Why ‘Fargo’ Season 5 Makes a Case for Being Nice

TheWrap magazine: “How do people who want to be nice to their neighbors get their country back from this discourse that is so filled with vitriol?” says writer-producer Noah Hawley

Fargo - Juno Temple Jon Hamm
Juno Temple and Jon Hamm in "Fargo" (FX)

Noah Hawley wasn’t supposed to make a fifth season of “Fargo” in 2023. He’d agreed to serve as showrunner on “Alien,” an FX on Hulu series that would serve as a prequel to the classic 1979 Ridley Scott movie, and that project was supposed to begin filming in March of 2022. But COVID happened, and other stuff happened, and… Well, we’ll let Hawley finish the story, speaking on a Zoom call from Bangkok, where he was finally filming “Alien”in April 2024. 

“The buildup to ‘Alien’ took a long time,” Hawley said. “There was a period in which we were going to make a pilot out of it, and then that looked too expensive. So we opened a writers room and went through that process. And at a certain point, I realized that ‘Fargo’(Season) 4 aired in 2020, and if I stuck to the current schedule, I wasn’t going to have anything on the air for four or five years.

“And that just seemed unacceptable to me. So I squeezed ‘Fargo’ in before ‘Alien,’ and I’m very glad that I did.”

The fifth season stars Juno Temple as “Dot” Lyon, a Midwestern housewife with some serious secrets and some dangerous skills; Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lorraine Lyon, Dot’s mother-in-law and a ruthless debt-collection billionaire; and Jon Hamm as Roy Tillman, a corrupt sheriff whose misogyny is only part of a veritable stew of unpleasantry.  In the first episode, Dot is kidnapped by a couple of criminals for hire — and if that setup rings a bell with anybody who’s watched the 1997 Coen brothers movie that gives the series its name, Hawley wouldn’t disagree.

Fargo
Noah Hawley with Juno Temple on the set of “Fargo” (FX)

“This season was a sort of expedited process from conception to shooting,” he said. “And so I really just focused on ‘Fargo’ concentrate. Like the old orange juice that came in the can: just the core ‘Fargo’ essence. Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t weigh it down too much thematically. Make it move. And after four seasons and 41 hours of ‘Fargo,’ I could finally engage with the movie directly without people going, ‘Oh, he’s just copying the movie now.’

“I wanted to look at the original and sort of riff on it. If you watch the film, one of the great films of all time, you’re either rooted in Frances McDormand’s story or you’re rooted in (kidnapper) Steve Buscemi’s story. What you’re not rooted in is the wife’s story. That was my jumping-off point, to revisit the story from her point of view.”

The season has three strong women at its center in the characters played by Temple, Leigh and Richa Moorjani as a detective. Hawley said he cast Leigh, a fan of the series, for her ability to deliver “withering disdain,” but he needed something lighter for the role of Dot.

“She gets kidnapped and then pretends it doesn’t happen, even though she knows they’re gonna come for her again,” he said. “She invader-proofs her house, but she doesn’t tell her family that they’re in danger. And I thought, if we cast this wrong, you’re gonna think this is the worst mother who ever lived. What I needed was someone mischievous, someone fun. Juno has that quality, and we go with her through behavior that, if misplayed, would feel like, ‘That’s a crazy woman, you gotta get her away from that kid.’”

For Jon Hamm’s part of Roy Tillman, Hawley needed an actor whose likeability could work as a diversion. “It’s a character role. It’s not being handsome on a horse,” he said. “The more you get to know him, the more layers you uncover.

“The fact that he is a nipple-pierced, Bible-toting swinger sheriff who’s making rules for everybody else while acting like he can do whatever he wants — what Jon brought to it was that you like him because it’s Jon, and then he starts to creep you out. If you cast someone who was creepy from the beginning, it wouldn’t have that effect.”

Tillman’s involvement with a far-right militia also grounds the season in current issues, as does Lorraine Lyon’s order to a subordinate to get “the orange clown” on the phone when she needs some government help. As much as it contains nods to a 27-year-old movie, this feels like a story for the Trump era.

“In 2019, Season 3, I started exploring the idea of alternate facts and manufactured reality,” Hawley said. “We were doing that during the election and the first year of the presidency. But yeah, this year was the most contemporary I could get without dealing with COVID.

“The movie itself introduced the idea of ‘Minnesota Nice’ to audiences, Minnesota Nice being this passive-aggressive feeling of ‘I may be angry on the inside, but I’m smiling on the outside.’ But you look around at our school board meetings and there’s nothing passive-aggressive about them anymore. People have stopped smiling. They’re just angry. So what is left for that sort of Lutheran decency that is so heralded in the film?

“There are still a large number of people who just want to be nice to their neighbors and live in a civil society. And how do those people get their country back from this discourse that is so filled with vitriol?”

And even though Alien is his priority at this point, is he thinking at all about a Season 6 of Fargo?

“I am,” he said. “I had some time during the strike to think about a lot of things. I am excited to keep telling stories in that tone of voice. It’s such an honor and a joy to be able to mix these elements, and every time it comes out different.

“The alchemy of crime, exploring what America is, basic human decency and all the philosophical elements that the Coens’ work avails me — you know, I’d be a fool to stop before they stop me.”

This story first appeared in the Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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