"You're a good man Vern Thurman," the ill-fated police chief's wife tells her husband in the first episode of FX's Fargo, and, sure enough, that's one thing that's a relief about the series. The good guys really are good.
Fargo may be about the strange, violent underbelly under all that Minnesota niceness, but the show makes it clear that in some cases the niceness is genuine. And that's what separates Fargo from that other recent limited series about bizarre crime, True Detective. Here, there are actual heroes.
In the first episode, the audience learns that one of those heroes is Allison Tolman's Molly Solverson, who inherits the doggedness of the movie's Marge Gunderson. When Molly first appears at the scene of Lorne Malvo's abandoned car, she shows signs of inexperience, but she's clearly learning to be a more diligent cop as the episode goes on, even stooping to take a closer look at Sam Hess's dead body. Molly, of course, is the one that connects Malvo to Lester Nygaard, which prompts the chief to go over to Lester's, where he is eventually killed. Molly has a clear motivation going forward for the rest of the series: she has to figure out what's happening in Bemidji in order to avenge the death of her kindly boss. But, what's also comforting about the character, is that you get the sense that Molly would be just as dedicated to the case even if it didn't have that element of personal sadness.
For the most part, the lines are clearly drawn in Fargo. Billy Bob Thornton's Malvo is a harbinger of murderous mischief. He's fun to watch, but you wouldn't want to come near him. Martin Freeman's Lester is a man who had bottled up his rotten core under a veil of passivity. When Malvo uncorks him by killing Hess on his behalf, there's no question about it: Lester is a bad guy. The show is about how horrific things can happen even among the most mild of communities, but it's not asking viewers to cheer for an antihero. Instead, it rallies support for the Mollys of the world.
In the final moments of the episode, it's clear that Molly will have a cohort in Colin Hanks' Gus Grimley. From the get-go Grimly has a sweet relationship with his daughter, who he seeks to protect when Malvo threatens. Malvo presents Gus's conflict as a contrast between walking into the "light" rather than the "darkness." Gus, of course, doesn't really have such a choice. Letting Malvo go still draws Gus into said darkness, but Gus acts on an impulse to do right by the person that means most to him: his daughter.
The morally flexible denizens of Fargo's Upper Midwest sure are entertaining to watch, but what's refreshing about the show is how easy it is to want the upstanding citizens to succeed.