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How Fargo Season 3 Found Its Distinct Look

Earlier this year, Fargo series creator Noah Hawley presented audiences with a unique viewing experience in FX’s Legion. The X-Men adjacent series was made distinct by its colorful, stylish aesthetic and its sometimes-hallucinogenic visuals that made the story of mutant David Haller more than just another superhero tale. Although Legion was made noteworthy as much for its graphic appeal as for its initially impenetrable narrative, the series wasn’t Hawley’s first foray in infusing a season of television with a distinct look, and it wouldn’t be his last.

For two seasons, the FX anthology series inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of the same name has brought a distinct look to its story of small town criminality, using different color palettes and other techniques to convey a sense of time and place, but also to make sure the installments were easily distinguishable from one another. The same is true of the recently premiered season 3, which adopts a much darker visual style and makes use of a different color palette than the previous entries in the series, something Hawley says was actually inspired by one of the Coen brothers’ more recent films, Inside Llewyn Davis.

During a recent conference call, Screen Rant had the opportunity to ask Hawley about the look of season 3, and the path he and his crew took to get there. Hawley said:

“It was a happy accident on one level, the fact that we didn’t have much snow in our second year, but I really liked that if you looked at a still image from the second year and the first year you would never confuse them. They really just looked like different movies and because Joel and Ethan never make the same movie twice I was really excited by that idea going into this third year, so I started talking with Dana Gonzales the DP about what that look might be and we both sort of looked at Llewyn Davis which was a winter film. It had a very distinctive look. It wasn’t a Roger Deakins film; it was one of the rare ones they did with another DP. And we settled on this idea that we would be pulling the [color blue] literally out of the image. So you take the blue channel on the digital image and you just dial it out. And what you end up with is a very distinctive look in which colors like red an orange and yellow; they just really pop in a different way.

Usually in cold weather you add blue, because blue denotes cold. So it was interesting to take the blue out and see what it did to the image. And once we did that it became clear that it doesn’t look at all like any of the other years, which I really liked. And then of course you start to design to that because you think well, if those colors pop — there are moments where if you don’t have any of those colors it would be sort of monochromatic and you don’t want that because it’s not a black-and-white movie so you start to design every space to have some of those colors in it, to create a real palette.”

In 2017, Hawley is developing a bit of a reputation for delivering series that put a premium on lush visuals and creative compositions. While Fargo season 3 doesn’t get to splash around in the psychedelic waters like Legion did, the Minnesota-set crime saga still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to help it stand out in the crowded television landscape. Whether or not that’s enough to convince new viewers to tune it remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: those who do are in for an interesting experience.


Fargo season 3 continues next Wednesday with ‘The Principle of Restricted Choice’ @10pm on FX.

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