‘Fargo’ building to season’s end

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One of the most pleasant surprises on TV right now is “Fargo,” the quirky FX crime drama/dark comedy that wraps up its first season with its 10th episode next Tuesday.

Although it’s only loosely connected to the 1996 Coen brothers movie, the series created by Noah Hawley has the same sensibility in its funny/horrifying look at small town Minnesota and the lives thrown into chaos when drifter/hit man/troublemaker Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) comes to town.

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t been following or caught up with the first nine episodes so far.

Malvo’s arrival and the complicated blackmail plot he kicked off and manipulated has sparked big changes in the lives of everyone from stalwart deputy Molly (Allison Tolman) to hapless insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).

With a little push from Malvo, the at-first-sympathetic Lester has become downright despicable, killing his wife and causing the death of his rebound wife, the latter walking into a trap set by Malvo.

Malvo’s menace so unnerved mild-mannered cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) that he quit the force and went back to his first love, delivering the mail. The good part: Gus and Molly, who initially tracked Malvo together, are married, a plot turn enabled by a one-year jump ahead in time the series took a couple of episodes ago.

The forward jump in time brought us to a Lester who is bolder after getting away with murder and eluding Malvo – at least for a while. But with next week’s season finale looming, I think we can assume that Malvo, Lester, Molly and Gus are on a collision course.

“Fargo” is twisty but always keeps track of its storylines and characters, who lately have included comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as two FBI agents looking to settle a score with Malvo. They’ll no doubt play into the showdown next week too.

With its frosty locales, offbeat characters and harsh violence, “Fargo” is a standout series.

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