Fargo creator Noah Hawley promised a bloody season finale for his TV adaptation of the Coen brothers movie, and he wasn’t lying. But whose blood was spilled? [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched last night’s season finale of Fargo.] The final showdown between Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard ended up a bit of a draw: Nygaard bloodied Malvo’s leg with a bear trap while Malvo bloodied Nygaard’s nose by hurling an object at his face. In the end, they both died by other hands. No longer the Cowardly Lion, Gus Grimly found his courage and pumped Malvo full of lead while Nygaard later fell through the ice while running from authorities ready to arrest him after hearing the incriminating audio evidence on Malvo’s cassette. We spoke to Hawley to get his take on the finale, whether Lester is really dead, what happened to Oliver Platt’s Stavros, and what we might see if the show returns for season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Any time you don’t see a body you have to ask, is that person really dead? So I pose it to you, sir, for final confirmation. Is Lester Nygaard indeed deceased after falling through the ice?
NOAH HAWLEY: Well, I never saw a body either, but it was my intention that when he went through the ice he died, so I don’t think he’s out there lurking in the world. He’s not a superhero after all.
EW: As you mapped the season out, were there ever any discussions about either Malvo or Lester making it out alive?
HAWLEY: I think we discussed all the possibilities. My feeling was, I’ve been hired to adapt a movie with a very iconic ending of Marge and Norm turning in after a long and grisly day knowing that they were going to wake up the next morning and it was going to go back to life as normal. So it was always my intention to leave you with a similar feeling.
EW: What’s interesting to me about the finale is that it is centered largely around this end game of cat and mouse between two characters — Lester and Malvo — neither of whom we want to win. As a viewer, you’re rooting against both of them, which is a pretty unique situation.
HAWLEY: I think that’s probably accurate, but at the same time it does not mean you’re not interested in who is going to win. I think it’s interesting that we know from the beginning that Malvo is a scorpion, but when we meet Lester, he’s wearing human clothes, so I think we judge him differently. Billy Bob Thornton has said that many times people refer to him as the protagonist of the show, which is, you know, both disturbing and really interesting because he is a very engaging and kinetic character who makes things happen and makes us laugh — uncomfortably sometimes. So it’s interesting to think that people always sit forward in their chair when he is on screen. And then Lester has proven to be capable of surviving just about anything. So in some ways it is like a Godzilla movie.
EW: There’s that one scene in the interrogation room where Lester says to Molly, “I am not the person you think I am — this monster.” How do you think Lester views himself at this point? Is he trying to convince himself that he’s not a monster?
HAWLEY: I don’t think there’s any world in which he sees himself as a monster. He had this moment with Malvo where Malvo said, “Your problem is you spent your life thinking there are rules and there aren’t.” And Lester really takes that to heart. And the more he makes his own rules, the better his life becomes. He also has this epic survival instinct where he literally will do anything to survive. But I don’t think in his mind he sees himself as a monster. He’s not in a premeditated way out to destroy the lives of people. He’s just reacting to the circumstances that are given to him. But that obviously shows us how crazy he is. And he also has this ego, this hubris that makes him go over and talk to Malvo in Vegas — which is probably the worst idea that he has ever had. And it’s the same ego that makes him unable to leave that room without Molly seeing him as he wants to be seen. He had fooled Bill, and he’s managed to trick everyone but her.
EW: How important was it for Gus to have the triumphant moment of ultimately ending Malvo — after where we started with that character being too scared to do anything to finally being the one to take him down?
HAWLEY: It was very important. I went back and forth on whether to do it or not. I certainly didn’t want to do something that was out of tone with the true story we were telling — which, of course, isn’t true — but unfolds in a way that is not your basic Joseph Campbell hero’s journey. You know, real life is messier and rarely does that Clint Eastwood or high noon moment really ever happen, but I also felt like we had spent this whole time struggling with Gus with this idea of: Is he a coward, or what is motivating him? And the universe definitely kept putting Lorne Malvo back in front of him. And it was obviously his problem to solve. But it was only when I realized that if we didn’t set up the high noon scenario between Malvo and Gus – if we set up the high noon scenario between Lester and Malvo, and then you literally forget that Gus is in that cabin — there is literally a shock to that moment and a shock to the way that he acts in that moment that allows it to feel more real, I hope.
EW: What’s up with Gus taking credit for figuring out Malvo’s riddle, though. He doesn’t give Molly any credit!
HAWLEY: Well, you know, we’ve all been in those situations of holding a gun on a homicidal maniac. It takes a long time to explain the actual story, so…
EW: How did your assistant director Phil Chipera and assistant prop master Greg Auch get tapes with their names on them in Malvo’s case?
HAWLEY: They were easy names to clear because they can all sign waivers. I thought they would go with obscure Coen brothers movie characters, but I think for expediency’s sake they just wanted to get their own names on film.
EW: Did the Coens have any input into the back half of the season or the finale at all? Did they give you any notes or have any thoughts?
HAWLEY: I never got a single note from Joel and Ethan from beginning to end. When they read the first episode, they sent me a couple of line ideas along the lines of “If we were doing this, this is how we might do it.” But they said very early on, “It’s not our medium, and we have our own stuff that we’re doing.” No, there was no real feedback from them. I operated in a sort of Coen vacuum. But, at the same time, you can’t make a Coen brothers movie by committee, even if the Coens are on the committee. Their films are so idiosyncratic and unique and of a single voice that, for better or for worse, I had to go and make my movie.
EW: If the show does return for season 2, might we be seeing any of the main characters again, like Molly or Gus?
HAWLEY: The one thing I would say is that the movie ended the way that it ended and you knew that Marge and Norm were going to go back to life as normal and that this true crime case was the worst case that she ever had. That’s why we were telling that story, and it would be disingenuous, I think, to do the continuing adventures of…. It would stop feeling like real life. And also, I think that what Marge saw in the movie and what Molly saw here, it’s a lot to take in and it will certainly stay with her for the rest of her life. But it you keep piling that stuff on, then whatever innocence or small town decency that she has is going to start to evolve into what is now all too common haunted demon hunter law man. That’s basically our heroes now — they’ve got to be as bad as the villains they’re chasing, and this a different kind of show.
EW: Do you have a framework in mind for a second season? Do you have an outline or anything else that you’ve been working on?
HAWLEY: I don’t have anything that developed at this point. I’ve been running this whole time. We wrapped production a week before we aired and I’ve just been scrambling to finish these episodes — sometimes days before they air. So at this point I’m interested in laying flat for a couple of weeks and then turning my brain to what’s next.
EW: Okay, where is Stavros?
HAWLEY: Where is Stavros? That’s a good question. It’s a profound and terrible thing he’s endured, so it would be interesting to know where he is. I haven’t really thought about it.
EW: Could that case of money he reburied in the snow appear again in season 2?
HAWLEY: We just follow the money.
HAWLEY: That wasn’t really my plan but I leave it up to any other show now to find it. I think they should find it on Hannibal.