Season one of Fargo is a television masterclass. It is rich with detail and underlying meaning. The depth of Fargo is subtle though, it is left up to the viewer to interpret the clues.
For the cine literate, there is a ton to analyse. In the following article, I am going to explain the symbolism, meaning and foreshadowing of Fargo.
Fargo season one explores themes of chaos, agency and predation. These ideas come through using symbolism and visual clues. From the first episode, Lorne Malvo attempts to instill in Lester the idea of agency, taking control. However, it is in the sixth episode that these concepts fully come into play.
When Malvo is buying a walkie talkie from the shady dealer, there are TV screens in the van showing wolves in a nature documentary. This is significant because Malvo is a wolf amongst sheep, a predator. Malvo mentioned wolves when he threatened Gus.
Gus is the sheep in the equation, forced to be a wolf. Being a police officer doesn’t suit him, he lacks the assertiveness that Malvo promotes. Gus just wanted to be a mailman.
The most key image is of the fish poster on the basement wall. It reads ‘what if they’re wrong and you’re right’. One fish is a different colour to the others and is swimming in the opposite direction. Malvo is the individual fish and he teaches Lester how to swim against the tide too. Fish appear in a number of shots as do wolves.
So where does chaos fit in? Malvo is a predator, he controls his own destiny because he accepts chaos. Malvo often creates random acts of suffering. He sets off a chain of events that change people’s lives, even kills them without concern.
Random events can’t happen to Malvo because he is the one causing them. However, he does not act completely without motive. He often uses chaos as a tool to advance his goals.
The reason the detectives struggle to solve the case is because of the seemingly unconnected nature of events.
When Malvo teaches Lester to use chaos as a tool, his life totally changes. Lester embraces chaos and finds himself controlling his own destiny too.
That is the meaning behind a shot in episode eight where Lester is cleaning his house. He takes down a sign that reads ‘Everything happens for a reason’, throwing it in the bin.
Fargo’s themes permeate through the plot, they even go as deep as the visuals and dialogue. The great thing about television of this quality is that you get more out of it the more you put in.