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Series / Fargo: Season One

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"This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."
— The text that opens each episode

Starting on April 15, 2014, Fargo (Season One) follows insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and his trek into darkness after shady drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) influences him to stop absorbing the disappointment of his mundane life and start lashing out against those who belittle him. The actions that follow garner attention from Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), who eventually cross paths and join investigative forces to take the two criminals down.

The series also features Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Russel Harvard, and Adam Goldberg in recurring roles, among others. Keith Carradine plays as Lou Solverson, who becomes the central protagonist in season two's Prequel story.

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This series provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: In the scene where Malvo confronts Rundle demanding to know who was sent to kill him, he tells Rundle that one phone calls an ambulance, another a hearse, depending on his answer. The ambulance vs. hearse is a clear reference to Karl's (Billy Bob Thornton) last conversation with Doyle in Sling Blade.
  • Animal Motifs: The main theme of the show is that people have animalistic rage within them and no matter how much people grow and change, their animalistic tendencies are still deep within. Animals always appear in the background and often correlate with certain traits.
    • Malvo is associated with wolves; they appear in the background, they embody his dog eat dog philosophy and they make physical appearances in the final episode.
    • Lester is associated with fish, specifically the koi fish; his motivational poster contains a red fish and he wears a signature red/orange parka jacket. The koi fish myth is referenced when Malvo calls himself a dragon while intimidating Gus.
    • Lou and Molly have duck imagery in the background of Lou's cafe.
    • Stravos Milos is associated with dogs; his pet dog is killed by Malvo, he's loyal to God and himself, and he's driven mad by a sense of foreboding. His sense of foreboding is in reference to the idea that dogs can sense illness or earthquakes in their owners.
  • 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 badass 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After Lester plants false evidence in Chazz's gun closet, he pauses and looks at a photo of Chazz's family, focusing on Gordo's smiling face. He seems to be reconsidering his plan on account of the child. Instead, he's conceiving of a plan to frame Gordo and lead the police to the planted evidence.
  • Bantering Baddie Buddies: Numbers and Wrench. In between shootouts and drowning victims in a frozen lake, they use sign language to banter in front of people and occasionally argue like an old married couple.
  • 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.
  • Book Ends: For Lester, who breaks his nose at the beginning of the first episode and during the climax of the last episode.
    • In addition, the season begins and ends with a character running through the snow in blind fear and dying from the cold- Malvo's victim in the first episode, and Lester in the finale.
  • 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.
  • Business Trip Adultery: After the Time Skip, Lester and his attractive new wife attend an awards ceremony in Las Vegas and he wins Insurance Salesman of the Year. Lester has become such a conceited jerk that he sends her upstairs to their hotel room while he prowls for women at the bar. Unfortunately for him, he runs into Lorne Malvo instead.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: Malvo's seems to be "Aces" when he's pretending to be a dentist.
  • Central Theme: Humans are still animals deep down and they will do anything to assert dominance over others or to rebuild their sense of self-worth.
  • 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 expert 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.
  • Danger Thin Ice: This is what finally gets Lester Nygaard in the end. With the authorities finally about to catch him for the murder of his wife, he snowmobiles out onto a frozen lake, and when the ice gets too thin he continues on foot, and despite being repeated warnings to turn back, his luck finally runs out and he falls through the ice and drowns, leaving only his goofy cap behind, floating on the water.
  • Dead Animal Warning: In "A Muddy Road", Malvo kills the dog of his blackmail victim and leaves behind a Cut-and-Paste Note with the demand of an even bigger ransom. Message received.
  • Dead Hat Shot: After Lester falls through the ice in "Morton's Fork".
  • 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.
  • The Ditz: Don Chumph has no idea what he's doing and is utterly incapable of seeing the danger that Malvo presents, even allowing himself to be sealed inside his own closet without much protest.
  • Expy:
  • 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.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Malvo vs. the Fargo crime syndicate. Though it's pretty one-sided.
  • 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-Grain 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, showing how calculating and clear-headed he is in a moment of high tension and supposed tragedy.
  • For the Evulz: Malvo is constantly fucking with people, driving corruptible to do evil things and then engineering their destruction, purely for his amusement.
  • 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, so he was apparently planning on ditching Linda.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Malvo plans to goad Stavros into paying him the blackmail money by preying on Stavros's religious beliefs. However, instead of delivering the money to Malvo as was intended, Stavros is so convinced God exists he instead chooses to return his fortune to the place "God" originally gave it to him, during a blizzard, where it will likely never be found found again.
  • 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: Gus and Bill are nice guys who don't like to dwell in the darkness that policing requires. As a result, they're both terrible police officers. Gus realizes this very quickly, but Bill doesn't admit it until the last episode.
  • Gun Nut: Chazz.
  • Heel Realization: When Chazz tells Lester off in the hospital, saying that there was something missing in him, Lester realizes he is not the hero of his own story, finally drops the bumbling, put-upon innocent schmuck act he couldn't even convince himself with and immediately becomes FRIGHTENINGLY competent upon embracing his true nature.
  • 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/orange jacket with a hoodie.
  • Iconic Item: Lester's distinctive hatnote  and red/orange parka. Having Linda wear the latter with the hood up is enough for Malvo to mistake Linda for Lester (which gets her killed), and the last we see of Lester is his hat floating on the surface after Lester falls through and drowns.
  • 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: 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 serve no purpose other than his own sinister amusement in stoking chaos and driving others to evil, no matter how minor.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Lester and Malvo almost get away with their crimes from the first season, but after running into each other after the Time Skip, they trigger the attention of the authorities back to them and this time dig themselves into an inescapable hole.
  • 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: Naive and lovesick Linda gets murdered by Malvo when Lester uses her as bait.
  • 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.
    • Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers have a wild jazz beat.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Several parables are told in the season:
    • Gus's Jewish neighbor tells a story about a rich man who sacrificed everything, including his own life, attempting to rid the world of suffering. His point is that only fools think they can fix the world. Gus isn't quite as cynical, however, and responds, "But you've got to try, right?"
    • Lou starts to tell Malvo the story of the Sioux Falls Massacre to make a point, but their conversation ends before he can reveal much detail or reach his point.
    • 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 accidentally drops a glove just before boarding a train. Since he can't go back for it, he simply throws the other glove out the window some whoever finds the gloves can have the whole pair. The full meaning is left up for interpretation, but she seems to urging Lester to think of other people for a change. Whatever her intended message is, Lester has no idea.
  • 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:
    • "Malvo" begins with "mal," meaning "bad."
    • Don Chumph is a real chump.
  • Menacing Stroll: Lorne's main method of moving around, even when being attacked. Except when he's in character.
  • 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: Chief Bill Oswalt is a naive, soft and kind-hearted guy who desperately wants to believe in the best in everyone, which makes him a terrible detective. He's quick to sympathize with Lester and believe his patchy story, so he blocks Molly's investigation at every turn. He eventually realizes that he's just not cut out for police work.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Posing as a dentist to get closer to some targets, Lorne entertains them with a story of accidentally sticking himself in the leg and wrist with novocaine. It's clearly the classic "Dentist skit" from The Carol Burnett Show but the others laugh hysterically thinking it's a true story.
  • 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.
  • 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 investigative 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. Not a minute later, he manages to clumsily drop it on the floor, but luckily it's still unloaded.
  • 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.
  • Retired Monster: Subverted when Malvo is revealed to have changed his name, become a dentist and married a beautiful woman. It turns out to be a deep-cover assignment to find a mob informant. He discards this life without much provocation.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: An exasperated Lester tries to stop Lorne from bothering him with a sarcastic suggestion. "Heck, you're so sure about it, maybe you should just kill him for me." Lester does just that.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After the Fargo mob tries to have him killed, Malvo goes on a shooting rampage at their headquarters, ultimately killing 22 people and eradicating the organization. In-universe, this would have been, at the time, the second (now sixth) deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
  • Running Gag: Bill going outside to vomit when he sees the corpses.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Vern is killed at the end of the first episode to provide someone for Molly to avenge.
  • 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.
  • The Social Darwinist: This is Malvo's defining characteristic. He tells many people that humans are just evolved animals, and it's the predators of the world who get what they want.
  • Southern Gothic Satan: Lorne. He comes to the outwardly pretty town of Fargo and the outwardly nice Lester Nygaard to generally up the murder count and encourage everyone's bad impulses. Says things like "I haven't had a pie this good since the garden of Eden." Somewhat subverted in that instead of waltzing off to the next town, the good people of Fargo kill him.
  • 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: Malvo hits Don Chumph in the head with a blender, knowing him out long enough for Malvo to elaborately bind him up.
  • 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.
  • Unfriendly Fire: During a blinding snowstorm, Gus fires at the sound of gunshots without first identifying his target. He hits a fellow police officer.
  • 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?:
    • 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.
  • Villain Cred: Malvo commends Mr. Wrench for coming closer to killing him than anyone else has, even allowing him to live and offering him an opportunity for revenge once he heals from his injuries.