"Fargo" concluded its first (and possibly only) season last night. I reviewed the finale here, and I spoke with the show's creator, Noah Hawley, about some of the big developments in the finale, and the possibility of future "Fargo" adventures, coming up just as soon as I go into space despite being afraid of spiders...
Before we get to the Q&A, I should note that having just moderated two different panels with Hawley at the ATX Television Festival (including one right after a screening of last week's episode, which you can hear the audio of at the end of the latest Nerdist Writers Panel podcast), I tried to avoid asking him a bunch of repeat questions. I think the only ground we trod over again was on the question of a sequel season, but here's what I can recall from other notable bits of discussion:
* Mr. Wrench was inspired in part by Hawley living near the Texas School for the Deaf when he was living in Austin working on ABC's "My Generation."
* For Malvo, he was inspired by both other Coen brothers villains (which he talks about again below), but also the basic idea of chaos coming to a relatively civilized place. He liked that a place like Minnesota was settled despite its incredibly hostile winter environment, and how people have simply figured out how to deal with the threat of nature over the centuries; Malvo was supposed to represent a more primal threat that the likes of Molly and Bill are not prepared for.
* He loved the fake "true story" structure of the original film, and felt it gave him license for strange detours and monologues and parables and whatnot, and also to do the big time jump in episode 8. "Sometimes, cases just go cold," he said. He felt the deviations from the basic plot added a lot of color to the story, while also maintaining the illusion of this as being based on something that really happened, even though he wholly invented it.
* He didn't ask for the Coen brothers' permission before tying the plot of the film and show together with Stavros Milos finding the satchel Carl buried in the snow. "Better to ask forgiveness later than permission," he said. In general, he's heard very little from the Coens, which he takes as a good sign.
* Again, we'll get more into the idea of possible future seasons below, but he said he loved that the ending of the movie suggests that Marge's life goes back to normal after the Lundegaard case, and that it's only interesting if this is the only case of its kind she deals with in her career, rather than her becoming a magnet for violence and bizarre criminality. So he'd be inclined to make any sequel season involve a new set of characters; when I jokingly asked if he might just spin off a different Coen brothers movie like "The Big Lebowski," he said he had a lot of ideas for the universe of "Ladykillers." (Apparently, this is a running gag with him; when Fienberg asked him a similar question on the set in Calgary, Hawley said he wanted to do "A Serious Man: The Series.")
On to the interview...
Were you able to map this whole story out in advance, or was it made up as you went along through the season?
Noah Hawley: In order to get the job to do it, basically, I had a 20 page pitch document, which had a lot of big picture stuff and overview stuff, and a general sense. Very specific on the pilot, but a general overview. After we had planned to go to series, they asked me for a series document, which I gave them, which laid out some of the bigger story arcs. That was around February of last year, and it became clear that there was no way to shoot until it snowed, which was going to be a whole 10 months. I suggested I could write the remaining nine episodes, which everybody liked. I said, "Give me four writers in a room for 12 weeks, and we'll break all nine episodes, and give you an outline, and I'll go off and start writing, and I'll probably give you 2 or 3 episodes at a time." And that's what I did. So I got into a room with four writers, and we broke the whole season in very minute detail. I gave the network a 115-page outline, and sat down with Mr. Landgraf and everyone, and had a three hour discussion about it, and then I went off and started writing.
So then everything that happened in this finale was roughly planned out last year?
Noah Hawley: It was all there. Nothing changed dramatically. There were a few things that were tweaked, a couple of things I added, but the overall structure of what we'd broken, and the scenes as laid out were the scenes that I wrote.
Let's talk about the decision to have Gus execute Malvo. Obviously, he needs a certain amount of redemption for his earlier cowardice at the traffic stop, but this is a serious thing he does here, and that other people seem somewhat okay with. Why did you make the decision to have him do that, and to not have Molly and the other cops too troubled by it?
Noah Hawley: Thank you for noticing it's a big deal. It is both a hero moment but also morally questionable on some level. For me, the question is, he shoots Malvo when he's sitting there injured and unarmed. Is it an act of bravery or an act of cowardice? It's not for me to make that choice, but I do feel like Gus has seen what Malvo is capable of and how he can seem to escape from a locked room, and knows that the only way this will ever end is if Malvo ends. There is a nuclear option that he goes with, which is a choice that I think everyone realizes that this is a man who is responsible for the death of a lot of people, and no one's going to mourn for him. I went back and forth on whether Gus should be the ultimate arbiter of Malvo's exit. This being a "true story" is important to me that it unfold in a way that did not feel like the Joseph Campbell hero's journey, but feel like real life with all its messiness and coincidence, where things don't add up in a storybook way. So I was resistant early on to this idea that we had set up Gus vs. Malvo so clearly, that I was resistant to the idea that Gus would be responsible. Until we got much closer to breaking that episode, and I realized that what we were setting up was Malvo vs. Lester, and then if we did our jobs right, we'd play out that Malvo vs. Lester bear trap set piece, and then hopefully the audience has forgotten is that Gus is in the cabin until he steps out of the shadows. And then what happens is a surprise. It's not like you can set up for it. In realizing that, I really did feel like it was the best way to end it.