Fargo showrunner breaks down that season 4 finale
Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley breaks down the season finale of the most ambitious chapter yet in his History of True Crime in the Mid West: his sprawling season 4 Kansas City crime epic that pitted two mob families, led by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) and Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman), against each other. The season had the usual Fargo-ian elements of murder, mayhem, and pitch-black comedy, but also with the added and timely resonance of looking at race relations in America. Below, Hawley takes some of our lingering questions about the season in general and Sunday's finale in particular (spoilers ahead!).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what made Zelmare (Karen Aldridge) killing Loy the right move, creatively speaking?
NOAH HAWLEY: It's a very loaded question, right? We had a lot of conversations in the writers' room about it. Because he's a Black man in 1950, it didn't feel realistic that he was gonna win. And as the head of a criminal organization, his days were numbered no matter what. He's either gonna end up dead or behind bars. And we certainly didn't want to put him behind bars and send that message. And so what felt right was an individual betrayal catching up to him. We take him from defeat to victory and back to defeat again when he's told that half his business was being taken away from him, then he goes home and he looks in the window and he sees his family and his son he thought was dead. And he thinks, "Well, I always thought I needed more power to make us safe, but we've never been safer than we are right now." So maybe this is the happy ending? And then the knife comes out. And what he sees is not the state coming to arrest him or an enemy, but somebody he betrayed who deserves justice. And because hopefully we all love Swanee and Zelmare and it feels like, "Okay, I can live with that. I don't like that it happened, but it feels like justice to me."
This is a random reference but it, weirdly enough, reminded me of Carlito's Way — the overlooked younger gangster who was snubbed and you forgot about returns when you least expect it to take out the protagonist right as he thinks he's achieved his goal.
And the first time I saw No Country for Old Men, and Josh Brolin goes, "I'm going to make you my special project," and you think, "Okay, it's on," but then 10 minutes later Brolin is dead in a motel room, killed by this Mexican cartel. It's perfectly real, but I didn't see it coming.
The finale was notably a bit of a shorter episode than all the other episodes. I know you had that break in production due to the pandemic. So I guess my first question was whether you had to cut anything you had hoped to include?
It was a 30-page script, and for the international release we actually had to try to lengthen it. That that was just how much story was left, and it didn't feel like it made sense to move some things from [episodes] 9 and 10. I just went ahead knowing that most people live in a streaming world and it doesn't matter if it's a 30-minute episode or a 65-minute episode.
What do you want to say about the Ghost Slaver and why the ghost would protect Ethelrida (E'myri Crutchfield) from Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley) in that moment?
I think he's protecting his "property," if you know what I mean. Like, "No, nobody gets to mess with her except me." It's like the devil is not willing to share. I also thought it was kind of funny that by far the most demonic character in the show, this sociopath, has got nothing on the actual devil, you know?
Speaking of Oraetta, she kept reminding me of two iconic characters that I wondered if either was an inspiration at all. Stephen King's Annie Wilkes and this other — just the way she walked and talked and carried herself — it reminded me a bit of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz, the pre-tornado Wicked Witch of the West, just in case that was another Oz inspiration this season.
I did not think about King's character at all in the creation of Oraetta. When you say The Wizard of Oz out loud, considering our other homage, I would like to say that that's in there — because it would make me look smart — but if that's in there, it's only because Jessie put it in there, it wasn't a note I gave her.
Oraetta's line while standing in front of her grave along with Josto Fadda, "Can you shoot him first so I can watch?" is perhaps one of my favorite lines you've written. It's just so bonkers, yet perfectly in character.
And Jason, who is told in the first act, "You say 'what' a lot," gets one last "What?" right before he's killed. If ever Josto thought that he was anything more than just a pawn in this whole story, he's proven otherwise. He doesn't even have the dignity of being prepared for his death.
Going back in time a bit, I loved the episode "East/West" and wondered if you talk about the decision to do the hour in black-and-white, aside from the obvious Oz homage.
There was a point early on where I told FX, "The good news is I've decided not to film the entire season in black-and-white," so you should feel lucky we're just doing this one hour. The Wizard of Oz was always built into the season on some level, and that includes cinematically in that hour of going from black-and-white to color. If you're going to do that, you have to start with black-and-white. And obviously, the twister comes in just a few minutes before the end of the episode.
And with the black-and-whites, I do think in some ways they were kind of driving into the past as well. You have all the historical markers throughout the episode and the sense this history of America and the history of these places and this boarding house and these people who seemed like almost like they were still living in the '20s or the '30s. So the black-and-white also felt like it played into that. So that was the origin of it; it wasn't just an affectation of saying, "Well, let's just try this."
With Odis (Jack Huston) and all his tics: Whenever I saw him, because of having watched on film sets how many times and different ways each scene is shot, I just kept thinking how utterly exhausting it must have been, going through those tics, hundreds of times, and there must have been days when that was exhausting for all involved, having to film that.
Because he has all these tics and because he calls Josto "boss," Jack thought [when the character is introduced in the season's second episode, which Hawley directed] I wanted him to have a kind of obsequiousness, a toadyism about him. And I said, "No, think about how the smallest dogs are always the most anxious, but they're also the most aggressive, right? He needs to be hostile, and he's hostile because his anxiety is spiking." I was glad that I got to work with Jack in those first couple of hours to really dial in where that character lived.
A lot of characters in the Coen Brothers universe have had kind of random fates and accidents, but Gaetano (Salvatore Esposito) might have been the most out-of-nowhere one.
In some way, that's what gave it its power. First, we had just given Odis this kind of epic depth in which, after a lifetime of torment from his tics, it suddenly goes away and he has this moment of peace when he realizes it's all ending. Then you have Gaetano starting to work back to the car and he trips — and we've seen him trip at least twice in the season before — and falls and shoots himself accidentally. It's tragic because he and Josto finally managed to repair their wounds. I wanted it like the death of the state trooper in Fargo: It's shocking because it happens so quickly and it's gory, it's graphic, and seems a bit over-the-top, so it becomes what violence actually is, which is overwhelming in the moment.
There's the reveal that Loy's son Michael (Rodney L. Jones III) grows up to be season 2 fan-favorite Mike Milligan. How much did connecting those dots influence the season?
When you think back on season 2, you don't necessarily think first, "Oh, it's the Molly Solverson origin story." It's the same way this is the Mike Milligan origin story that is tangentially about Mike Milligan on some level, but it's not by any means the season's defining feature.
And finally, any thoughts on a Fargo season 5? Any new lightbulbs having gone off since the last time we spoke?
I think so. I don't know where this thing goes or where it ends. I certainly don't want to overstay my welcome. I'm sure there are some people who think that four seasons are too many. I have the germination of an idea, but there's a lot of work that has to be done to make sure it's worthy. Fargo has never really been a story where "this happens, then this happens, then this happens." There's a lot more that goes into it, and the bar is high, and I certainly have no desire to be the last guy at the dance going, "Oh, it's still good."
Do you have a time period, or too early to say?
It feels more contemporary. It'll be set somewhere in the recent past. But I don't know where it would come in terms of writing and producing it. I'm working right now to finish a long-overdue book. And then we'll see what comes next.