Watching the FX drama Fargo has sometimes felt like playing a game of I Spy: What loving homage to the original Coen brothers film might pop up next?
That’s not to say the series is a mere knockoff or shoddy imitation. Though heavily inspired by the Coens’ 1996 classic and rooted in its lore, the 10-episode adaptation more than stands on its own, thanks in large part to a stunning study in character transformation by star Martin Freeman. As Lester Nygaard, he has gone snow-booted toe-to-toe with some of the darkest criminals (Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo) and most dogged cops (Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson) on television. Still, it’s been a lot of fun to connect the dots between the film and series.
With the season winding to an end — the finale airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX — we present a near-comprehensive guide to the Fargo Easter eggs that have so far popped up in the show. [SPOILERS AHEAD!]
Frozen prairies, warm knit sweaters, and murder — the posters for the film, done up like a cross-stitch project, combined them all and tipped off viewers that this “homespun murder story” was going to be another dark Coen comedy. FX didn’t stray too far, though perhaps the network’s poster was knit rather than done in cross stitch?
The movie opens with this prologue: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the surviving, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” The series starts every episode with the same note, with one minor tweak: It takes place in 2006 (and, after, the time-jump, 2007).
Though the music isn’t exactly the same in both of these projects, it elicits similar feelings: Beauty, isolation, cold, dread.
Jerry = Lester
Jerry Lundegaard, played by William H. Macy in the film, is channeled by Freeman’s Lester in the series. They both start out as relatively nice guys — you might even say pushovers — who find themselves in desperate situations. Though they similarly do terrible things to their wives, how each man handles the aftermath of those events varies greatly. Jerry ultimately can’t get away with his crime; can Lester?
Marge = Molly
Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is the seven-months pregnant police chief of Brainerd, Minn. Molly is a deputy officer in the Bemidji, Minn. PD who becomes pregnant after the time-jump. (Note the similar maternity uniforms.) Both are good at their jobs and determined to solve the strange murders that occur in their small towns, fingering Jerry/Lester as somehow connected to the crimes. They have similar interrogation styles when it comes to Jerry/Lester, busting in on them at inopportune times to get the clues they need. Marge is married to a man whose painting will be featured on a stamp; Molly is married to a cop-turned-mailman.
Marge and Norm = Molly and Gus
In bed, Marge watches a nature program while her husband tries to sleep. At the end of the film, in bed again, Marge tells Norm she’s proud of him — his painting won the honor of being used on a postage stamp. “We’re doing pretty good,” she says. After the time-jump, Molly watches a nature program in bed while husband Gus (Colin Hanks) tries to sleep. “We’re doing good,” she says, waking him up. “I was just saying we’re doing good, you know? Got everything we need.”
Brainerd = Bemidji
Both small towns have statues dedicated to folk legend Paul Bunyan.
Wrecked car, failed escape on foot
The series begins with Malvo hitting a deer with his car and wrecking the vehicle. The kidnapped man he had in his trunk tries escaping on foot, and later dies in the cold from exposure. In the film, a car drives by kidnappers Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) right after they’ve killed a cop and are trying to dispose of the body. Gaear speeds after the witnesses, who crash their car while trying to get away. The driver tries to escape and is shot dead by the criminal. (He shoots the passenger, too.)
Carl and Gaear = Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench
Carl and Gaear first meet Jerry in Fargo. Much later, during an argument with each other, Carl calls Gaear a mute. TV Fargo thugs Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) are the other duo’s counterparts in the series; Wrench actually is mute and deaf.
There’s an eerie, lovely sort of desolation to the snow-covered prairies of Minnesota, and both the film and series take loving, lingering shots of the long stretches of road that dissect them.
The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team makes several appearances on TVs throughout the series, and references to the team pop up a couple times in the film.
In the movie, Gaear yells for the salve when he’s bitten by Jerry’s wife Jean, whom he and Carl kidnap. On the show, when Lester goes to the pharmacy for something to help relieve the pain of the shotgun pellet lodged in his hand, he flees the scene without the medication when Molly confronts him in the store. The pharmacist shouts that Lester forgot his unguent.
In the movie, Marge’s husband makes eggs for her before she heads out to investigate the murders at the car crash; on the show, Bemidji chief Bill (Bob Odenkirk) makes a point of saying how he’d rather sit and let the omelette his wife made him digest than have to get up and listen to Molly talk about the murders in their town.
Both Marge and Lester’s coworkers at the insurance office enjoy Arby’s for lunch.
When telling Marge where she’s from, one of the prostitutes Carl and Gaear spent time with says “Go Bears!” after referring to her hometown. Malvo, pretending to be a minister from Baudette, cheers “Go Bears!” when he’s interrogated by the Duluth PD about where he lives.
Carl drives into a parking lot to steal plates off another car and remove the dealer plates from his. He’s pissed off that the parking attendant makes him pay, even though he says he changed his mind about staying there and was only parked for a few minutes. He forks over the cash. Later, when he expects to meet Jerry for the ransom money in another parking lot, he finds Jean’s father instead. Carl shoots the man, who in return shoots him in the jaw. As he leaves the parking lot, bloodied, he once again argues with the parking attendant. We later find out he killed the worker, likely driving away for free. Meanwhile, Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt), the Supermarket King who’s been blackmailed by Malvo on FX’s Fargo, decides not to give his tormentor the money he demands. He chooses to leave their agreed-upon drop spot, a parking lot. Since he “changed his mind,” he argues with the parking attendant that he shouldn’t have to pay — and he doesn’t.
Having killed Jean’s father and taken the briefcase full of $1 million in ransom money, Carl pulls out the agreed-upon $80k that he will share with Gaear. He buries the rest in the snow on the side of a desolate road along a fence, using his red ice scraper as a marker so he remembers where the money is located. Broke and desperate, Milos flees to Minnesota with his family in 1987 — except along the way, he runs out of gas. His car just happens to stall out at the exact spot where Carl buried his briefcase full of money. Milos spies the ice scraper, digs, and finds the treasure. The scene firmly plants the series within the same universe as the film.
Meeting an old acquaintance
When in Minneapolis investigating the murders, Marge meets an old friend, Mike Yanagita, for a drink. Turns out he’s mentally unstable and the conversation is very awkward. When in St. Paul investigating the case of the “naked fella” who tried to escape out of Malvo’s trunk, Molly catches up with an old friend over dinner. They’ve become totally different people and the conversation is very awkward.
When Jean’s father is shot, feathers fly out of his puffer jacket. When Malvo shoot’s Lester’s wife (thinking it’s Lester), feathers fly out of the puffer jacket (Lester’s) that she’s wearing.
Belt around the neck
When the kidnapping scheme points Marge to Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), he attacks Carl by grabbing him, throwing a belt around his neck and choking him over his back. The action is so violent that at one point, Carl loses his shoe. In an attempt to corner the Fargo hitman Mr. Wrench, who’s under police custody in the hospital, Malvo sneaks up on the cop on duty in the bathroom, throws a belt around his neck, and chokes him over his back. You guessed it — the poor guy even loses a shoe.
Marge speech to Gaear/Molly speech to Wrench
After the woodchipper incident, during which Marge shoots Gaear (see below), she places him in the back of her squad car to take him into custody. She tries to ponder his motives for killing so many people. “And for what?” she asks. During the snowy showdown with Numbers, Wrench, and Malvo, Molly shoots Wrench (and Gus accidentally shoots her). Molly visits Wrench in the hospital, trying to figure out his motives: “And for what?” she asks.
It’s the film’s most iconic scene: Gaear tries to dispose of Carl’s body — he got angry with him and hacked him up with an ax — in a woodchipper. Series boss Noah Hawley says they placed a woodchipper in the background in one of the first two episodes. Did you see it?