Series / Fargo

Fargo is a 2014 television series on FX, based on the movie of the same name and executive-produced by the Coen Brothers. It was originally announced as a miniseries, but later revealed to be an anthology series: each season will follow a totally different set of characters and subplots, instead retaining the same themes and tropes.

Season One opens with Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), local salesman and Butt Monkey trapped in a loveless marriage with a belittling wife. Confronted by Sam Hess, the asshole who used to viciously bully him in school, Lester finds himself at the hospital for a broken nose and coming to the end of his rope. Unfortunately, the one friendly stranger he starts to vent at just so happens to be Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), a blue-and-orange aligned Professional Killer passing through who takes sympathy on his situation. Naturally, things begin to snowball from here.

Season Two began airing October, 2015. It takes us back to The '70s and explores the infamous-yet-mysterious Sioux Falls incident that everyone insists on vaguely recalling. It stars Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Jean Smart, Kirsten Dunst & Jesse Plemons. Features at least three characters from season one (Lou & Molly Solverson, as well as Gus Grimly's boss Ben Schmidt), and a more in-depth look at the previously off-screen menace of the Kansas City Mafia.

The show was renewed for a third season in November 2015. Little is currently known about the season, save that it will return to a 21st century setting, more specifically 2010. Ewan McGregor will star as two brothers, Emmit and Ray Stussy.

There was also a failed television pilot released in 2003 starring a pre-The Sopranos Edie Falco that failed to get picked up, despite the critical praise.

SPOILER WARNING: The plot of Fargo is pretty unpredictable even to Genre Savvy tropers, and many tropes on this page and the character page are spoilers simply by their name. Read at your own risk.

The series as a whole contains examples of:

  • Ambition Is Evil: A theme that carries over from the film; the heroic characters are happy because they appreciate what they have, and care more about each other than money or status. The villains are willing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus to get what they want, and inevitably come to a sticky end.
  • Anyone Can Die: The show isn't shy about bumping off major characters, especially in Season 2.
  • Arc Words: "I'm the victim here."
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: In a Shout-Out to the original film, every episode opens with a declaration that it's based on a true story with the names changed. The caption even holds the word "true" onscreen for a second or two after the rest have faded.
  • Expanded Universe: The series is this to the original film.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: A Central Theme from the film that carries into the show.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Just like in the film, many of the characters have an aversion towards swearing.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Season 1 uses logical paradoxes and Zen Buddhist koans. Season 2 uses literary and artistic allusions (except for "Did You Do This? No, You Did It!")
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover / Ultimate Universe: With the number of Expy characters, it really does feel like Coen Brothers: The Series. Word of God has described Season 1 as Fargo meets No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man, while Season 2 is Fargo meets Miller's Crossing and The Man Who Wasn't There.
  • Minnesota Nice: Characters from Minnesota and the Dakotas almost always affect a chipper and upbeat tone even when they're criticizing or insulting each other.
  • Mordor: Fargo itself is portrayed as this, the seat of organized crime in the Midwest, bringing its corruption into otherwise peaceful towns and people.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Villains tend to be very conservative in their views. Malvo and Dodd Gerhardt in particular hate women.
  • Previously On: Its own Minnesota Nice variations: "Erstwhile On" and "Precedently On."
  • Shout-Out: Has enough to the original film and other Coen Brothers movies to warrant its own page.
  • Thematic Series: Each season takes place in a different time period with a different group of characters, but they all share a continuity that includes the events of the movie, as well as a common setting of rural Minnesota. A What Happened to the Mouse? from the movie is addressed in the series, and season 2 details the Sioux Falls case that Lou Solverson referenced several times in season 1.
    Noah Hawley (Fargo showrunner): I like the idea that somewhere out there is a big, leather-bound book that's the history of true crime in the Midwest, and the movie was Chapter 4, Season 1 was Chapter 9 and [Season 2] is Chapter 2. You can turn the pages of this book, and you just find this collection of stories... But I like the idea that these things are connected somehow, whether it's linearly or literally or thematically. That's what we play around with.
  • True Crime: What it claims to be and how it structures its stories. However, like the film, it is fictional. It starts playing with this in Season 3.

The first season contains examples of:

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  • Animal Motifs: Show up frequently, most notably with Malvo who is constantly associated with wolves. As a theme, fish are shown throughout the show.
  • Asian Airhead: Linda, Lester's wife after the Time Skip.
  • Assassin Outclassin':
    • When Numbers and Wrench finally learn Malvo's identity and are ordered to kill him, Malvo escapes their vehicular ambush in a snowstorm and kills Numbers before heading off.
    • Malvo himself falls victim to this when he tracks down Lester, who sets up a bear trap and injures him enough to force him to flee.
  • Asshole Victim: Sam Hess, a grown man who still acts like a high-school bully to Lester. Along with Lester's wife and the man mistaken for Lorne.
  • Axes at School: Lester does this as part of his plan to frame his brother. He plants a gun in his nephew Gordo's backpack. When the gun is discovered at school, this causes the police to search the house, finding the evidence Lester planted (along with Chazz's own illegal firearm).
  • Badass Family: The Solverson/Grimley's. Molly cements her status as a Good Is Not Soft Determinator throughout the series and Lou is definitely a Retired Badass however in the final episode Lou shows he's still very much a Bad Ass Grandpa when he spends the entire night outside the house with a shotgun to guard Gus and Greta from Malvo and when he explains the situation to Greta she immediately gets her own gun and joins him. Finally Gus steps up and waits to kill Malvo in his hideout.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: When Malvo machine-guns the Fargo mobsters, the camera stays facing the building as he goes in, then tracks up and over past the mirrored windows following the shots and screams. The only blood we see is from one man thrown through a window down to the sidewalk.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Malvo tells a story about a woman who thought it would be funny to bend over and let her boyfriend's dog hump her, apparently unaware that he's not neutered. The dog tries to mount her for real and won't let her go; they end up having to kill it to rescue her.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Viewers who know ASL can pick up on a few extra jokes and conversations between Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. For example, thanks to translations circling the internet, part of their introductory conversation with Hess' lawyer is revealed as this:
    Mr. Wrench: [signing to Mr. Numbers] Ask him about the library.
    Mr. Numbers: There's no library in this town. Why is there no library in this town?
    Max Gold: Uh, cutbacks?
    Mr. Numbers: [signing to Mr. Wrench] He doesn't know.
    Mr. Wrench: [signing to Mr. Numbers] Let him know that his tie is absolutely hideous.
    Mr. Numbers: [chuckles] He thinks every town should have a library.
    Max Gold: I agree. (beat) Tell him I agree.
    Mr. Numbers: [signing to Mr. Wrench] His mother bought it for him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lorne is finally killed by Gus, Lester falls through ice and drowns and Gus, Molly and Greta are expecting a happy future, but a lot of innocent people either died or suffered greatly due to the search for Lorne and Lester and the actions of the duo.
  • Black Comedy: There's a definite mix of humour and horror, such as Lester intentionally knocking himself out to spare himself any suspicion in the wake of a murder.
  • Bookends: For Lester, who breaks his nose at the beginning of the first episode and during the climax of the last episode.
  • Bullying a Dragon: A subversion in that while Lester antagonizes Lorne Malvo, he is still aware of how dangerous he is. As expected, Malvo does go after Lester, but he fails to kill him. While, Lester does not walk away from the ordeal unscathed and initially bites off more than he could chew, Malvo does not get his revenge.
  • Butt Monkey: Lester, though his arc seems to be The Dog Bites Back.
  • Call Back:
    • When Malvo confronts Gus at the police station, he gives him a riddle. Molly has to give him the answer and when the two men meet in the last episode of season one, Gus tells him he knows the answer.
    • When Malvo asks Lester if he wants Sam Hess to be killed, he says, "Yes or no". Lester is too shaken and confused to answer, as he is an Extreme Doormat in the first episode. After the Time Skip, Lester becomes more confident and meets up with Malvo again. This time, Lester decides to stand up to Malvo. When Malvo asks, "Is this what you want? Yes or no?", Lester flat out tells him, "Yes".
    • Earlier in the season, Malvo tells a story of a bear caught in a bear trap who escapes and goes off to die on his own terms. In the last episode of the season, Malvo gets his own leg caught in a bear trap and escapes, only to die in his cabin once Gus catches up to him.
  • Camping a Crapper: In "The Heap", Lorne Malvo kills the cop guarding Wrench's hospital room by hiding in the bathroom till the cop has to go, them ambushing him and strangling him.
  • Catch Phrase: Malvo's seems to be "Aces" when he's pretending to be a dentist.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Chazz's taser. Lester uses it to escape Numbers and Wrench.
    • Chazz's bear trap. Lester uses it in the finale to disable Malvo.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: While it initially looks like Gus will play a major role in the pursuit of Malvo, his only substantial contribution is that he actually met Malvo face-to-face. Beyond that he is not a very good cop and does not really move the investigation forward. However, in the finale he recognizes Malvo driving by, finds Malvo's hideout and then shoots Malvo dead.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Lorne Malvo.
    • Surprisingly, Lester becomes one later on.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Both averted and played straight. Stavros Milos is Eastern Orthodox, however he associates with Saint Lawrence of Rome, and has a stained glass image of St Lawrence, which is far more Catholic than Orthodox. Also during a sequence a Latin litany chant is used, where one might have expected a chant in Greek.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • In a flashback scene, Stavros's discovery of Carl Showalter's stash of money right after he prays for a miracle. This naturally makes him start to believe in the existence of God.
    • The two hitmen tasked with finding the man who killed Sam Hess run into a man who matches the general description of Lorne and even has a wound on his head in the same area that Lorne has. In addition the man is a Knife Nut and supposedly made threats against Hess. After they abduct the man, they are seriously vexed when they find out that they got the wrong man.
    • Lampshaded when Molly correctly connects all the deaths to each other but cannot convince Bill that it is not just a series of unlikely coincidences.
    • After Stavros buries the money in the snow, he happens upon Wally and Dmitri's car wreck while driving home (although perhaps justified considering they were driving to the same place).
    • After the Time Skip, Lester is at a conference in Las Vegas when out of the blue he runs into Lorne in the hotel bar. This unlikely meeting is somewhat foreshadowed by Bill's story of finding his African-refugee-adoptee in a random supermarket in another town, months after he and his wife were supposed to meet the kid; their initial meeting being prevented by the boy's bag being stolen at the airport.
    • Gus seems to be magnetically attracted to Malvo, and runs into him nearly constantly after their first meeting, right until episode 10 when he has to stop to avoid a wolf right outside Malvo's house.
  • Da Chief: Bill Oswalt becomes the new chief after his predecessor dies. He spends his first few episodes in office resisting Solverson's detective efforts before finally breaking down.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Chief Thurman. His death sets up the real protagonist, Deputy Solverson.
  • Deus ex Machina: In the finale, a wolf appears in the road, forcing Gus to stop his car and inadvertently discover Lorne's hideout. Later, when Malvo returns to heal himself, he sees the same wolf outside and is distracted by it long enough for Gus to get the drop on him.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The fate of Wally and Dmitri. They get killed by a torrent of falling fish. Made worse by the fact that Stavros had just tried to make peace with God to spare his son from the Ten Plagues (actually just Lorne), only to have them be killed by a real "miracle".
  • Disguised Hostage Gambit: Malvo tricks the cops into wasting their time and killing Don Chumph this way: he uses duct tape to gag him, tie him to an exercise machine, and stick an unloaded shotgun pointed at the front door into his hands. He draws the cops' attention by firing a rifle at some cars outside, leaves, and then sets up a tripwire to make the rifle fire more once the SWAT team arrives. When the team entered the front door, the light was in their eyes, so all they saw was a silhouette of a man holding a shotgun. Since the exercise machine kept him propped up even after being shot, the entire squad continued firing continuously for several seconds until they could see he was dead.
    • This is echoed in episode 10, where the car salesman is taped to the steering wheel of Malvo's car and distracts Pepper and Budge for long enough for Malvo to sneak up on them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: As condescending and unsupportive Chazz may be as a brother, he and his family pay dearly due to Lester's plotting.
  • Dumb Muscle: Don Chumph. In the sense that he's used to run all the errands and mundane tasks.
  • Expy:
    • Molly has elements of Marge, being a Plucky Girl with serious Minnesota Nice and is a surprisingly competent police officer. And a matching pregnancy as of "The Heap".
    • Lorne is one for Anton Chigurh — a mysterious, malevolent loner with an odd haircut whose MO heavily incorporates It Amused Me.
    • Lester starts as a pretty clear one for Jerry Lundegaard from the film. Then things go in a drastically different direction.
    • Linda Nygaard is a subtle one. She shares traits with Mike Yamagita: she's Asian-American, harbors an infatuation with a love interest, and even shares the name of the off-screen Linda Cooksey in the movie.
    • Glenn Howerton's character, Don Chumph, can be seen as one for Brad Pitt's character from Burn After Reading. They're both grinning, dim-witted personal trainers involved with half-assed schemes to extort money.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Lester's first scene has him being mercilessly and passive-aggressively criticized for his inadequacies by his wife. He simply absorbs the abuse, establishing him as a rather pathetic Extreme Doormat.
    • Chief Thurman is introduced making some astute observations at a crime scene and gently correcting Solverson, establishing him as a good guy and a good lawman.
    • Solverson is introduced following Thurman's lead and learning from his detective skills, showing that she is an up-and-coming police officer.
    • Lorne Malvo is introduced with a naked man in his trunk, establishing him as a creepy crook.
    • Bill Oswalt is introduced having just vomited at a crime scene, establishing him as a less-than-stellar example of police competence.
    • Gus Grimly is introduced sitting in his police cruiser and catching up with his daughter over a walkie-talkie, establishing his dual life roles.
    • Numbers and Wrench are first introduced as a simple pair of intimidating hitmen, and then they start signing to each other. An interview with the writers confirms this was intended to make them seem unpredictable and secretive.
  • Establishing Series Moment: Most of the first episode seems like a retread of the movie: Lester is an Expy of Jerry Lundegaard, a nebbish businessman who's the Butt Monkey of his own family and who has an encounter with a far more dangerous and edgy stranger. Like Jerry trying and failing to get the ice off the windshield of his car, Lester tries and fails to fix his washing machine. And, like Wade in the film having open contempt for his son-in-law, Pearl has open contempt for her own husband. Then stammering milquetoast Lester picks up a hammer and beats Pearl to death.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Molly's story about the man who left his glove on the train platform is lost on Lester because he can't comprehend a charitable act. However, he quickly solves Agent Budge's riddle about the fox, the rabbit, and the cabbage because he has become a master at serving his own interests.
  • Extreme Doormat: Lester, to begin with. He's even described in the show's description as "put-upon".
  • Flaw Exploitation: Malvo's M.O., to the point that he even does it to minor characters for no apparent gain: trolling them by poking at resentments and inadequacies just to see whether they will take the bait, and punishing those who do.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "Buridan's Ass" opens with a shot of fish swimming in a restaurant tank; near the end of that episode, Stavros' son and bodyguard are killed by a rain of fish.
    • It's not his job, but Gus Grimly frequently has to stand in for Animal Control, a job the rest of the cops look down on. Malvo is repeatedly compared to a predatory animal, especially by himself, and Gus figures this out just before killing him. Foreshadowing the same scene is the story Malvo tells about a bear who gnawed his leg off to get out of a trap, before dying "on his own terms".
  • Fox-Chicken-Cabbage Puzzle
    • In the "A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage" episode, Budge asks Pepper this riddle to pass the time while they are assigned to the file room. Pepper gets hung up on the details and eventually provides a unique answer.
    Pepper: A Turducken.
    Budge: A what's that now?
    Pepper: He stuffs the cabbage in the rabbit and the rabbit in the fox, and he eats all of them.
    Budge: That's not the answer.
    Pepper: It's an answer.
    • In the subsequent "Morton's Fork" episode, Budge asks Lester the riddle while driving him back to his home and he gets the correct answer right away.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: If one pauses the scene in episode 9 when Lester buys the plane tickets one can see that he only bought a single one-way ticket for one person.
  • Fridge Logic: Discussed in-universe. When Gus tells Molly the neighbor's anecdote about the rich man who futilely gave everything, including his life, for the good of humanity, Molly wonders why the man couldn't just live on and work for charity.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Lorne & Lester.
  • Fun with Subtitles: Mr. Wrench is deaf, so he usually talks in sign language as his partner, Mr. Numbers, translates. But in "Eating The Blame",note  they talk to each other with nobody else around. So instead, subtitles appear next to their faces as they "talk."
  • Gambit Pileup: Lorne and Lester each have an increasing number of complex and risky schemes piling up on either side to keep them both alive and out of jail.
  • Get into Jail Free: In "Eating the Blame", Lester punches a cop in order to get arrested and away from Numbers and Wrench. Numbers and Wrench later stage a bar brawl and get arrested and placed in the same cell as Lester.
  • Glasgow Grin: Malvo gets one when he is shot in the face and killed. He never has to live with it, however.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Best exemplified through Bill, who inadvertently lets Lester off the hook for Pearl's murder as he cannot believe him to be capable of such a crime. In the finale, he decides to retire and let Molly take over his post, stating that he can't stomach how utterly cruel and savage the world can be to produce men like Malvo and Lester.
  • Good Is Dumb:
    • A major motif throughout the series is that as well-intentioned and good Gus and Bill may be, their flashes of incompetence are counterproductive. The difference between the two is that Gus owns his incompetencies; he admits that he didn't act correctly when stopping Malvo's car, and sends numerous bunches of flowers to Molly after he shoots her. Bill's constant need to save face and pride and assert his authority in the face of Molly's investigation really screws things up, though he redeems himself in the end when he decides to leave the force, and recognises Molly's superior policing abilities.
    • Averted with Molly and Vern.
  • Gun Nut: Chazz.
  • Here There Be Dragons: Discussed by Malvo while warning off Gus in the pilot.
  • Human Shield: Lester uses his new wife as this to protect himself from Lorne, even having her wear his red jacket with a hoodie.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Lester after ending up in the hospital due to being septic with infection, switches beds with his heavily bandaged and sedated roommate. Why? So he can be taken out of the room for surgery, past the police, steal a car, go to his house and get the bloody hammer and some sexy pictures of his wife, break into his brother's house, plant the evidence next to an illegal machine gun, place a pistol in his nephew's backpack and get his brother arrested and blamed for his wife's murder. Then, get back to the hospital and switch back. IT WORKS.
  • Irony: Throughout Season 1, Malvo tricks Stavros into thinking God is inflicting the Ten Plagues on him, which eventually motivates Stavros to bury the blackmail money in order to make peace before God can kill his son. However, Stavros' son ends up dying after he does so, this time from an actual act of nature (God?) in which Malvo had seemingly no involvement.
  • It Amused Me / For the Evulz: With some scenes, it's implied that Lorne is part of a crime ring who's killing for an ulterior motive. With the kid in the motel parking lot and Sam's kids, however, his actions fall squarely into this trope.
  • It's Personal: The series is driven by people going an extra mile for personal reasons.
    • The main plot starts when Malvo decides to kill Sam as a personal favor to Lester.
    • Molly pursues the case so doggedly because Malvo killed Chief Thurman, her friend and mentor.
    • Gus goes after Malvo because he is ashamed of letting Malvo intimidate him into not doing his job.
    • The middle man who gives Malvo his contracts lampshades the fact that Fargo sending hitmen after Malvo must be for personal reasons. If there was a business reason for killing Malvo, additional steps would have been taken to manage the situation before hitmen were sent out.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Lorne kills Milos's dog as part of his blackmail scheme.
    • Lorne's visit to Mr. Wrench in the hospital has shades of this. It's pretty clear he's enjoying rubbing the fact that he killed Mr. Numbers and Wrench's employers in his face.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Lester's wife is so mercilessly critical of him that it's still possible to sympathize with him even after he murders her.
  • Kill the Cutie: Poor Linda.
  • Know Your Vines: In "The Heap", Ida mentions that when Vern was courting her, he gave her a bouquet of poison ivy. Which he picked himself.
  • Leitmotif: Lester's is the rhythmic clunking of his malfunctioning washing machine.
    • Malvo's is a single chime, repeated three times.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: In the finale, as Lester is being escorted out of the police station, Molly takes the time to tell him a parable about a man who was boarding a train and found that he left one of his gloves on the platform. With no time to get it back, he instead threw the other glove out the window so that someone else could have the pair if they needed it. The parable is Molly's attempt to tell Lester that it makes more sense to let go of his selfish viewpoint and make the decision to tell the truth because there is enough evidence built up around him that he will never be completely off the hook. The gloves can be seen as a metaphor for the evidence, and the stranger who will find the first glove is the police department. It does no good to lie anymore because they will continue to pursue him forever, but if he gives up his second glove, so to speak, some good can come of the whole mess. Naturally, Lester has no idea what her point is.
  • Lethally Stupid: By pure coincidence, Lester encounters Lorne again after the Time Skip. A smart person would let sleeping dogs lie and walk away, hoping that the psycho killer did not recognize him. Lester goes right up to Lorne so he can brag about how successful he has become since their last meeting. Lorne denies knowing Lester and gives strong hints that Lester should just walk away. This only angers Lester, who is no longer willing to tolerate people who ignore him. He follows Lorne and keeps pestering him. With his cover identity about to be blown, Lorne decides to stop pretending and starts killing people.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Wrench and Numbers are ruthless professional killers working for a nebulous crime syndicate, but they are nowhere near as evil as Malvo, the man they try to track down and kill.

  • Manipulative Bastard: Lorne.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The out-of-the-blue storm of fish that leads to Dimitri's death, seemingly as a divine punishment to Stavros. The news seem to believe it to be a tornado phenomenon.
    • The wolf that appears to both Gus and Malvo (allowing the former to spot Malvo's house and distracting the latter enough so that Gus can kill him) could just be a regular animal or a supernatural force sent to remove Malvo's presence from the world. Malvo himself seems to have supernatural elements to him, given his allusion to the Garden of Eden when speaking with Lou and the way that he briefly springs back to life after Gus first shoots him.
  • Meaningful Name: Everyone.
  • Menacing Stroll: Lorne's main method of moving around, even when being attacked by hitmen wielding submachine guns. Except when he's in character. It also becomes a bit labored after the bear trap incident.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Examined and acknowledged. When talking to Lester, Bill muses about other tragedies — a ship sinking with hundreds of passengers, a deadly flu that claimed a few lives, etc. — and mentions that he's most grieved about a few murders within a short time within his own city. He's closer to the case of these particular murders being that he closely knows the Nygaards and is shocked by Chazz's supposed involvement.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Lester gets away with his crimes for over a year. When he spots Malvo, he goes out of his way to pick a fight with him, even ignoring a few threats, both subtle and not-so-subtle. This ends up putting a target on his head and leads to four people being killed (including his new wife), which once again gains the attention of the police. Malvo is taken down and in the process, the police find out Lester was responsible for the murders of Pearl and Verne. Lester soon dies while being pursued by cops. If he hadn't decided to confront Malvo, he would have lived and likely would have never had legal trouble again.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Stavros's whole attitude towards his son. Particularly egregious/tragic when he tries to tell his father about who's been faking the "plagues" against him, but Stavros is too panicked to listen.
  • One-Man Army: Lorne. He clears Fargo's organized crime headquarters in less than 2 minutes by himself, without so much as a scratch. 22 people are dead by the time he is done.
  • The Oner: Malvo's shooting massacre in "Who Shaves the Barber?" (though most of the shootout is only heard from outside as the camera pans across the building's windows).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Invoked against Stavros by Lorne in the blackmail subplot. For example, Lorne changes his back medication to Adderall and begins recreating The Ten Biblical Plagues.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Lester's wife tears into him while pretending to engage in casual conversation over a meal.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Bill Oswalt has adopted an African refugee and is quite emotionally invested in looking out for him. This shows that in spite of being an obstructive and incompetent boss, he's a decent guy at heart.
    • When Lester approaches Malvo at the hotel, he brags about his Insurance Salesman of the Year award. As Malvo gets his party to leave to avoid getting his cover blown, his fiancée Jemma congratulates Lester.
  • Playing Both Sides: Lorne against Don and Stavros in the blackmail subplot.
  • Plucky Girl: Molly.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Except for Molly and Chief Thurman, the other cops are portrayed as incompetent and/or gullible. Gus freely admits that he is not a very good cop and while teaming up with Molly helps him improve, he clearly lacks the temperament to be a police officer.
      • Bill Oswalt, especially. He continually refuses to see what's right under his nose, despite Molly continually showing him evidence of what's really happening, all because the evidence points to things that don't fit into the way he sees the world or his town. He becomes so irate at the idea that one of his citizens could have committed murder, he orders Molly off the case, insisting it was probably a drifter. Which was only half true, and was mostly based on a guess anyway.
    • Two FBI are staking out the headquarters of the Fargo mob and are clearly bored out of their minds. They fail to notice Lorne walking past their car with a submachine gun barely hidden under his jacket. When Lorne proceeds to kill everyone in the building, they still fail to realize that something really bad is going on till a dead body falls out a window. Once they realize how badly they screwed up, one suggests that they get back into their car and pretend that they just arrived at the scene.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Related to Police Are Useless above: Chief Bill Oswalt is clearly not cut out for his position, to the point where his predecessor Chief Thurman wanted Molly to succeed him instead. Since taking over, Bill has done nearly everything to completely undermine Molly's investigation while doing almost no investigative work of his own.
  • Professional Killer: Lorne Malvo. When we first see him, he's taking his latest victim somewhere to kill him. And also Numbers and Wrench.
  • Psycho for Hire: Lorne Malvo.
  • Rain of Something Unusual: A rain of fish comes down onto Duluth in the "Buridan's Ass" episode, causing Stavros' head of security, Wally, to crash, which kills himself and his passenger, Dmitri. A news report in the next episode explains that the fish were sucked up from a lake into the sky by a tornado.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • During a blinding snowstorm, Gus fires at the sound of gunshots without first identifying his target. He hits a fellow police officer.
    • With the Nygaard case seemingly solved and no further signs of Malvo, the main characters move on with their lives and no one in authority is interested in re-investigating the case.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Lorne Malvo seems to believe this.
    • He seems to have a great deal of respect when Wrench and Numbers try to kill him, going so far as to tell Wrench he's a Worthy Opponent and spare his life.
    • When Hess is killed, he tells Lester that he is more of a man than ever. Lester didn't actually kill him, but to Malvo, he was the one responsible and commends him for a job well done.
    • He also gives Gus a smile when Gus puts a few bullet holes in his chest.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The two FBI agents who failed to notice that a massacre was happening right across the street from them are assigned to the file room and are still there after the Time Skip. They are bored out of their minds and it's clear that they will never be assigned to any real police work again.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Everything Lester is shown doing with his shotgun in the flashback to when he purchased it in "The Six Ungraspables". His wife remarks that he would be the only person capable of blowing his face off with an unloaded shotgun.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: In the finale, Lester's gun jams after firing a single bullet. The gun spent a year in a box in a basement with no maintenance and it looks like the ejection mechanism malfunctioned. Lester is able to manually eject the casing, but the delay is enough for Malvo to get away.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: An exasperated Lester tries to stop Lorne from bothering him with a sarcastic suggestion.
    Lester: "Heck, you're so sure about it, maybe you should just kill him for me."
    Lorne: *Grins evilly.*
  • Running Gag: Bill going outside to vomit when he sees the corpses.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Vern is proven to be smart, brave, and friendly throughout episode one, just before he gets gunned down.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Sam Hess still acts like the Jerk Jock he was in high school and continues to bully and humiliate Lester every chance he gets, even breaking his nose. This last act is what ultimately gets him killed.
  • Stealth Sequel: Stavros' wealth came from finding the bag of $920,000 that Carl Showalter hid in the snow at the end of the film.
  • Television Geography: The majority of the Bemidji scenes were filmed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
    • Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers ask a local why Bemidji has no libraries. In fact, Bemidji has two libraries, three if one counts Bemidji State University.
  • Tap on the Head: When Malvo kills a group of people in an elevator, he asks Lester for help disposing of the bodies. Fearing for his life, Lester slams his salesman-of-the-year award across the back of his head to flee. It doesn't knock him out or even hurt him all that much, but he takes the opportunity to run anyway.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Numbers and Wrench.
  • Those Two Guys: Pepper and Budge.
  • Time Skip: A year passes in the middle of "The Heap".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Budge and Pepper.
  • Troll: Lorne, especially with Sam's kids and the kid in the motel parking lot.
  • Villain Ball: In Season 1, Lorne Malvo really has no practical reason for doing many of the evil things he does, but his decision to abandon his bounty hunt in Las Vegas to go after Lester is what leads to his undoing.
  • Villain Protagonist: Lester is the closest thing to a main protagonist in the show, and he's one of the villains, though not the worst villain by far.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Lester upchucks after Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers interrogate him about his involvement with Sam's murder.
  • Vomiting Cop: Bill Oswalt is introduced returning to a crime scene after having just thrown up.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 6, Buridan's Ass. Come the episode credits: Chumph has been set up by Malvo, ending in him being gunned down by SWAT officers; Mr. Numbers is ambushed by Malvo, ending with his throat being slit; Stavros hides the last of his money again only to find Dmitri and Semenko dead in a car wreck; Lester has planted all the evidence against him, setting up Chazz to be framed for his wife's murder; and Gus has inadvertently shot Molly in the whiteout, thinking she was a hitman.
  • Wham Shot:
    • In the blizzard, Gus discovering Molly's unconscious body, realizing he shot her.
    • An extended pan through the woods to reveal a Time Skip, showing Gus as a mailman.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Wrench is told by Malvo to try to kill him later, if he wants. He is never seen again.
    • We don't see what happens to the used car salesman Malvo uses in his ambush of Pepper and Budge. He's last seen taped to a steering wheel begging for his life as Lorne approaches with a gun in his hand.
    • Stavros disappears after episode 6, despite being quite a major character for the first half of the season.
    • Chazz is never shown being released after wrongfully being imprisoned for killing Lester's wife. We also never see what happens to his family after the time skip. invokedNoah Hawley was asked about Chazz in an interview and said that it can be assumed that he was released; they just didn't think it was worth filming. The rest of his future is open-ended.
  • World of Symbolism: Each episode's title is the name of a philosophical concept or paradox, with each episode seeming to illustrate said concept as it plays out.
  • Worthy Opponent: Malvo has respect for Wrench and Numbers when they try to kill him, telling them they "got closer than anyone". Later, he seems to feel this way about Gus as well. This is telling since he has little regard for Gus in their first few meetings, but gives him a smile when he kills him.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: After being stuck in the house with the bodies of his wife and a police officer, Lester runs into a wall and knocks himself out so that it will look like he was just another victim. It works.
    • When Malvo is ambushed by Wrench and Numbers, Malvo cuts himself with his own knife to create a blood trail and the illusion that he is wounded to set up his own ambush.

The second season contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Dodd Gerhardt physically and verbally abuses his adult daughter Simone. He seems rather resentful of the fact that she is a girl, when he wanted a boy, even though she seems rather enthusiastic about entering the family business.
  • Absentee Actor: Despite her name appearing in the credits, Kirsten Dunst doesn't appear at all in "Did You Do This? No, You Did It!" invoked
  • Ambiguously Gay: Constance Heck is strongly implied to be trying to seduce Peggy, though this is never confirmed. She's constantly undermining Peggy's relationship with Ed specifically and men in general. When she drives Peggy home, she invites herself in and at one point brushes Peggy's hair behind her ear, though she's examining Peggy's shiner. At the hotel room she's to share with Peggy, Constance has lit romantic candles and put Chablis on ice while wearing a robe.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The Kansas City mob seems to be a multiethnic corporation run predominantly by Jews. Joe Bulo (played by the Jewish Brad Garrett) drops a Yiddish expression and seems to have a very low opinion of Germans. The Kitchen brothers wear wide-brimmed hats and beards, giving them a Jewish look. Hamish Broker is also played by the very Jewish Adam Arkin.
  • Artifact Title: Oddly inverted. The original movie takes place almost exclusively in Minnesota with only the opening scene in Fargo. The first season has a few scenes in Fargo. But the second season has much of it taking place there and is the home of the Gerhardts.
  • Artistic License Medicine: Hanzee steals hydrogen peroxide to disinfect his wounds. In reality, hydrogen peroxide slows down wound healing, but is often used on wounds due to a common misconception.
  • Assassin Outclassin': The Narrator of episode 9 confirms that The Undertaker and his men were sent to kill Mike for his failures. Mike and Gale surprise and kill them when they show up.
  • Bait and Switch: In episode 7, the mobsters bring in "The Undertaker," an infamous Mob "cleaner" who seems set to be the next big bad of the show. In their first meeting, Mike walks up, hand extended, and shoots the Undertaker in the head.
  • Beauty Inversion: Jean Smart has long had "real woman" good looks and has aged gracefully. In this series, she looks like an old woman of the prairie who has strongly led a crime family.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: During the montage of all the dead Gerhardts, Otto, Dodd, and Bear look terrible with holes in their heads. Yet Floyd is lying gracefully with a pool of blood on her sweater and Simone looks gorgeous with no signs of any wound at all.
  • Big Bad: By the end of the season, it's clear that Hanzee fits the bill.
  • Bittersweet Ending: It's pretty apparent Lou's wife and father in law aren't long for this world, leaving him to raise Molly without them. The Gerhardt criminal empire is destroyed and all its members are dead save Charlie, who is in jail and will likely be convicted of attempted murder, ruining his father's hopes of a better life for his son. Mike is doomed to a life of mediocrity as some nameless office schmo, and Hanzee loses his entire identity, himself resigned to a lifestyle he's come to despise, and is Doomed by Canon. Ed's dead, having never gotten the simple life that he wanted, Ben and Hank are clearly affected by the events of the season, and Peggy is downright certifiable, not to mention carted off to the slammer. The body count of the season is tremendous, but even so, Lou seems to take everything in stride and goes on to live his life, getting to see his daughter grow up and start a loving family of her own.
  • The Butcher: Ed is an actual butcher, but when he gets wrapped up in a Mob War, people assume he's some sort of contract killer. He's frequently referred to as "the butcher," and he eventually uses this to his advantage, calling himself the Butcher of Luverne.
  • Call Forward:
    • Hanzee, who through many years of plastic surgery and hard work will become Moses Tripoli, the boss of the Fargo syndicate, will be wiped out by Malvo by season one, which is 30 some odd years from the events of season two. During his conversation with his associate, he talks about building a kingdom, though he is reminded that it, too, will eventually fall into the ocean.
    • First season protagonists Molly and Gus, an older Lou and Greta show up in the opening of series finale.
    • It's heavily implied that Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers were the kids Hanzee helps out in the 10th episode. It helps that Hanzee is hinted to actually become Tripoli, the mob boss of the Fargo syndicate.
  • Cassandra Truth: In "The Castle", Lou tries to warn Chief Cheney against setting up a sting operation with the Blumquists as bait, telling him that the Kansas City mobsters (who he has faced several times at this point) are too smart to fall for it. Cheney not only calls him a coward, but has one of his deputies escort him out of the state. Lou turns out to be right about the plan being a terrible idea, but the real danger comes from the Gerhardt family, not the Kansas City mobsters.
  • The Cloud Cuckoo Lander Was Right: Lou's conspiracy theorist friend Karl says that the Powers That Be are behind the events at the Waffle Hut. Lou tells him it's just a shooting in the middle of Minnesota, not a presidential assassination. Karl tells him to just watch, this thing is going to snowball. This being Fargo, he turns out to be right.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Karl Weathers.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hamish Broker, middle manager for the Kansas City crime syndicate.
  • Credits Gag: The first episode has one in the style of the 70s MGM logo.
  • Cute and Psycho: Peggy
  • Decoy Protagonist: After killing three people in the Waffle Hut, Rye seems set up to be the Lester Nygaard of Season 2 (an impulsive murderer trying to stay ahead as the police close in on him), only for him to be killed off by Peggy and Ed by the end of the premiere.
  • Deus ex Machina: In "The Castle" Lou, Ed, and Peggy are in lethal danger when all of a sudden an UFO appears and hovers over the motel. They use the distraction to save themselves.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Gerhardt family has a nasty reputation in Fargo. Det. Ben Schmidt tells Lou that he would rather confess to the murders himself and go to jail than have to take on the Gerhardts.
    • Episode 7 has "The Undertaker," an infamous enforcer sent to clean up the mess Mike makes. Mike ends up shooting him dead in their first meeting.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Betsy manages to see her daughter as she grows old, even her child with Gus and an older Lou in the 10th episode.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Rye is introduced whining about his lack of respect to his condescending older brothers.
    • Ben Schmidt is introduced getting distracted by a woman walking by while Lou is trying to talk shop with him, establishing him as a pretty poor cop.
  • Fake Guest Star: Zahn McClarnon as Hanzee Dent, Jeffrey Donovan as Dodd Gerhardt, Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan, and Cristin Milioti as Betsy Solverson.
  • Fictional Document: A History of True Crime in the Midwest, seen being plucked from a bookshelf at the start of "The Castle" and heard being read by Martin Freeman.
  • For Want of a Nail: To ensure that they aren't implicated in the killing, Peggy and Ed fake an accident. Which leads to Dent discovering the car in a local auto shop and tracking them down. Which also leads to Lou to the same conclusion.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In "Waiting For Dutch", the Gerhardt patriarch is threatening "I'll grind their bones to make my bread" when he has a stroke; bread is also a recurring symbol of Gerhardt family stability in early episodes. In the next episode, Rye has his bones ground in a meat grinder; from then on, no bread and peace, just meat and war.
    • In "Did You Do This? No, You Did It!", Ed calls the Gerhardts and Mike Milligan from a phonebooth that has a game of hangman on the wall. Later Dodd fails to kill him by stringing him up in a noose. The letters that are filled in are S_O_X F_LL_ which makes Sioux Falls the obvious answer.
    • Lou's first scene with his family has him reading a book to his daughter. The book seems to be portraying a very family-unfriendly scene, which causes Lou to become increasingly disturbed. This establishes a feeling of vague unease before the bodies start dropping.
  • Franchise Black Sheep: Currently the only story in the Fargo canon not to have a female cop as a major character.
  • Friend or Foe: Dodd Gerhardt accidentally shoots one of his own men during their search of the Blomquists' house.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The U.F.O. incident never got written down in the Sioux Falls incident report, probably because they knew that no one would believe it.
  • Guttural Growler: Bear speaks with a voice that will shake the fillings out of your teeth.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Ronald Reagan, played by Bruce Campbell of all people.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Dodd complains to Ed that women lack the ability to think rationally. All the while he's engaging in some major Bond Villain Stupidity by not either getting the hell out of there or finishing off Peggy.
    • Karl says that RFK's assassination was falsely blamed on an "Ay-Rab," then calls the perpetrators racist.
  • Ironic Name: Peggy wants to go to a seminar in Sioux Falls called "Lifesprings," but ends up in the middle of a bloodbath instead.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: The crimes take place in three different states and four different jurisdictions.
    • Averted with Lou and Hank. The Waffle House Massacre is technically Hank's jurisdiction, but he has no problem working with Lou when Lou offers to help out.
    • Subverted with the Fargo PD. They cooperate with Lou as long it does not upset the Gerharts too much and then keep on cooperating since they are desperate to stop the killing. Lou is not happy that they make a deal with Floyd, but goes along with it.
    • Played straight in "The Castle" where the South Dakota cops take over and Lou's refusal to participate in their dangerous plan gets him escorted to the state border. Hank is also almost kicked out but agrees to play along. Averted with the Fargo cops, who want to get in on the possible headline news arrest so they join in with the South Dakota plan.
  • Karma Houdini: After multiple episodes of murdering innocent bystanders, Ohanzee has managed to elude police capture at the end of the season. He'll eventually be killed by Malvo, but not before reigning as the head of the Fargo mob.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Mike Milligan's long-awaited promotion to kingpin of the North Dakota underworld turns out to be nothing more than a dull nine-to-five job in a cramped office building.
  • Kill 'em All: All of the Gerhardts are killed except for Charlie, and he is going to jail. Hanzee, Betsy, and Hank are all Doomed by Canon even though they survived the season. Ed Blumquist and quite a few other supporting characters don't survive the season as well.
  • Kitchen Sink Included: Peggy uses a loose sink to smash one of Dodd's men in the head.
  • Last Chance to Quit: Lou offers this to the Blomquist couple in the closing minutes of "Fear and Trembling."
  • Late to the Party: Mike Milligan arrives a few minutes after the Sioux Falls Massacre has ended and wisely decides to just get into his car and drive off.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Hanzee sets up the Gerharts to start a firefight with the South Dakota cops, hoping that both sides wipe each other out and he can then kill Ed and Peggy.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • Longing for Fictionland: Peggy convinces herself that her situation with Ed in "Palindrome" is just like a romantic movie she had recently seen, because if they were like the two lead characters, Ed would still want to be married to her.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: When Peggy hits him with her car, one of Rye's shoes flies off and ends up caught on a tree branch. Since Peggy drives off with him lodged in her windshield, the presence of the phantom shoe initially confuses Lou and Hank.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: In "Palindrome," Ed admits that while he still loves Peggy, their personalities and aspirations are too different for their marriage to work. Peggy's brain responds by hallucinating smoke coming through the vent so that she can pretend that their situation is like a movie she had recently watched with a similar setup where the heroine was saved from a perilous situation by the hero who wanted to be with her.

  • Made of Iron: The Gerhardt men are notoriously hard to kill.
    • In 1951, it apparently took 19 bullets to do in Dieter Gerhardt.
    • In 1979, his great-grandson Rye was beaten, stabbed, run over by a car, bled out for several hours, and still had enough strength left in him to attack Ed before finally being put down via yet another stabbing.
    • Dodd needs to be tasered with a cattle prod no less than three times before Peggy can be sure he is not getting up. He also withstands being stabbed multiple times and being hit in the back of the head with a fireplace tool before being taken down with a headshot by Hanzee.
    • Bear is shot in the head and twice in the chest, and still managed to almost strangle Lou to death. He's only stopped by the massive distraction of the UFO, at which point a shot to the head puts him down.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • After last season's subtly Biblical themes, this season is more overtly sci-fi. UFOs and extraterrestrials are referred to by minor characters and the soundtrack; both Rye and Ohanzee Dent separately see strange bright lights in the sky outside the Waffle Hut. The latter even loses about two hours of time without realizing, judging by his pocket watch. And then a UFO shows up at the motel massacre.
    • Betsy has a vision of the future when she sleeps that is too accurate to be a normal dream.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Rye threatened the judge in the Waffle Hut, he told her it wasn't "one of those optional, check-A-or-B scenarios." Later, when Hank asks Peggy to explain why she continued driving after hitting Rye, she replied that it wasn't a test where you could check A or B.
  • Mle Trois: The Mob War escalates into a conflict between the Gerhardt family, the Kansas City Syndicate, and the state police (mainly Hank and Lou) who are trying to stop them both. This conflict is particularly complicated since the first two factions are trying to kill each other without killing any cops, since neither can handle dealing with police heat in the middle of a Mob War, and the police are likewise trying to avoid getting into a shootout with either side. Hanzee Dent exploits this to wipe out the Gerhardt family by tricking them into thinking a bunch of out-of-state cops not wearing their uniforms are Kansas City men holding Dodd hostage. It doesn't end well for either the Gerhardts or the police.
  • Minnesota Nice: Discussed and deconstructed by Mike Milligan, who claims that people in the Midwest are not really that nice, but are just very good at using politeness to disguise the fact that they are actually unfriendly and hostile to someone.
  • Mob War: One of the main plot points of the season is the fight between the Gerhardt Crime Family and the Kansas City Mafia. In the end, Kansas City wins because of Hanzee Dent's betrayal and the Gerhardts' internal strife.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: Luverne, being in southwest Minnesota, is a prairie town in Real Life. The show, however, regularly portrays Luverne with lots of pine forests — a feature of the northeastern part of the state.
  • The Narrator: "The Castle" features excerpts from a Midwest true crime book being read over the action. Narrated by Martin Freeman, no less!
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The Judge was truly surprised when Rye pulled a gun on her.
    • Ed, Peggy, and Hanzee all have this reaction at the end of "Loplop", when they see Lou and Hank approaching the cabin.
  • Opening Monologue: Slightly subverted as Freeman's voice-over narration prefaces the penultimate rather than first episode of the season.
  • Papa Wolf: (Ironically) Bear. He was really upset when he found out Dodd sent his son to make the hit on the Butcher and then would stop at nothing to free him from jail. Ultimately, he gives in to reason when Karl convinces him that breaking him out will be much worse for him than letting him go to trial. It's obvious he does not want his son involved in the family business and will go to great lengths to make sure he accomplishes legitimate things. He also calls Simone out before he executes her for showing no concern for her cousin's situation.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Averted with Lou and Hank, who are very competent and quickly figure out what is going on and try to stop the bloodshed.
    • The Fargo police are too afraid of the Gerhardts to do anything about their criminal empire and only spring into action when they have a full blown Mob War on their hands.
    • The South Dakota cops try to avert this trope by being proactive and setting a trap for the Kansas City mobsters, but are Lethally Stupid about it and it blows up in their faces. When Lou tries to warn them, they ignore him and have him escorted to the state line.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Lou and Betsy have very conservative views on gender. Betsy tells Lou to feed more than what he had on fishing trips as a child because "she's a girl" and Lou's speech to Peggy at the end is subtly sexist, albeit not in a condescending way.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The cops at the motel in Sioux Falls turned off their radio, so Lou can't warn them of the Gerhardt family's approach.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: The trope is Zigzagged throughout.
    • It's played straight in episode 8 with Dodd who's shot through the head, and while the exit wound is bigger than the entry wound, it's a small clean through and through.
    • Episode 9 averts this with Bear, who's shot through the chin, and a good chunk of his skull is taken off when the bullet exits.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Mike Milligan wins the war against the Gerhardts, but his reward is a tedious desk job.
  • Really Dead Montage: All the Gerhardts that died are shown in the opening of the 10th episode.
  • Riddle for the Ages: According to The Narrator, no one ever found out what caused Hanzee to betray the Gerhardts or even if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision or something that has been brewing for decades.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Hank's office full of symbols. The reason is more eccentric than crazy: he's trying to create a more effective language based on pictures.
  • Scary Black Man: Mike Milligan, who some early reviewers compared to Shaft.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: In "The Castle", the various cops talk about where the best place to piss is while playing poker.
  • The '70s: '79, to be precise.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Ed Blomquist becomes this to most of the Gerhardt family because of Dodd's fabrications and his sheer luck. By the time Hank tries to explain to Floyd that "The Butcher of Luverne" is not a hitman, she's convinced he's some sort of Sleeper Agent.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: While Peggy delivers her Motive Rant to Lou, he shuts her up pretty quickly by stating something simple:
    People are dead, Peggy.
  • A Simple Plan: Rye just wanted to extort the judge to get a few more bucks. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • The Blomquists actions completely disrupt the plans of both the Gerhardt Family and the Kansas City Syndicate.
    • Hanzee's scheme to get Ed and Peggy derails the police, the Kansas City Mob and the Gerhardts plans.
  • Stealth Prequel: Aside from the obvious, non-stealthy ways in which this is a prequel to Season 1, Moses Tripoli, the boss of the Fargo syndicate, is the identity assumed by Hanzee Dent at the end of the season. He also has an encounter with Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, who are children at the time.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Dieter Gerhardt apparently took 19 bullets to the head in 1951.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Peggy tells Ed she was a total mess after running down Rye and couldn't think straight. However, we see her being cool and collected as she cleans herself up and takes time to do regular chores.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: During the long awaited Massacre at Sioux Falls, a Flying Saucer appears out of nowhere directly above them, and everyone drops what they're doing. Everyone except Peggy, who says, "It's just a flying saucer. Come on, Ed, we've gotta move!"
  • Verbal Tic: Lou says "Yup" when he spots a clue.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While this season isn't a "true story" any more than the film or first season, Peggy's hit-and-run is based on the murder of Gregory Glen Biggs. Lou also relates the real life story of Ba Van Nguyen's chinook rescue.
  • Wham Episode: "The Castle" depicts the infamous Sioux Falls Massacre, set up in season 1 and foreshadowed all season. But even that event of huge importance is almost completely overshadowed by the UFO descending above the massacre and being seen by Lou, Bear, Hanzee, Ed, and Peggy.
  • Wham Line:
    • In "Fear and Trembling", Constance mentions the seminar she and Peggy plan on attending is in Sioux Falls, which, according to Lou in Season 1 and foreshadowed throughout Season 2, becomes the site of a massacre.
    • In the season finale "Palindrome", Hanzee, having just received his new identity of "Moses Tripoli," tells his associate of his policy toward rivals, "Kill or be killed. Head in a bag. (in Sioux) That's the message." This reveals Hanzee to be the true identity of Mr. Tripoli, the Fargo boss Malvo kills back in season 1. When Tripoli is told that the killing of Sam Hess was likely personal and not related to the business, he responds with almost the same words.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • While Charlie's incarcerated, his final fate after is never shown as the season concludes.
    • Gale, the surviving Kitchen brother (the one with the red trench coat), is not seen after he and Mike Milligan stroll around the Gerhardt house and kill one of their hired thugs.
  • Your Mom: Lou, of all people.
    Mike Milligan: So, where'd you say you saw ol' Skip?
    Lou Solverson: At your mother's house. I think goin' in the back door.

The third season contains examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: Ray's piece of shit corvette which is falling apart. It's implied it used to be a Cool Car, but that was decades ago and Ray is too broke to keep it in good condition.
  • Beauty Inversion: Ray is portly and balding, neither of which really apply to Ewan McGregor. Emmit represents a slighter case, as he only gets saddled with a really unfortunate hairstyle.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Monumentaly stupid as Maurice may be, what are the odds that after driving 75 miles the wrong way to Eden Valley instead of Eden Prairie he would still run into someone named E. Stussy?
  • Deal with the Devil: As Varga lampshades, Emmitt really should have asked more questions before he took the money.
  • Fanservice: Mary Elizabeth Winstead flashes her rear end getting out of a bathtub.
  • Idiot Ball: All over the place.
    • Emmit honestly thinks you can borrow money from an organized crime family and then just pay it back like a normal loan rather than, say, the family holding it over you for further control. Varga lampshades it by asking if Emmit never wondered why someone would just give him a million dollars without asking for any collateral.
    • Ray thinks it's a great idea to trust a drugged-up parolee to rob his brother of a stamp.
    • The parolee, Maurice, manages to totally misread the directions, drive 75 miles to the wrong town, thinks a man in his 60s is somehow Ray's twin brother, kills the guy and brings Ray back a set of normal stamps. Oh and he demands $10,000 for his "work."
  • Improvised Weapon: Nikki comes up with the idea to use an air conditioning unit to kill Maurice after he fumbles the robbery.
  • Indy Ploy: Nikki Swango reveals a great aptitude for these when she comes up with a way to kill Maurice and convincingly make it look like an accident in less than a minute and then executes it flawlessly in less than two.
  • Loan Shark: Subverted. Emmit thought that he was borrowing money from one and is prepared to pay a hefty interest on the loan. However, the people who gave him the money thought of it as an "investment" and insist that Emmitt pay them back by using his business to launder their money.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Maurice's death is passed off as an accident, which is possible because he was killed by dropping an air conditioning unit on his head.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: In typical Fargo fashion Nikki decides that the best solution to the problem of Maurice fumbling the robbery and blackmailing Ray for it, is to kill him immediately.
  • Oh, Crap!: Emmit and partner Sly's reaction when Varga makes it clear they can't pay back the "loan" but rather are going to be used to launder money for his criminal organization.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Ray is an overweight balding low-level thug barely making ends meet. Emmit is a debonair man into the high life and comes off highly educated. What they have in common is getting in way over their heads on things.
  • Sibling Rivalry: One of the central themes of the season.
  • Stupid Crooks: Maurice might just be the stupidest criminal in the series which is saying a lot given the competition.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Although they're not married yet, Ray and Nikki. Not only is he probably old enough to be her father, he looks like an overweight gnome, while she is a gorgeous bombshell.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Both Emmit and Sy are confused by Varga's very strange speaking manner, leading to them to ask this:
    Emmit Stussy: Where are you from?
    V.M. Varga: America.