Nygaard Family & Associates
In his hometown, Lester is widely known as a polite but awkward insurance salesman who always follows the rules and would never hurt a fly. In reality, Lester is a ticking time-bomb consumed by bitterness after enduring years of abuse from an emasculating wife, a successful brother, and a sadistic high school classmate who bullies him well into adulthood. With a little inspiration from a stranger by the name of Lorne Malvo, Lester stops pretending and embraces his darker impulses.
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: Getting away with murder really goes to his head.
- Asshole Victim: After everything he's done, by the time Lester dies, he's thoroughly unsympathetic.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Initially, Lester is pleasant and trampled on. People roll right over meek little Lester without the slightest concern; his wife, his brother, his old schoolmates, his co-workers... they all see him as a pushover, and they're not wrong. Even his wife just laughs at him when he picks up a hammer to hit her with. She stops laughing when he actually does hit her. As the series progresses, he becomes an increasingly coldhearted and depraved individual who will go to any lengths to get what he wants.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Even as he becomes more and more despicable, he still maintains the persona of an innocent, friendly man.
- The Blue Beard: He murders his first wife with a hammer, and doesn't directly kill his second wife, but knowingly sends her to her death just to save his own skin.
- Body Horror: A shotgun pellet wound up embedded in his hand, growing steadily worse to the point where he nearly lost the hand.
- Butt-Monkey: He's berated by everyone around him, though it all changes when Lorne kills Sam and he finally kills his wife. And then he frames his own brother for it.
- Bullying a Dragon: His insistence on having Malvo acknowledge his success post-timeskip backfires on him spectacularly, and sets in motion the series of events which lead to his death. Subverted in that he actually outsmarts Malvo and severely injures his leg in a snare trap, ultimately leading to the latter's death as well.
- Call-Back: He has his nose broken in both the first and last episodes.
- Cartwright Curse: A different example than most. He's directly responsible for both Pearl and Linda's deaths.
- Catchphrase: "I'm the victim here."
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Seen forming one at the end of "Buridan's Ass."
- The Chessmaster: He proves himself to be a very skilled one.
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Jerry Lundegaard. As greedy and selfish as Jerry was in the film, he never got his hands quite as dirty or fell as deep into the Moral Event Horizon as Lester.
- Dirty Coward: When he suspects that Lorne set up an ambush to kill him, he instead sends in Linda to test if the area is safe. He even makes sure that Linda is wearing his trademark jacket with its hood up so that Lorne will think that it is Lester.
- Disappointing Older Sibling: Chazz mentions that he sometimes states that Lester died years ago.
- The Dog Bites Back: His arc is shaping up to be this. Best exemplified when he manages to get Sam Hess' wife to have sex with him in exchange for her insurance money, all while smiling smugly at a picture of the dearly departed. And to top it all off he denies her claim, anyway!
- Drop the Hammer: How he kills his wife.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He's quite willing to frame his brother and ruin the lives of his family, but when he plants a gun in his nephew's school backpack as part of his plan, he makes very sure it isn't loaded.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: By the back-end of his Character Development, he's fallen so far into darkness that he no longer thinks of anyone but himself. When Molly tries to tell him a story about being basically decent without any benefit to yourself, he just doesn't get it.Lester: You know, I'm not sure what you've had against me since day one. But I'm not the person you think I am, this, this kind of monster.Molly: There was a fella once. Running for a train. And he's carrying a pair of gloves, this man. And he loses a glove on the platform. But he doesn't notice. And then later on, he's on the train sitting by the window, and he realises that he's just got this one glove left. But the train's already started pulling out of the station. So what does he do? He opens the window and he drops the other glove on to the platform. Now whoever finds the first glove can just have the pair.Lester: So, what are you telling me?Molly: ... goodbye, Mr. Nygaard.
- Evil Wears Black: After Lester crosses over entirely to the dark side, he starts wearing dark, sharp suits to go with his new confident image.
- Expy: Of Jerry Lundegaard. A highly insecure doormat whose bitterness drives him to Jump Off The Slippery Slope.
- Extreme Doormat: It comes with being the Jerry Lundegaard Expy. Lester is completely trampled over by Sam Hess, his highly successful younger brother, and a nagging passive-aggressive wife.
- For Want of a Nail: If Lester hadn't been so insistent on having Malvo recognize him and his successes after running into him in Las Vegas, he might have continued to walk away with no one the wiser. As it stands, his bloated sense of entitlement starts a chain of events that lead to him getting implicated for his crimes, and eventually, his death.
- Freudian Excuse: Lester's actions were the result of years of being trampled on and abused by everyone around him and living a life he absolutely hated with a wife who treated him like dirt. He's still a reprehensible coward but it's not hard to see how Lester turned out the way he did.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: From meek insurance salesman to wife murderer, to be exact.
- Iconic Outfit: His bulky, orange parka. It's so associated with him that putting it on Linda successfully fools Malvo into thinking it's him.
- It Gets Easier: He finds it easier to kill his wife because he thinks he's already responsible for the murder of Sam Hess.
- It's All About Me: While it's hard not to find him at least somewhat sympathetic due to his unhappy background, it becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses that no one takes precedence in Lester's mind over himself.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: After killing Pearl in a moment of anger, Lester becomes much more comfortable with other stuff he previously wouldn't have dreamed of.
- Karmic Death: Having been on "thin ice" since killing Pearl and constantly skirting the edge between getting caught and getting away, how does Lester die? He falls through a sheet of thin ice and drowns. Especially fitting since that's the fate he barely avoided meeting at the hands of Wrench and Numbers.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: After the Time Skip, it seems Lester has successfully shaken further investigation from the authorities, but running into Malvo again triggers a set of events that ultimately lead to both of their demises.
- Kick the Dog: Whatever sympathy might have been left for Lester disappears when he sends Linda to be murdered in his place.
- Manipulative Bastard: Part of his Protagonist Journey to Villain arc involves Lester gradually becoming more manipulative, quick-witted, and ruthless. He's able to play Bill Oswalt and Bo Munk very well, and soon he manipulates the entire situation to his advantage, successfully fooling everyone... except Molly.
- Motifs: Lester's life is symbolized by a washing machine. He is introduced by a broken washing machine as it shows his lifeless & loveless marriage. Before he murders his first wife, he tries to manually repair the machine, but his wife berates him for failing. When he finally gets a new washing machine, it shows that he finally gained courage and control of his life at the cost of his humanity.
- My God, What Have I Done?: After learning of Sam's death and after he killed his wife. Didn't last too long, though.
- Oh, Crap!: Before he falls through the ice in Morton's Fork.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain: Beating Pearl to death.
- Run for the Border: Lester tries to snowmobile his way across the Montana border into Canada after being implicated for Linda's murder, only to get caught by the border patrol, and drowns after trying to flee through running across a frozen lake.
- Then Let Me Be Evil: The moment he actually decides to become The Unfettered comes when his brother tells him "You're not right in this world". You can see from his expression the precise second he realises that his brother is actually right, so he decides to go all the way.
- Took a Level in Badass: He manages to get away from Wrench and Numbers, and in the finale, he tricks Malvo into walking into a bear trap and then would have killed Malvo if his gun did not jam.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: After the Time Skip. Granted, he was already starting to develop this early on in the series.
- Too Dumb to Live: Antagonizing a ruthless killer who makes it very clear that they would rather not speak to you is not a smart move by any means.
- The Unfettered: After completely abandoning his moral compass, he is willing to do absolutely anything.
- Villain Protagonist: But A Lighter Shade of Black than Lorne.
- Would Hit a Girl: Specifically, his wife.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: After hearing Molly storm his house, he pulls one by ramming head-first into a brick wall to knock himself out and look like a victim. It works.
- You Are What You Hate: By the end of the series, he's effectively a carbon-copy of his narcissistic brother, Chazz. Except he's worse, due to his willingness to kill.
- Your Cheating Heart: Not directly but his flirting with a woman in a bar shows he's not necessarily above this. Note this is after Pearl, whom Lester could be forgiven for being unfaithful to, and when he's married to Linda, who is far more sweet and affectionate.
Lester's younger and more successful brother.
- The Ace: Chazz is successful, rich, a good cook, and seems to have a healthy marriage... all in contrast to Lester.
- Berserk Button: Do not damage or even break his guns.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Not unlike Lester, Chazz seems like a very charming person but is capable of being exceptionally cruel at times.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Chazz is condescending and cold, but framing him for Pearl's murder and destroying the lives of his family is extreme.
- Frame-Up: Lester ends up putting the blame for Pearl's murder on Chazz by planting the weapon and some steamy photos of Pearl in Chazz's armory.
- Gun Nut: Has an affinity for guns, and practically worships his brand new M249 SAW. This later bites him in the ass when Lester plants a gun in his son's backpack, giving the police cause to search his gun collection for the murder weapon Lester had also planted there.
- Happily Married: To Kitty until he's framed for adultery/double murder and she instantly turns on him.
- It's All About Me: Chazz shows far more interest in his own personal hobbies than he does in his own family. Upon learning that his son has been discovered with a gun at his elementary school, he's far more concerned about the police breaking into his armory than his child's well-being.
- Jerkass: He's an unpleasant jerk who is openly contemptuous of Lester.
- Kick the Dog: He tells Lester he's ashamed of him and sometimes tells people he's dead.
- Lack of Empathy: While not a major character, Chazz is largely portrayed as a shallow and coldhearted individual whenever he appears on screen. When Lester Nygaard accidentally drops his prized machine gun, he cruelly tells Lester that he is ashamed to have him for an older brother and wishes he was dead.
- Mistaken for Cheating: The result of the Frame-Up above is that the police believes Chazz to have killed Pearl in a passion-related crime, despite having never gotten involved with her in the first place.
- Parental Neglect: He spends far more time fawning over his impressive gun collection than concerning himself with the disturbing fact that his son displays glaring signs of mental illness.
- Pet the Dog: He does try to console and provide for his brother after Pearl's death, unaware that Lester is the one who killed her.
- Say My Name: He screams Lester's name when he realizes that his brother probably has a part in his incarceration.
The wife of Chazz and mother of Gordo.
- Happily Married: To Chazz until he's framed for adultery/double murder. She turns on him pretty quick.
- It's All About Me: After Chazz is framed and she believes that she cheated on him, killed his lover and the police chief, the main thing that horrifies Kitty is that he would cheat on her. After all, she's Miss Hubbard County.
Linda Nygaard (nee Park)
Lester's sweet, naive second wife after the Time Skip.
- Asian Airhead: As lovely as she is, Linda isn't that smart.
- Boom, Headshot!: Her death at the hands of Malvo after the latter mistakes her for Lester when she was wearing his trademark jacket.
- The Ditz: She's not especially bright.
- Good Is Dumb: She's extremely sweet but naive which Lester exploits mercilessly.
- Hidden Depths: Despite her ditziness, she has enough brains to go along with Lester's Vegas story as well as saying it was her idea to leave when questioned by Molly.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Oblivious to Lester's true nature.
- Kill the Cutie: Sweet, innocent, naive, and right before she died, she even compared her life to Cinderella.
- Nice Girl: Compared to the ball-buster that was Pearl, Linda is as sweet as can be. Which makes Lester using her as Malvo bait all the worse.
- Unwitting Pawn: Of Lester's.
The quiet son of Chazz & Kitty Nygaard.
Lester's nagging, passive-aggressive first wife.
- Asshole Victim: She did very little in the pilot beyond nag and berate Lester, so it's no surprise that he eventually kills her.
- Awful Wedded Life: She seems to hate being married to Lester just as much as he hates being married to her.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Pearl is an expert at masking insults towards Lester with a sweet, seemingly harmless tone.
- Character Death: Lester beats her to death in the first episode.
- Domestic Abuse: Of the emotional abuse variety.
- Drop the Hammer: How she meets her end.
- Establishing Character Moment: Pestering Lester over breakfast with thinly-veiled insults usually rounded off by a laugh that's intended to be jovial but comes off as bitter. She compares him to his brother and says she 'married the wrong Nygaard'.
- Famous Last Words: As spoken to Lester."Oh! You gonna hit me? That's a lau—"
- Jerkass: She's an unpleasant nag who treats Lester like dirt.
- Karmic Death: She's done in by Lester after one insult too many.
- Really Gets Around: Bill has heard 'rumors' and Sam Hess had a sexual encounter with her at one point. The implication is that before she married Lester (and maybe even after) she got around a good bit.
- Small Role, Big Impact: She dies in the first episode, but the circumstances of her death set off Lester's character arc.
- Sugary Malice: She's a master at deploying this towards Lester, able to make insults and abuse sound like idle banter.
- Tempting Fate: When Lester grabs the hammer, she replies with "What're you gonna do? Hit me with that?"
- Trophy Wife: It's hard to imagine Pearl as anything but a dream come true in high school gone sour in adulthood. Lester must have thought he scored the grand prize when they married.