SPOILERS AHEAD? YOU BETCHA!
The hidden references in Fargo the series are endlessly fascinating. Mostly because showrunner Noah Hawley doesn’t get permission or notes from the Coen brothers, who gave us the 1996 film version, he and the writers for the Fargo TV series can do as they please. And they’ve done just that, packing the series full of Coen brothers Easter eggs and shoutout infinitum. They may executive produce, but the Coen brothers references in Fargo are the insightful and clever handiwork of Hawley and company.
From UFOs to ice scrapers, Hawley has made a detailed study of not just the film, but also other Coen brother projects. Among the Fargo Easter eggs, there are references to No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Raising Arizona, and even Reservoir Dogs, which, though not a Coens film, is worthy enough to get a nod.
At first, Hawley didn’t expect to make that many Coen brothers references in Fargo, but as the TV series got rolling, the deep well of material was hard to resist. Not content just to draw upon the accents, the music, direct quotes, and phrases, there are many sly connections between characters and scenes from Coen brothers films to the TV show.
Fargo the series draws upon the richness of the Coen’s universe. Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) are equally enjoyable as pushovers pushed too far. Freeman isn’t doing an impression. He’s showing another layer to a similar kind of character. Another obvious Coen character is the film’s Chief Marge Gunderson and TV’s Officer Molly Solverson. We also see two characters executed in the woods, worlds apart. Simone Gerhardt meets a similar fate as Bernie Bernbaum from Miller’s Crossing, complete with “Oh Danny Boy” as her send off music.
It’s the hidden references in Fargo the series that make a second and even third watch of the TV series fun and even necessary. You'll definitely want to catch the many funny moments that will whiz by in a blank. For instance, As Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) walks away from the post office in a small town, he tells a man mopping the floor, “You missed a spot.” A direct call back from Raising Arizona to H.I. McDunnough’s repeat offender when he walks through the prison corridors and tells a huge inmate the same. There are the similar dreams of Betsy Solverson and H.I. McDunnough; the need for unguent; a nod to Uli, the ferret-wield nihilist from The Big Lebowski. One character even calls out the name of an actor while making a snowman.
There are many Easter eggs to hunt for. Vote up your favorite Fargo Easter eggs and fully actualize your Coen brothers references. Okay then.
Additional material by Eric Conner.
One Man’s Wood Chipper Is Another Man’s Meat Grinder
In the film, Gaear Grimsrud loses it and kills his partner in crime, Carl Showalter. He feeds Carl, piece by piece, into a wood chipper in a now iconic scene. In season two of Fargo, butcher Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons) dismantles Rye Gerhardt’s body and feeds the parts into a meat grinder to protect his wife from being discovered as the accidental killer.
Milos Digs Up Showalter’s Money
If you’ve seen the film Fargo, you know that Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) is fed into a wood chipper by his mostly-silent partner Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), who is in turn arrested by Chief Marge Gunderson. Neither criminal gets the remaining $924,000 Carl buried by the side of the road, deep in the snow, and marked with a red-handled ice scraper. Their misfortune is a new beginning for a young and desperate Stavros Milos. The year is 1987, the time period of the film Fargo.
Flash forward about a week later from the film version moment after Carl buries the money, to season one of the TV series and Milos discovering the money on the side of the road marked by the same ice scraper. The discovery makes Milos reaffirm his vows to God, something he will forget later after becoming the Supermarket King of Minnesota.
Showrunner Noah Hawley uses the money as leverage in a key plot line. “It wasn't just a gimmicky Easter egg. It was the key to Milos, and Malvo is all into figuring out what the key is to unlocking people that he meets. It was also a really great opportunity four episodes in, just at the audience has really settled into the idea, ‘You know, the show really has nothing to do with the movie and it exists in its own right,’ to actually go, ‘You know, wait a minute, it is connected to the movie in a way you didn't expect or see coming.“
UFOs in Coen Films, on the TV Series, and in Real Life Minnesota
UFO sightings are not uncommon when it comes to the Coens. In 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There, Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Ed, sees a UFO in the final scene. Another character talks about the time she and her husband saw a UFO.
Season two of Fargo was heavy with UFO imagery, specifically a triple homicide at the Waffle Hut in the beginning of the series and shootout at a motel toward the end, both featuring a hovering spacecraft. Fully actualized Peggy Blumquist dismisses the huge overing overhead space craft to her gobsmacked husband, “Oh that. It was a spaceship. No big deal.”
The Coens and the show’s producers may have drawn upon a “real life” account by Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson in Marshall County, Minnesota on August 27, 1979 about his encounter with a flying saucer.
On the show, there’s an Orson Welles audio cue from The War of the Worlds positing that aliens are observing man as scientists do infusoria through a microscope, possibly preparing for an invasion based on mankind penchant for violence. Before that invasion happens, though, Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) might be able to help. Larsson believes that the cause of most wars and conflicts between humans is miscommunication. He created his own language in the form of symbols that can be understood by anyone. Perhaps, his language even lured the visitors to the planet.
Bernie Bernbaum and Simone Gerhardt Beg for Their Lives in the Woods
In Miller’s Crossing, the rat fink Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) begs for his life, twice, asking Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) to have mercy and to banish him rather than kill him.
Season two saw Bear Gerhardt leading his traitorous niece, Simone, deep into the woods where she made a similar plea to be banished rather than killed. Neither Bernie or Simone is spared. As the aerial shot pulls up and away from Simone’s execution site, we hear the song “Oh Danny Boy,” a direct homage to Miller’s Crossing.