If hanging the new season of Fargo on the fiscal crisis of 2008 doesn’t sound all that sexy, creator Noah Hawley says the new edition really gets back to something more timeless and troubling.
“It’s about what people will do for money,” Hawley told TV writers earlier this month. “It’s about greed and how far people will go to satisfy their desires.”
The third season of Fargo launches Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX, with the same eerily calm North Country façade over a disturbing level of malevolence, psychosis and raw violence.
It’s a mix well enough established, suggests Hawley, that viewers won’t mind that the first episode starts with something close to a reverie. That’s in contrast to last season, which started with a savage killing.
“One of the things I always liked about Joel and Ethan [Coen, who created the original film version of Fargo] is that they never made the same movie twice,” says Hawley. “So I don’t feel like starting with action is essential. In the third year, I think people will trust that we’re going to tell the best story possible.
“I like the idea that our opening scene this year is a bit of a parable. But by the second half of the opening episode, there’s a lot more intrigue, and there’s some action.”
Set in Minnesota in 2010, the third season revolves around brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy, both played by Ewan McGregor (top, as Ray).
Emmit is “the parking lot king of Minnesota,” a millionaire business mogul with a seemingly happy family. Ray is a ne’er-do-well, a parole officer who resents Emmit’s success and is convinced Emmit only did better because when their father died, Emmit conned Ray out of their most valuable inheritance, a stamp.
Now, however, Ray does have something. He’s fallen in love with one of his parolees, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, left).
She’s pushing him to take what he deserves from Emmit, mainly meaning the stamp. She’s also got them making money by playing in competitive bridge tournaments.
Hey, this is Fargo.
“Playing Emmit and Ray is a challenge, but a really satisfying one,” says McGregor. “It’s a brilliant idea to have two brothers fighting over their birthright.
“I don’t know that I have a preference between them. Ray is the embodiment of someone falling in love. Emmit is far less soulful, he has far less heart. He loves his family but in a compartmentalized way.
“In the Trump era, it’s interesting to play a capitalist, soul-less man.”
Hawley suggests that even though Ray Stussy does some bad things, viewers will like him.
“If I’ve done my job, you’re rooting for Ray,” he says. “People always root for the underdog.”
Part of the challenge in playing the Stussys, says the Scottish-born McGregor, is that “the Fargo accent is tricky for a Brit actor.”
Also, the Stussys look very different. Emmit has stayed in shape. He presents well. Ray has lost more hair and gained more weight.
“I had just finished Trainspotting, so I was quite thin when I took this role,” McGregor recalls. “When I had lunch with Noah to talk about it, I asked if we could do Ray with a lot of padding. Noah said, no, Ewan, you have to put on weight.
“So I ordered a massive dessert and started having French fries with everything. Pretty soon none of my jeans fit anymore.
“I went to bed every night not feeling great, but it was nice being able to eat anything I wanted.”
Becoming Ray (right) took about 2½ hours in makeup, he said. It involved prostheses for the torso, chin, and nose, plus a shift in mental approach.
“Ray just moves differently from Emmit,” says McGregor. “It’s the weight and the cowboy boots.”
Where the story gets back to the fiscal crisis of 2008, which Hawley calls “the global event of our time,” is that a year before the story opens, Emmit Stussy had to borrow a million dollars to keep the business afloat.
Unable to secure a conventional loan, he went to a mysterious fellow named V.M. Varga (David Thewlis). Now, when Emmit is ready to repay the loan, V.M. says he was actually buying a partnership in Emmit’s business.
V.M. is not someone with whom you would choose to be in business, which is where the price of corporate capitalism comes in.
“Fargo sends its characters on a collision course,” says Hawley. “It puts them in a position where they have to make a moral choice, to do the right thing or the wrong thing.”
And all against the backdrop of what Hawley says, in some ways, is the land that time forgot.
“In this region,” he says, “there’s always a sense of multiple time periods. In small-town Minnesota, it’s 2010, but it’s also 1975. And 1941.”
One of the quirkiest Fargo-esque touches is Ray’s and Nikki’s plan to make a big score through bridge.
“I wanted Nikki and Ray to be trying to achieve something positive,” Hawley says. “Not to be just trying to steal a stamp.
“Having them play bridge feels comfortable and familiar – while at the same time, it feels like the game your grandmother played.”
“Noah did the impossible,” says McGregor. “For the first time in history, he made bridge look sexy.”