Police officers have always been “Fargo’s” moral compass. But to tell this “true story”, Noah Hawley had to change his perspective.
“The rule in ‘Fargo’ is: it doesn’t have to be true, it just has to seem true.”
Noah Hawley, the showrunner, writer, director and creator of the FX script adaptation, frequently cites this edict. After all, it is an important clarification. Each episode of his award-winning anthology begins with the title “This Is a True Story”, even if what follows is not. Much like the movie it’s based on, each season of “Fargo” is a work of fiction, but it’s rooted in a distinctly American reality, from the snowy plains of the Midwest to passive-aggressive courtesy.
Typically, that truth extends to a simple form of symbolism. Among the many shady criminals who ran around “Fargo”, there was always a beacon of light fighting an impending force of darkness. Police Chief Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand) represents goodness in the Coen brothers’ film, just as Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) embodies intrusive evil. For Hawley’s first season, Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) faces off against Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton); Season 2 goes back to the late 1970s to track down Molly’s father, state agent Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), as he tries to stop the villain, Dodd Gerhardt (Jeffrey Donovan) or, if you prefer, Peggy Blumquist ( Kirsten Dunst), or even Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell). Season 3 sees another police chief, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), against the evil corporate entity known as VM Varga (David Thewlis).
No matter the great evil, each version of “Fargo” employed a policeman as its moral compass. Sure, there were also doofus cops (like Bob Odenkirk’s Bill Oswalt) or law enforcement partners (like Olivia Sandoval’s Winnie Lopez), but the main “good guy” of these “true stories” has always been a member of the police department.
“Wax [an] evolution in thinking about this year’s story, “Hawley said in an interview with IndieWire. Key factors included the period of the fourth season (1950), the main characters (African Americans and recent immigrants) and how the” The show’s standard moral bar chart could be changed to better reflect a new perspective.
“In ‘Fargo,’ you have a Marge Gunderson, and you have a Peter Stormare, and one is so clearly all good, and the other is so clearly evil,” Hawley said. “And for better or for worse, for the past three seasons, that ‘all good’ role has been filled by a cop. But if you’re telling a story about people of color and immigrants, that’s not necessarily their experience of the moral spectrum. “
Matthias Clamer / FX
So in the fourth year, the cops are more sidelined than ever. Most notable is Odis Weff (Jack Huston), a WWII veteran and Kansas City Police Department detective; Odis suffers from an anxiety disorder that sees him drinking too much nerve tonic, as he seeks additional stress relief by working a little too closely with rival KC gangs. Dick “Deafy” Wickware (Timothy Olyphant) comes a little later, and while the United States Marshal’s Mormon faith may keep him from sharing a sip of whiskey with local criminals (or looking the other way when they steal some of them ), old Brigham Young was still guilty of the most acceptable sins of the time.
Or, as Hawley put it: “We’re not necessarily breaking new ground by telling a story set in the Jim Crow era of racism and xenophobia, are we?”
However, Hawley and his writing team were careful not to paint their characters with too large a brush.
“The problem is, once you start using racism as a purse – this sort of shorthand for evil,” Hawley said. “Just because a character is corrupt doesn’t mean he’s also racist. […] You can be bad in some ways and good in others. This is the moral specter, unfortunately. “
Yet there is a character whose moral range remains steadfast. Ethelrida Pearl Smutney (played by Emyri Crutchfield) is the new force for good of season 4 – all her 16 years.
“I would say that not only is she inherently good, but she must also be good,” Crutchfield said in an interview. “First, her mother gives her morals. She’s a churchwoman, she works in a funeral home, she’s very strict and textbook. So this is the inherently good part. But then, living in a society where she is very segregated, she had to be good too, because of the color of her skin. “
“This idea of this young girl came to me very early, in a kind of ‘backyard window’,” Hawley said. “This was a girl who saw something, and her moral character would not allow her to ignore it, even though – given her position in the life of a young biracial girl in the 1950s – she knew she had no power, and no one in authority would. really listened to. It felt like a dramatic place to put a character. “
Crutchfield, now 20, got the part the traditional way. She presented a tape from her home in New Orleans, and then flew to Los Angeles for an audition with Hawley. Feeling nervous both naturally (“Literally every audition feels like my first audition ever”) and since there were more actors there than she bargained for, Crutchfield honed on one line from character breakdown to find Ethelrida’s voice – and l ‘he kept with her during filming.
“‘Ethelrida is a person who marches to the beat of his own drum,'” recalled Crutchfield. “This is what impressed me. And she does. Nothing discourages her. “
Resilient virtue in the face of injustice is a classic trait of the “all good” protagonists of “Fargo”, and Ethelrida displays her unwavering integrity in the season’s opening scenes. She is punished regularly and unfairly, whether for showing a teacher or watching a classmate, and accepts the excessive abuse of her administrator without the slightest whining.
“The most important thing I kept in mind while playing Ethelrida was that it was set in the 1950s,” said Crutchfield. “Nowadays, a child might respond to a teacher or feel comfortable picking up an attitude, women were much more conservative during that time period. I couldn’t be too expressive because I’m a young woman – I have to behave a certain way and be kind, even if I don’t want to be polite. And then with the color of my skin, I have to be very kind. “
Even though Ethelrida is only a girl, she is not immune from the violence that pervades “Fargo”. Her punishments, simply for being a young black woman in 1950s America, are whips that induce limping with a heavy paddle. Hawley is honest in that experience, but he was careful not to indulge in scenes of racist brutality.
Elizabeth Morris / FX
“I really tried to avoid creating new injuries as much as possible,” Hawley said. “I didn’t want to create moments of racism to emphasize a point or to create any artificial drama. Because as much as we use drama to show what the past was like, you must also be aware that by creating new situations of violence, racism or xenophobia, you are somehow creating it yourself. “
Hawley said you won’t find a scene where Chris Rock’s character Loy Cannon is stopped by the police and harassed, humiliated or worse. Similar scenes already exist throughout popular culture, often to reflect the discrimination that black Americans still suffer today, but adding them here seemed foreign. Racism is always present in the fourth season of “Fargo”. Ethnic insults constantly fly from one character to another, sometimes out of brotherly love, sometimes out of deeper hatred. It’s a sign of the times, and those signs are pretty clear.
“You tend to see a lot of such horrible moments that are used for dramatic purposes, but I don’t want to create them. I don’t want to put those images in the audience’s mind if it’s not necessary, “Hawley said.” I wasn’t going to go out of my way to say, ‘Oh yeah, the cops are racist here.’ “
Which brings us back to how the fourth season of “Fargo” will be received in 2020. The first was originally scheduled for April, the pandemic has blocked the final days of production until August and has caused the release date to be postponed until September. . Now, the season will kick off at a time when America is reeling over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, protests over racial injustice and police violence persist, and cities seek to re-evaluate the purpose and power of local law enforcement.
Will this season’s shift in perspective help audiences see “Fargo” differently and perhaps the country it describes?
“This may be down to your race as a spectator,” Hawley said, “because it’s not like these stories are new.”
This, in itself, is the point. Perhaps some people who have been made more aware of the dangerous and oppressive nature that police officers play in the lives of black Americans will recognize modern fears in this period story. Others who have always seen it, regardless of whether or not the TV emphasizes their perspective, will simply see the truth.
“Fargo” is a true story, after all, and Season 4 respects its characters enough to recognize theirs.
The fourth season of “Fargo” will debut in its first two episodes on Sunday, September 27 at 9pm ET on FX. New episodes will air every week at 10pm