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Interview: Noah Hawley – Creator of FX’s ‘Fargo’

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This week’s Fargo takes us ahead in time by an entire year. Lester (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit, Sherlock) is an award-winning insurance salesman, having gotten away with the murder of his wife, and we find him making a speech in Las Vegas to a roomful of hopeful Lester-wannabes (in the insurance game, anyway). Molly (wonderful newcomer Allison Tolman) and Gus (Colin Hanks) are married and living in a lovely little home expecting their first child. Gus is now a mail carrier. (Probably a better fit for him than hard-driving copper), and Molly is still a police office, living a more peaceful life.Fargo Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton

But, you think, wait a minute! There are still two episodes to go! Shouldn’t this be the ending to the story (at least as far as Molly and Gus are concerned)? And then, at the very end, grayer, but still with that ol’ devil in his eyes is Lorne Malvo (the phenomenal and perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton), taking a seat in the very bar where Lester is being feted post-award for his insurance-career achievements. Aha! There is more to the story, and indeed, yes, there are two more episodes of FX’s fantastic series yet to go.

The show’s creator, Noah Hawley, met with TV journalists earlier this week to talk about Fargo, and during the conference call, he explained the reasons for the time jump. “[We did it] for a couple of reasons. It felt like a real-life thing because obviously if these cases aren’t solved quickly, often they’re not solved at all or the case goes cold and then something new happens.”

And clearly, the Bemidji murders are unlikely to be solved with Molly’s involvement shackled by her rather thick-of-head boss, Bill Oswalt (Mike Odenkirk). The time jump also creates a resonance for the original Coen Brothers movie, which connects Fargo the TV series to Fargo the film, something the creators have both toyed with and avoided during the entire series run. “Suddenly it is the movie in a way,” explained Hawley, “like you watch this whole thing thinking oh, it’s kind of like the movie, but it’s not the movie. But then the minute that she’s pregnant, you think ‘wait a minute,’ now it is the movie in this strange way.” And that, maybe, feeds into the viewers’ expectations going forward as the series moves towards its finale.

“It’s a tricky line, but I did feel like once the pregnancy thing came to my head that the time jump felt justified on every level, and it allows us to sort of move all the characters forward.”  Regarding that intriguing glimpse of Malvo at the end, Hawley noted that he can’t say (of course). “All you know is what you saw at the very end, but it’s good. I can’t wait for you to see (episode) nine, let me just say that.”

One of the big questions for Fargo fans is whether the series will return with a new story from Bemidji, Minnesota. With the success of anthology series like American Horror Story and the returning HBO anthology series True Detective, Hawley has to be thinking about a new story, right?

Hawley explained, “In an industry like this, anytime something is a success, you think how can I make more money off of it.” His biggest concern, however, should they make another series is whether they can equal or better what they’ve already done this season. “Those are conversations being had. I think it’s really important that there’s a kind of alchemy that happens when you get all the right elements in place that a lot of it is skill, but some of it is luck as well, and I’m not in any hurry to try to top myself there. It’s been a crazy two-year span of getting picked up and writing them all and producing them all and we have our final sound mix today on episode 10. I’m excited about the idea of really taking the time to think about and the network is kind enough to allow me to do that.”

One of the difficulties Hawley sees in holding on to our now-beloved Fargo series characters for too many seasons is that the truthfulness of the series “true” story will erode. “TV is based on the idea that you fall in love with the characters, and then your reward is you get to watch them year in and year out. Obviously, we’re not satisfying that feeling for people [with one season].” He believes that there are more stories to tell about Gus, Molly, Malvo, and the other. “I’m sure there’s a whole world of stories to tell about them.” Hawley recalls the ending of the original movie. Marge “gets into bed and she’s seeing the worst case she’ll ever see and tomorrow she goes back to life as normal and that’s her reward, and that’s why you feel great about the movie is because she survived the worst thing and now she’s going to just have a baby and be a mom.” He notes that one reason the FX production wasn’t conceived as a full-blown series  is, “we’re saying it’s a true story, and year in, year out, we just kept presenting Molly with these crazy Coen Brothers’ cases, there’s no way we could maintain that idea that it’s a true story.”

In addition, Hawley points out that, “I think she would be such a changed person after four or five years.” And rather than having that sort of “best of America versus worst of America quality, she’d be in the more sort of bitter PTSD criminal minds detective as opposed to the sort of optimistic, trying to put the world back into the order that it needs to be in person.”

Ultimately, if he does a second series of Fargo, he doesn’t want to “just  have an idea for how it starts.” Unlike a traditional television series, a series like Fargo begins and ends in the same season, so he needs “to know where the series will end as well. “You can’t fake it until you make it. You have to start out knowing exactly where you’re going.”

Should they do a second series, we would “see a new [10-episode] movie with new characters, but one that might have some connection either to the first season or to the original movie, just not in a way hopefully that you can predict or expect.”

Hawley has enjoyed creating his own “Coen Brothers’ movie,” being allowed to “mix tone, drama and comedy, and violence, and magic realism, and be structurally innovative with how I tell the story and all those sorts of things that I might not have gotten away with on my own. So, it’s been a blast.”

The series has many references to the original film. One of them is pretty direct: the money Stavros finds, which funds his grocery empire, is intended to be the cash stashed by Steve Buscemi’s character in the original film.

Although the Coen Brothers’ influence is infused in the television series DNA, Hawley didn’t stop with simple “references or inspirations from Fargo the movie.” Hawley noted, “I sort of opened myself to their larger body of work as storytellers and their sensibility. We do a parable sequence in Episode 5 that’s obviously a nod to A Serious Man and The Goy’s Teeth, as well as a lot of other moments, some big, some small that are influenced by them.”

If you’ve not caught the terrific FX series by now, catch up on Fargo‘s official site. The series airs Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.