Fargo just came back for its third season. I reviewed the premiere here, and I had a conversation with creator Noah Hawley about the first episode, how this season is and isn’t different from the ones that came before, whether his work on Legion impacted what he did here, and more, coming up just as soon as I confuse the word “singularity” with the word “continuity”…
(Two notes on the interview: 1. At the end of our conversation, Hawley uses the phrase “10-hour movie,” which you know gives me the hives, but I let it go both because we were out of time, and because Hawley’s shows in general have been great about having their cake and eating it, too, on this front: telling complicated season-long stories while also making sure that individual episodes are distinct and memorable. 2. This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed, including the removal of a stupid digression where I — my brain scrambled by too many actors on too many Peak TV shows — tried asking him if Michael Stuhlbarg and David Thewlis were the first actual Coen alums he’d employed on this show, followed by him politely saying, “Well, there was Billy Bob Thornton…”)
I want to start by talking about names. How much time at the start of each season do you spend figuring out what names you are going to give these characters?
Well, I take myself on a retreat to Hawaii and walk on the beach… No, you come up with them as you need them. I will say that Ray and Emmit Stussy, the name was just there with the idea, two brothers, so I didn’t ask too many questions about why they had to be called that, but they did. I think there’s this combination of wanting something that feels a little dated, like with Gloria: names that you don’t see around a lot anymore, but you don’t want to go too far. And then, what do you marry Gloria with? It wants to feel slightly heightened, but not so far that you’re in Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace territory with names where you’re like, “Well, that’s not a real person.” So Gloria Burgle, or Donnie Mashman, the deputy, it’s sort of a smell test, I guess. And there are oftentimes that other writers in the room come up with character names and it’s just not how I see the character ultimately. It’s a sound test. It’s how the vowels look together on the page. Yeah, there’s something to that.
But, for instance, with Gloria, she’s a police officer and her last name is “Burgle.” In season one, Molly had “Solve” in the front of her last name. Is that something that’s even in the thought process, or that’s just how each of those instances turned out?
Yeah, it’s not conscious. I’m not trying to be cute. If I have been cute, then that horrifies me a little bit. I find puns to be the lowest form of humor, so I’m never going for that. It’s more just that Burgle is a funny word with a funny “ur” sound in the middle of it. And next to Gloria, it’s just … I don’t know. They pop into my head and they either work or they don’t.
With Gloria, saying someone’s a female cop can encompass a huge array of characteristics, but how do you look at her versus Molly versus Marge Gunderson? What are certain things that separate this character out from the other Fargo cops we know?
Well, she’s more taciturn; she’s lost more. Both Marge and Molly lived in this small-town bubble, and they came from a life that wasn’t luxurious, but everything made sense. And then over the course of the story, they were introduced to the idea that not everything makes sense, and how are they going to cope with that? Gloria, from the very beginning, is living in a world where things don’t make sense. Her husband left her for another man; she’s Chief of Police but she’s losing that title, so she’s sort of both Chief and not Chief at the same time. She’s starting to share custody of her son. And then her stepfather’s killed. So in that first hour, and certainly going into the second hour, I think she’s feeling like the rug’s been pulled out from under her. And she has, obviously, a layer of Minnesota nice, but she’s a little gripier, a little more stubborn, has a little harder edge to her. And her heart’s a little more on her sleeve; she can’t cover it as well as those other women.
And definitely, that’s a process — and one with the network as well. They’re looking for Marge Gunderson in that character, and I was like, “She’s not there. This is not the same woman. This is a very different person than Marge or Molly.”