Fargo is a 2014 FX crime series based on The Coen Brothers movie of the same name. It also draws inspiration from their entire library of works, while the brothers themselves take the role of executive producers alongside show creator and primary writer Noah Hawley. Originally conceived as a Mini Series, acclaim of the show's first season led to its renewal and evolution into an anthology based around crime in the snowy Midwest. Each season focuses on a new set of characters and plot, but they all exist in the same universe, with some characters popping up in multiple seasons.
Season one is set in 2006 and follows insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and his trek into darkness due to the machinations of shady drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). Intrepid Sheriff's Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) join investigative forces to take the two criminals down.
Season two is set in 1979. It follows Molly's father, Minnesota State Police trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), as he struggles to investigate a spree of murders in the wake of a gang war between the local Gerhart crime family and the invading Kansas City mob. Wrapped up in the bloodshed are a local couple: self-centered Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her mild-mannered husband Ed (Jesse Plemons).
Season three begins in 2010. It focuses primarily on a feud between parking lot magnate Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and his loser twin Ray (also McGregor). The resulting violence attracts the notice of the technophobic Eden Valley Police Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) as well as the mysterious crimelord V.M. Varga (David Thewlis).
Season four transports things back to Kansas City, 1950, where black gangster Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) challenges the local branch of the Mafia and its young prince Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman). Caught in the middle are the young mixed-race prodigy Ethelrida Pearl Smutney (E'myri Crutchfield) and eccentric Minnesotan nurse Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley).
SPOILER WARNING: The plot of Fargo is pretty unpredictable, 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. The miniseries format and highly unpredictable nature of the series means that nobody is safe.
- 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. Season three starts to change this, showing "true" fade out before the rest, with only "story" remaining.
- Crapsaccharine World: Minnesota and the Dakotas are a friendly, quirky, old-fashioned place. The region is also brimming with bigotry, organized crime, and disturbed and dangerous individuals.
- Debut Queue: Due to the show's ten episodes per story format, characters essential to the plot can be introduced anywhere in each season's first few episodes. Pepper and Budge, for instance, don't make their appearance in the first season until the seventh episode, but their role is just as important as Wrench and Numbers before them.
- Expanded Universe: The series is this to the original film, and there is a subtle web of connections between the film and the different seasons:
- Season 1 shows what happens to the money Carl Showalter buried in the film.
- Season 2 includes a number of characters from Season 1 (Lou and Molly Solverson, Ben Schmidt, Mr. Tripoli, Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench) and shows the events surrounding the oft-mentioned Sioux Falls massacre.
- Season 3 has a mention of Stan Grossman from the film and Mr. Wrench from Season 1 appears.
- 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 ("Did You Do This? No, You Did It!" would seem to be an exception, but ties to an anecdote about Pablo Picasso.)
- Innocence Means Naive: In Season One, Gus Grimly is a Barney Fife-esque beat cop and Nice Guy, who comes off as far more innocent than a cop should be; his naivete is exploited by the twisted hitman Lorne Malvo, who intimidates Gus into letting him go at a traffic stop, resulting in Malvo committing several more murders. By the end of the season, Gus has grown a little more cynical but redeems himself by killing Malvo.
- Season Four has Thurman Smutney, a Bumbling Dad and funeral director, who is one of the kindest, most innocent characters on the show. He gets in WAY over his head after borrowing from the Cannon Limited outfit, even inadvertently trying to pay back his debt with money stolen from Cannon by his own sister-in-law.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: The show basically runs on this trope, with heavy interest adding up to lethal levels toward the end of each season. Notable examples include Lester Nygaard and Lorne Malvo in season one and the Blumquists and the Gerhardts in season two, though season three seems to take this trope even further due to most of the main cast dying despite the moral ambiguity of quite a few characters. Also, a notable exception occurs in season two, where Hanzee Dent gets away without paying for his crimes, but this is ultimately subverted anyway when it's revealed that he died back in season one under a different name.
- Loss of Inhibitions: Season One revolves around the Chew Toy Lester Nygaard and his gradual loss of inhibitions. After an encounter with hitman Lorne Malvo inspires Lester to snap and murder his nagging wife, Lester finds himself doing all manner of illicit activities to keep himself out of jail; each one lowers his inhibition and makes the next act easier, culminating with framing his own brother for the crime. Following a Time Skip, he's become a (overly) self-confident success story.
- 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 (2001) and Season 3 is Fargo meets Raising Arizona and A Serious Man.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: As the series goes on, there's a surprising addition of more fantastical elements sprinkled throughout. While season 1's comparison of Lorne to the Devil may have just been Lorne being poetic, season 2 features aliens and seasons 3 and 4 delves into some surreal elements. They blur the line between being real supernatural events happening in an otherwise grounded story or just being the themes of the series manifesting in odd ways not meant to be taken literally.
- 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.
- Noodle Incident: In season 1, Lou Solverson reacts to the recent bloody events by saying, "It's Sioux Falls all over again!" In season 2, we get to see the bloody events of Sioux Falls, during which Mike Schmidt says, "It's Rapids City all over again!"
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Villains tend to be very conservative in their views. Dodd Gerhardt and Yuri Gurka in particular hate women, and V.M. Varga is quite hostile to minorities, the overweight, refugees/migrants, and especially the poor.
- 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.
- Struggling Single Mother: There are few instances of both parents being around in any given family. Most families have a single parent or deal with the impending loss of a parent.
- In season 1, Gus lost his wife a few years back and raises his daughter by himself. The fact that she has no one else but him is a strong motivator against taking risks. Molly's mother is also deceased, and she has only her father Lou.
- In the prequel second season, Molly's mother is still terminally ill. Molly's mother also has only a single father for a parent. The Gerhardts also deal with the terminal illness and eventual death of their family patriarch, leaving their mother single and the leadership of the family up in the air.
- In season 3, Gloria raises her son as a single parent.
- Stupid Crooks: As with the film, a large part of the plot for each season involves very clumsy attempts at criminality.
- 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.
- Those Two Bad Guys: In the spirit of Carl and Grimsrud from the film, each season has a pair:
- Grady Numbers and Wes Wrench in Season 1. Wrench, somewhat uniquely for the trope, manages to survive long past his partner's death and becomes a semi-recurring character through the rest of the series.
- Mike Milligan's Co-Dragons, the ruthless, near-silent Kitchen brothers, take up this role in Season 2. Once again, one member of the pair survives while the other carks it, though he receives much less independent focus than Wrench.
- Varga's Co-Dragons, the sinister Cossack Yuri and the silently professional Meemo in Season 3. Both are gone by the end of the series, though it takes Meemo until the final episode to join Yuri.
- Zelmare and Swanee, a lesbian couple who classify themselves as "outlaws" from season 4. They're arguably the most sympathetic pair in the series, yet ironically have by far the biggest body count when they're cornered in a train station and forced to go in guns blazing.
- 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.
- Vicious Cycle: It is repeatedly demonstrated that the power and wealth gained through crime and violence can't be held for long, as Villain Decay and Always a Bigger Fish inevitably come into play. In 1900, the Kansas City criminal underworld was controlled by the Moskowitz Syndicate. In 1920, the Milligans Concern started gaining power in the area, and in 1928, they wiped out their rivals. Owney Milligan ruled crime in Kansas city until the Fadda Family arrived in 1934. A few years later, Owey Milligan and most of his gang were dead and the Faddas ruled uncontested till 1950. In 1950, Cannon Limited and they allies, the Fargo-based Kellerman gang, challenged the Faddas for power and the resulting Mob War led to the creation of the Kansas City Syndicate. Kellerman was killed in 1951 on orders of Otto Gerhardt. The Gerhardt Family then ruled the Fargo region with an iron fist until they were destroyed in a Mob War with the Kansas City Syndicate in 1979. Kansas City was then in command until they were ousted at some point by Moses Tripoli's organization. He reigned supreme until he was gunned down in 2006 along with all of his associates. By 2010, V.M. Varga's international criminal network has moved into the region, but it is unlikely that they will remain forever. Without fail, "great empires fall and are forgotten."