Catching Up With Fargo's Noah Hawley

TV Features Fargo
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Well that was a heck of a finale. Don’tcha think?

Fargo came to it a bloody and ultimately satisfying conclusion last night. Paste had a chance to chat with showrunner and executive producer Noah Hawley about the series finale, the show’s surprising time jump and what viewers might see in Season Two.

Paste: The finale ends on a positive note: the good guys prevail and the bad guys get their comeuppance. Did you always know that’s the way it would end, or did you consider a darker ending?
Noah Hawley: I don’t know if I ever seriously entertained that. In adapting the movie, there is that sense at the end of the film when Marge (Frances McDormand) goes around the side of the cabin and Peter Stormare is putting the leg in the wood chipper and he can’t hear her. You’re terrified for her—this pregnant woman who doesn’t really seem equipped to handle this moment—if she’s going to come out of it okay. When she does, it’s a restoration of the sense of order in the universe. So I guess that was always my plan, but the logistics of how that was going to play out were not really clear until we were very close to the end of breaking the last couple of episodes.

Paste: Why was it important that Gus be the one to kill Malvo?
Hawley:Well, it’s interesting, because I really went back and forth on that as to how the story should end. I wanted to avoid something that felt like the journey of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s because real life doesn’t unfold that way. What worked about it for me in the long run is what we’ve set up: the end game, you feel like it’s this mano a mano, Lester vs. Malvo dynamic, which plays out to a certain degree. But then there’s the surprise, I think, if I’ve done my job right. We all watched Gus go into that cabin, but with the craziness that ensues with Malvo and Lester, hopefully you’ve forgotten that he’s there and there’s that great stomach-dropping, ‘Oh shit that’s right! He’s there!’ moment. Did you experience that?

Paste: I remembered he was there. I was more surprised that Gus killed Malvo.
Hawley:I think he knew there’s no stopping the predator. What I also liked about it is while it seems like a victory for Gus, at the same time, if Malvo’s sole kind of defining motivation is to see how far he can push civilized people to act like animals, I mean, he wins, also. He pushed Gus, who never wanted to be that person, into killing him. So there’s a real moral ambiguity to it that I liked that allowed me to accept that he could be the instrument of justice.

Paste: I thought Gus would call for backup and let the FBI and police know he’s found Malvo.
Hawley:He has that moment where he almost calls Molly to say, ‘I found him!’ but then he knows if he calls her, she’s going to come, and he can’t have her do that. I really wanted, in the creation of his character, to explore this idea of cowardice. And not necessarily in a negative light. Gus makes a choice in that first episode to let Malvo go, which may be an act of physical cowardice, but when you meet his daughter, you realize it was a choice. He had to make a choice. Is he a bad person or morally weak because of it? I really wanted to explore that idea.

Paste: Going back a few episodes, when did you know you would do a time jump during the season?
Hawley: It was an idea that came probably when we were half way through breaking the season. There’s a writer on the show named Steve Blackman and he suggested it and I had two thoughts about it originally. when you’re pretending to tell a true story, you’re always looking for those details that might make it feel truer. The reality is these cases often go cold. Once Lester had framed his brother and made that checkmate move, it certainly seemed likely that the case would go cold. I did have a worry that it might be gimmicky, and I said, ‘Let me sleep on it.’ And then when I woke up the next morning and I thought, ‘Well, she’s pregnant, and that’s why we do it.’ Suddenly, it is the movie, and I really like the idea of doing it literally in the middle of the third to last episode. I also like creating a sense of unpredictability and a slight disorientation as well. Audiences these days are so smart and they’re ahead of you so much of the time. My favorite responses have been, ‘I really thought I knew where this was going and suddenly you jumped ahead a year! Now I have no idea where it’s going.’ I like that sense of unpredictability, that in the end when you look back on all ten episodes, it all seems inevitable though.

Paste: There were quite a few times when I was really worried for Gus, especially right before the time jump. Was that intentional?
Hawley: I’ve heard a lot of people say when the camera moves off him in the car and starts to float off into the woods, the sense of dread that people had for what was out there. That was not intentional at all, and it didn’t even occur to me in the filmmaking or in the editing process. It was only when the audience saw it for the first time that I realized that I had done my job better than I hoped, which was to create that sense of anxiety and dread for these characters. Obviously, Gus is not good at being a cop, really not equipped to handle the challenge that has been put in front of him, and I think that’s always frightening for people to think, ‘Will he survive it?’ In a perfect world, your audience is worrying about the characters they care about.

Paste: I was a little surprised that we didn’t see Stavros or Chazz again. Is there a reason you left their stories open-ended?
Hawley: There was a scene that was meant to be in Episode Seven where Gus goes to see Stavros, a sort of aftermath scene. It was in the episode until I did one last pass before I locked it and I took a few things out of that episode and that was one of them. It was basically a scene of Stavros throwing copies of his books into the fireplace and trying to figure out if he gave the money back, what more did God want from him? Ultimately, it felt like the end of the Stavros story with the overturned car and his dead son was so powerful that the story didn’t feel like it needed a denouement. It wasn’t improving on the story that we told already.

Paste: And poor Chazz, who is in jail for murders he didn’t commit?
Hawley: Once they figure out Lester is guilty, Chazz will be released from prison. They’re not going to keep him in there for a crime he didn’t commit. There wasn’t really a story reason to go there.

Paste: Can you talk a little bit about the use of riddles and stories in the series? There were two great ones in the finale: the fox, rabbit and cabbage riddle, and the story about the gloves that Molly tells Lester.
Hawley:I really liked the idea of stories within stories. It’s something the [Joel and Ethan] Coen do a lot. The episode titles are all sort of riddles. We’re all here on this earth to figure out why we’re here, and there’s meaning to everybody’s story. I like that story Molly tells Lester about the man who drops the glove and then drops the other glove so that the other person will have a pair and he doesn’t get it. In that moment where he doesn’t get it, she’s like, ‘I’m not going to explain it to him.’ It’s a litmus test, the android test in Blade Runner. It’s saying to Lester, ‘You are not actually a good human being.’ But also the fox, rabbit and the cabbage, Lester gets it immediately, and we see that he is a master strategist. I don’t know if in the moment people get that, but it’s certainly a great foreshadowing to his end game.

Paste: It struck me in the penultimate episode when Lester sends Linda to her death that he’s actually more evil and more despicable than Malvo. Did you feel that way, too?
Hawley:The genesis of this season for me is two men meet in the emergency room and one is a civilized man and one is a very uncivilized man and there’s moment of infection between them. In some ways, it’s that moment when Malvo says, ‘You spent your whole life thinking there are rules, well there aren’t.’ We see Lester take this on. In some ways he’s just trying to get away with murder, and then he plants the gun in his nephew’s backpack and frames his brother, and in that moment, he realizes he doesn’t just have to be defensive. It’s not just about getting by, it’s about getting ahead. Once he gets away with murder, he’s walking around with a new bounce in his step and he goes and screws Gina over, literally, and becomes a huge success. I do feel in the long run we hate him more because he was wearing human clothes when we met him. There’s this sense of arrogance that comes through for him that is really frightening.

Paste: I know you’ve said that if there’s a second season, it won’t involve any of the same characters. Have you given any thought to using the same actors in new roles as Ryan Murphy does with American Horror Story?
Hawley: I think that Ryan has laid claim to that, and I think it’s a brilliant thing that he’s done to lay claim to this sort of repertory company, but I wouldn’t want to imitate that as much as it would pain me to lose these really great actors. For better or worse, my experience is the ‘You do one season and you’re cancelled!’ mindset and you move on and you do another story. I have embraced that and this idea, as scary as it is to start from scratch, is a really exciting risk to take. You have to trust your instincts and you have to trust your ability, too. A lot of it comes from the fact that I just don’t think about the cast when I’m writing so if I’m creating all new characters, telling an all new ten-hour movie set in this region, it’s only once the scripts are written that I’m going to start looking to cast them. But I don’t think I can do what Ryan is doing because I don’t want to be imitative. You can’t operate from a place of fear, fear that you’re not going to be able to top yourself.