with 'hurr durr durr woke, woke, woke' etc and I did not get that sense at all. There are shows where the racial dynamics are very shoehorned in (see: that National Treasure streaming show) and it does make for bad viewing. This was not one of them. Hegarty's character is left deliberately ambiguous-- same with those of his colleagues. Are they far-right racist cops? Are they experienced cops who have been in the trenches too long and rushed to judgment where they shouldn't have? Hegarty also has a daughter who is addicted to heroin so that adds another dimension to his character: he's a father too and when his daughter wins up in a relationship with a person of color, it doesn't (outwardly) bother him.

I think it's all about the lens you watch this through and it would be fascinating to hear from British people of color about how they feel about the racial dynamics in this show. It's set in London. There is history in London dating back to the 80s that would tell you that the relationship between law enforcement and people of color in the city might not be that great-- all of that feels real. In that sense, this isn't really all that different from any other large metropolitan area where I imagine trying to keep a sense of objectivity when you see the same crime over and over and over again could well lead to a mistake- even a grievous one that locks up a man for a crime he didn't commit. If you watch this through an American lens, you're going to see exactly what you want to see- and by the way, when they say 'far-right' in a UK context, they don't mean fellas with a Trump flag on the back of their pick-up truck.

Overall: Intriguing, twisty and turny with two excellent leads, I will give this complex crime drama another go whenever it lands back on Apple TV. My Grade: **** out of ****


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