Analog This: Every Coen Brothers Reference I Could Find in FX’s Fargo


This article is based on a TV show that I actually watched. The names and events reflect what I actually saw.

The best drama that I have seen on television so far this year is the one that I expected to actively dislike. Instead of trying to simply imitate its source material, Fargo went in a completely new direction. It kept all of the darkest elements of the original Fargo while weaving together a completely original story. It is a triumph.

While Fargo is its own entity, it also does Joel and Ethan Coen proud. The Coen Brothers have such an original voice that it seems nearly impossible to replicate it. Yet, Noah Hawley somehow managed to do this. The Coen Brothers Universe are the kind of people who base stories off true events that never happen and adapt movies from novels that they have never read. Fargo does just the same, and it has a blast messing with our heads.

What Fargo made me realize is that everything the Coen Brothers does definitely exists in the same world. It is a singular universe that I may just enjoy more than, say, the one created by the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. While Fargo goes its own way, it also references films of Coen Brothers past, and connects itself to their universe many times over. Like Deputy Molly Solverson would do, its time to create a crazy web of conspiracies. Here is every Coen Brothers reference that I could find in FX’s Fargo:

Based On True Events- At the beginning of Fargo the film, the audience is informed that what they are about to see is based on true events. This has become a very famous inside joke, as Fargo is completely fictionalized. You can see this same warning at the beginning of every single episode of Fargo, and it is stretched even further (letting us know that the characters are also real). Once you know that none of this is real, the disclaimer becomes hilarious.

The White Russian- The Dude’s drink of choice is referenced in the pilot when Lester walks into a bar offering the drink as a special.

Front of the Car- One distinct characteristic of a Coen Brothers film is a POV shot from a car’s front windshield. Off the top of my head, I can remember seeing it in Blood SimpleThe Big LebowskiNo Country for Old Men, and Inside Llewyn Davis. There were plenty on the show.

Lorne Malvo- Malvo is perhaps the most Coenesque of all the characters in Fargo. Malvo is a cross of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men and Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona. Like these two characters, Malvo’s motives and morals are questionable. What he does value most is survival, and he will kill anybody who stands in his way, whether you are a cop or an innocent bystander.

Lester Nygaard- Lester is clearly the Jerry Lundergaard of this version of Fargo. Initially, Freeman played Nygaard as a William H. Macy imitation but deviated as the season went on. Like Jerry, Lester is a timid man who is stuck in a dead end job. Unlike Jerry, Lester got to prove he was much more than just that. He was also a half-decent liar who just wanted to get revenge on everyone who ever wronged him.

Molly Solverson- Molly is obviously the Marge Gunderson figure here. She is a pregnant cop who is a whole lot smarter than her co-workers. She’s a dynamite detective in a Minnesota Nice world.

The Rich Man’s Parable- In one episode, Gus’s neighbor tells him the story of a rich man who killed himself because he discovered that he alone could not solve all of the world’s problems. The moral of the story is, well, you can’t solve all of the world’s problems. This is the kind of lesson the Coen Brothers would love to teach in their films. Also, this parable is shot and told similarly to the story of The Goy’s Teeth from A Serious Man, complete with characters mouthing the words of the narrator. There’s something very Jewish about it. I don’t know, I can’t explain it.

The Briefcase- Creator Noah Hawley confirmed that Fargo the TV show and Fargo the film take place in the same universe. This was apparent in a flashback from 1987 when Stavros Milos found the briefcase of money buried in the snow not long before then by Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi). Marge Gunderson warned us all that nothing good would come of that money. Too bad Stavros wasn’t around to hear that.   

The Ducks/Former Cop Backstory- This is just a minor detail, but Lou’s Coffee Shop is covered in duck decor. Maybe this is just a symbol of The North Star State, but I believe that it is a montage to Norm’s duck paintings from the film. While making the film, the Coen Brothers had Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch (who played Marge’s husband Norm) come up with a backstory for the couple. They came up with the idea that Marge and Norm met on the police force but one of them had to quit once they got married. Marge was a better cop, so Norm decided to quit. I always thought that backstory was cool, and should have been made into a prequel. Luckily, Gus and Molly’s storyline was basically that. (Information via IMDB’s Fargo trivia page)

Knudsen- One of Molly’s fellow officers working in the Bemidji Police Department goes by the name of Knudsen. In The Big Lebowski, it is briefly mentioned that Bunny Lebowski’s birth name is Fawn Knudsen. Fawn is originally from Moorhead, Minnesota, a town that is not too far away from Fargo, North Dakota. If only the characters of Fargo could share some of The Dude’s zen attitude, then maybe less people would have ended up in wood chippers and frozen lakes.