For three seasons now, showrunner Noah Hawley has used the Coen brothers’ snow-covered crime drama Fargo as a jumping off point for his own anthology. Now set in 2010, this installment took a more scaled-down approach to storytelling, focusing on a sibling rivalry that eventually lands both brothers in way over their heads. Though both season one and season two were filled with obvious callbacks, this season took a more subdued approach when tipping its hat to the Coen brothers’ film that inspired it. Here’s a look at the callbacks to the film in Fargo’s third (and possibly final) season.
The Parking Lot King Of Minnesota
When we first meet Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor), he’s the self-described “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” a business he prides himself on building from the ground up, making him a rich, well-respected man in the town of Eden Prairie. In the Coen brothers’ film, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is in desperate need for money, so much so that he orchestrates his wife’s kidnapping to extort it from his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell). But before things got that desperate, Jerry thought he had a way out: by using Wade’s money to invest in a parking lot.
While Wade wasn’t keen on loaning Jerry the money, he and his assistant, Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg) talk about moving in on the deal themselves. In this season’s second episode, “The Principle of Restricted Choice,” Emmit and his right-hand man, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), mention Stan Grossman by name when talking about the possibility of building condos on one of their parking lots.
Worth noting: the film takes place in 1987, and the show’s third season is set 23 years later in 2010. Despite that lengthy period of time, it seems that Stan Grossman is still actively wheeling and dealing in Minnesota real estate. Also worth noting, Larry Brandenburg’s last billed acting credits were also in 2010, where he had a bit part in an episode in NCIS, as well as voicing a clone trooper in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The Postage Stamp Situation
The central conflict in Fargo’s third season starts between a disagreement between Emmit and his younger brother Ray (also played by McGregor) over the last remaining stamp of their late father’s collection. In the film, Marge Gunderson’s (Frances McDormand) husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch) spends most of his screentime preoccupied with his painting he’s set to enter in a postage stamp competition, which is eventually chosen for the three cent stamp. Though it’s not quite what we hoped would for in our roundup of homages in season two, it’s pretty close.
A Little Bit Of Arby’s
Once Gloria returns from Los Angeles in an attempt to learn about the past of her murdered adopted father, Ennis Stussy (Scott Hylands), her son, Nathan (Graham Verchere) greets her with a little bit of takeout from Arby’s. It’s a similar gesture that Norm offers to Marge when he goes in to visit her in the office on his way out to do some ice fishing. Postage stamp painting competitions can be stressful, so it’s important to unwind now and then.
When Ray begins his ploy to undermine his brother over the coveted postage stamp, he goes to the bank wearing a wig. Pretending to be his older brother Emmit, he’s forced to deal with a little bit of smalltalk from the banker, he thanks him for the Gopher’s tickets. Back when Jerry was charging for TrueCoat sealant on the cars he was selling (and presumably pocketing the money himself), one customer gets irate to the point that he gets profane over the matter. In a fake attempt to remedy the situation, Jerry visits his co-worker’s office, where he asks if he has an extra Gopher’s ticket to the upcoming game, to which he simply responds “You kiddin’?”
An Irate Q&A
As Gloria Burgle’s (Carrie Coon) investigation draws her closer to Emmit, her newfound partner, Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) drops by Emmit’s offices to question Sy over the damaged car leased to the company. Right from the start, Sy has trouble keeping his cool, and starts acting borderline hostile toward Officer Lopez. Much like when Marge was asking Jerry about the possibility of a missing tan Sierra from his car lot, when Jerry acts visibly flustered throughout the whole exchange — which only ends up heightening Marge’s suspicion of him.
A Botched Motel Escape
After Ray ends up dead during a tussle between him and his brother, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) holds up in a cheap motel waiting for his return. As the cops close in on her, she keeps assuring them she’ll be there in “just a minute.” Once they kick the door in, they find her half stuck in the bathroom window, desperately trying to escape. Much like Jerry at the end of the film, trying to stall the cops from inside his motel room. After the manager unlocks the door to let the cops in, they also find Jerry halfway out the bathroom window trying to escape.
An Unfortunate Passerby
With Nikki in custody, the mysterious V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) sends an assassin (D.J. Qualls) to kill her while she’s behind bars. Once that attempt fails, his crew concocts an elaborate scheme to crash the bus full of inmates so they can break in and be rid of Nikki once and for all. As the crew begins breaking into the overturned bus, an innocent bystander happens to cruise by, witnessing the whole confusing ordeal. Likewise, once Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) are pulled over for a broken tail light, the cop becomes suspicious after he’s offered a bribe, then realizes they have a hostage in their back seat. After Gaear kills the cop and Carl’s stuck with trying to move his body off the road, a car (also full of innocent bystanders) happens to drive by.
They all end up meeting the same grim fate, unfortunately, and both cars are found by the police the next morning upside down in a ditch.
Police Stop Gone Wrong
Riffing on the same idea, as soon as Nikki and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) successfully lay waste to Varga’s men, she lets Wrench walk away with (almost) the entire $2 million blackmail, explaining that “she only wants the brother.” Later, she tracks him down on a lonely stretch of highway, and is just about to kill him with a shotgun before a cop happens to stop, questioning what they’re doing while reminding them “it’s not a parking lot,” a nod to Emmit’s now-vanquished enterprise.
As soon as he begins asking everyone for their licenses, both Emmit and Nikki get squirrelly for very different reasons. Like the film, the cop ends up shot to death, but this time, he ends up taking his killer out, too. RIP Nikki Swango.
Honorable Mention: Sy Feltz’s Mustache
Out of all the characters this season, none were quite as Midwestern as Emmit’s partner, Sy Feltz. When we spoke to actor Michael Stuhlbarg earlier this month, he explained that when finding the look of his character, he intended for his mustache to be an homage to Wade Gustafson’s from the film.