The movie “Fargo” ends with one of the most iconic lines in Coen brothers’ history. As chief of police Marge Gunderson (France McDormand) drives the murderous Gaear (Peter Stormare) to the police station, she says, “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.”`
That one line is what the show is “really” about, according to series showrunner, writer, director and executive producer Noah Hawley. “It’s the idea of the sins that people commit for money,” Hawley told TheWrap.
That’s explored in Year 2 when the death of a crime family’s patriarch leads to an all-out war as corporate America looms in the background. It’s explored in Year 4, a season set in the 1950s that examines the “original sins of American capital” and the American economy’s exploitation of enslaved and immigrant people. And it’s explored in Year 5 through one big, scary word: debt.
“I started to think about debt, which is an almost invisible factor of every American’s life. Two-thirds of Americans are in a not insignificant amount of personal and family debt, whether it’s credit cards or student loans or medical debt,” Hawley said. “Yet, we don’t talk about it. And when we do talk about it, it’s couched this language of morality, right? The people who don’t pay back are somehow immoral. We never really talk about how the people who lend them the money and charge them too much interest are immoral.”
The idea of debt seeps into nearly every element of “Fargo” Year 5 from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Lorraine Lyon, the CEO of a collection agency who sports the nickname “the Queen of Debt,” to June Temple’s Dot, a housewife who isn’t who she seems, and Richa Moorjani’s officer Indira Olmstead, an upstanding upholder of the law who’s weighed down by her finances.
But this season, the concept of debt extends far beyond its monetary definition. “In the case of ‘Fargo,’ it’s about the marriage vows and what do you really owe to the husband who beats you, and what do you really owe to the mother who dominates you?” Hawley said.
This is also a universe that Hawley has always seen as defined by its women. Dating back to McDormand’s Marge, “The identity of ‘Fargo’ has been female,” Hawley said. “Every every year for me is about exploring these different sides of the American woman’s experience.”
This time around, that experience was especially interesting thanks to the introduction of Lorraine and Dot Lyon. Hawley referred to Leigh’s Lorraine as “really refreshing.”
“She’s a titan, she’s a heavyweight. Part of the fun of the season for me is to pit, probably, the strongest woman in America against this American strong man,” Hawley said, referring to Jon Hamm’s character. The “Mad Men” and “Lucy in the Sky” actor plays Sheriff Roy Tillman, a lawman, pastor and beloved member of his community who is hellbent on taking the law into his own hands, Constitution be damned.
Hawley noted that the excitement of this season was watching Lorraine and Roy Tillman “pick each other apart.” “But, you know, as someone who’s written, whatever, 51 hours about the evils of capitalism in America, I know that capitalism always wins. So my money’s on Lorraine,” Hawley teased.
However, it’s Temple’s Dot who steals the spotlight this go round. To her husband Wayne (David Rysdahl) and daughter Scotty (Sienna King), Dot comes across as a nearly perfect Midwestern housewife. But when cornered, she becomes one of the biggest threats in the history of this universe, concocting traps and transforming household items into terrifying weapons.
“I love stories where people win by outsmarting their opponents,” Hawley said. “Her superpower really is her creative problem solving and her ability to look at at a bathroom spray and see a weapon. Everyone always underestimates her, and she’s always going to figure a way out because she sees things that other people don’t see.”
Creating Dot’s elaborate traps required a great deal of planning. The scripts contained an outline of the stunts and escape routes Dot would use later in the season, which allowed production to add the necessary details to the Lyon house. “You need to know what you’re doing in advance so that you can really build to it,” Hawley said.
As for who stands on the other side of these various traps, that would be none other than Hamm’s Roy Tillman. In 2023, an elected official who believes in his own version of truth and selectively abides by the law feels distinctly Trumpian. But Hawley assured TheWrap that’s not entirely the case and that Hamm’s character is just another fixture in this twisted Midwestern universe.
“I sort of see everyone in the show as a Republican,” Hawley said, noting that the series looks at “different facets” of the party. This season, Dot and Wayne stand as “true fiscal conservatives, kind of family values folks” whereas the wealthy Lorraine is “very much Mitt Romney, old money.” As for Hamm’s Tillman, he lands on the far right.
“If you go back and look at, I would say, Seasons 3 and 4 of ‘Fargo’ there’s always a moment where the worst person in the show says, ‘I’m the victim here,’” Hawley said. “I was making the third season of ‘Fargo’ when Trump was elected, and he was always the victim and still is always the victim, right? There’s something so cynical about treating people so poorly while claiming to be a victim. That is such a Coen Brothers, ‘Fargo’ thing.”
Over the years, “Fargo” has taken many different forms, from ambitious, expansive stories that require 23 main characters and 50 to 65 minute episodes to more intimate “edge of your seat” stories that only require 42-minute episodes. Year 5 falls into the latter category, an installment that its creator describes as having “wildcard” moments but largely sticks to telling one central story.
“That feels like the right ‘Fargo’ for this moment,” Hawley said. “That’s always my approach. What’s the right ‘Fargo’ for this moment? And by this moment, I mean, a year and a half from now, you know what I mean?” Hawley said, referencing the long production times his crime anthology takes. “There’s something predictive to it as well. I’m living in the moment that I’m making it, but people are going to watch it year and a half or two years from now.”
New episodes of “Fargo” Season 5 air Tuesdays on FX and stream on Hulu the next day.