Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley hit on the idea of making the show's second season a prequel of sorts while he was working on the final episodes of season one. What he didn't have at the time was a concrete idea for a story.
"It's sort of an instinctual thing," Hawley says. "When I first started talking to FX about making a version of Fargo that wasn't a remake, that had none of the characters or the story from the movie ... I just had that image of those two men in the emergency room, and one was a civilized man and the other was the opposite. Who was that other man and what was the scenario? That seemed like a premise that felt right for that world.
"There was a similar dynamic here. I saw a housewife with a dead man in the windshield of her car who goes home and starts dinner for her husband. OK, that feels right -- now who's the man in the windshield, and what's the dynamic with the couple, and how did Lou Solverson [Patrick Wilson] fit into it? It tends to start there, with a catalyst -- a character dynamic or a setup for the story."
That woman, Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), has unwittingly let a whole lot of insanity into the home she shares with her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons). She doesn't know that the man she hits (Kieran Culkin) in Monday's premiere is part of a Fargo crime family who had just murdered three people at a diner. Lou, a Minnesota state trooper, and his father-in-law, Luverne, Minn, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), are befuddled by the murders and the missing gunman as well.
The dynamic between Ed and Peggy is a little hard to read -- are they just in a rut, is she looking for something more?
Their story is a product of their times. Here's Ed, the butcher's assistant, and all he wants to do is grow up and be a parent in 1962. He wants to have a couple kids and take over the butcher shop -- that's what happiness is to him. And then there's Kirsten's character, who as a woman of that time, she knows there's more to life for women. She doesn't know exactly what that means or what that is, but she's looking for something. It doesn't mean she doesn't love Ed or she's not happy on some level, but just this idea that there's a course she could take, she collects travel magazines -- she just has a sense that there's more out there for her. She's on this quest to figure out what that is.
Unfortunately her life collides with Rye Gerhardt [Culkin], and she realizes if she owns up to it, she'll never get to define her own life. Her life is going to be defined for her, so she panics. It's not that she's not into him. It's sort of what her husband represents. He's not trying to hold her back -- he doesn't even know what that means. He just thought they wanted the same thing.
We know from season one that Lou's wife, Molly's mother [Cristin Milioti], isn't around. But you've baked in a real element of tragedy with her going through cancer treatment. How do you work with what we already know?
The key is to avoid melodrama like the plague. We know she's not around in 2006, but we don't know how she died or what happened. But there is a real difference between small-town Minnesota in 2006 and small-town Minnesota in 1979; 2006 is sort of this bucolic small town into which evil arrives, and in 1979 it's like all of the problems of that era are inherent in the town. It feels like they brought this war home with them, she has cancer -- they're all struggling to get back to that beautiful Minnesota they remember. There's a yearning at the heart of it. But because they're people of the region, none of them are complaining. They can't articulate it. All that is going on, but they don't necessarily understand they have to get through it and then figure out what it means in the long run.
Season one really centered on four characters, but this feels like a much bigger story.
Yeah, I made it harder the second time around.
It wasn't deliberate -- I'm always attracted to ensemble storytelling, and certainly the four-hander of the first year, there were all these ancillary characters as well ... ways that we jump outside the main narrative to tell stories about other characters. When I started out it just felt like that, but this idea of a couple, played by Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, who are caught between these two rival crime organizations, the Gerhardt family and the Kansas City mafia. Well, suddenly you have two rival crime organizations that need characters, and you also need your cops who are going to interject themselves between these people. So suddenly you have four or five huge moving pieces that have to be serviced.
But I think that's what's great about this sort of 10-hour movie -- you need a lot of moving pieces to build toward the end. In the beginning, it feels like you're telling five different stories, but by the middle there's just one. You need the runway in order to fly the plane. Otherwise you're going to reach a point in the middle where suddenly you feel like you've run out of story. You know where the end is, and you don't have the most important section, which is episodes six through eight. A lot of shows tend to hit a lull there. It's like, we're now into the rhythm of the show and the routine of the show; we've seen four or five hours that are working great, but there's something in that hour six, seven, eight -- you know there's a big end coming, so they can't do a lot in those moments.
I always felt like we had to avoid that. We have to get to a place like we did last year, where we have a huge episode six, and then we do this time jump and the last two or three hours are their own movie. This year we have a different thing, but there's still something. When you have that many pieces, it buys you complexity of storytelling where you never feel like you're hitting a lull.
Stylistically, this season feels very much of its period -- the first couple minutes aren't widescreen, and you use those split-screen transitions a lot. Was that all part of the plan?
It started for us with a lens choice. We shot this year on these lenses from the '60s, and just the old glass makes all the difference in what it looks like. Then the split screens were something -- we had shot the first hour and I was cutting it together, and we had started to cut together the second hour as well. As you said before, we have a lot more moving pieces, and I became very aware that in both hours, we see the Gerhardts in the beginning of the episode, and then we didn't go back to them at all. I didn't want to let them die ... because you also need the audience to understand, "Oh, shit -- they're coming." You know what I mean?
So what I started to play with was that we'd do these kind of interstitial transitions, where as we went from one scene to another ... we might cycle through where the Gerhardts are right now, where is Kansas City right now, just to keep that tension alive. We played around with it in a split-screen way, and once we were doing that ... I really liked it. And it is period, so it sort of feels like kind of the perfect thing.
You're still writing the story in the editing room. What's great about doing a large ensemble is you build something that's modular. ... You have the opportunity to move things around and play around with how things are done. In the first hour, in the script, Peggy hits Rye with the car, and you see her get out and see her drive home. I just had the feeling in the editing room of, what if the car hits him and just drives away, and we don't see who's in there? ...
The interesting thing now, having shown it to a lot of people, is people forget. She hits him with the car, then you have 20 minutes more story, then you get to Peggy in the house and the noise in the garage. You'd think people would get it right away, but then a lot of people are like, "Does she have a lover hiding in the garage?" Once you do that, people have that moment that I love -- we did it last year with Gus in the cabin at the end -- there's that moment where the audience both realizes what's happening and remembers. It's this split-second thing that kind of makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
What did you think of Fargo's season two premiere? Are you on board for the new story? Sound off in the comments below.