In the Midst of Nothingness: a Conversation about Fargo and Waiting for Godot

This is the fourth piece of an ongoing conversation about Fargo (the television show and the film) and its homages, inspirations, characters, and the world it builds. There is no prerequisite to read the previous parts of the conversation in order to read this. You can either jump in right here or start at the beginning.  

D. F. Lovett

I’d like to circle back to something we talked about previously. Earlier in our conversation, you said:

“Waiting for Dutch” [the premier of Fargo‘s second season] is the night that everything really changes for the Blumquists, and the collection of ways those characters seem inspired by the main characters of Waiting for Godot is easily my favorite piece of Fargo I’ve known of so far.

I’m not sure if I see how the Blumquists connect to Godot. I certainly see the connection between Blumquist and O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” characters (as a sidenote, I re-read that story on Christmas and was moved by how beautiful it is.) As I noted earlier in our conversation, I also see the Blumquists as being the Macbeths, which I look forward to discussing further.

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Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist in Fargo.

Is it that Peggy is waiting for something, somehow, to rescue her, from what she does not know? Up until Peggy Blumquist [Kirsten Dunst’s character in Fargo’s second season] , the characters in Fargo have some very basic motivations: money, justice, power, or survival. Each of the three Fargo narratives has a law enforcer dedicated to a higher cause (Gunderson in the film and Solversons in the two seasons). Each Fargo installment has desperate characters determined to find wealth or power, often by doing terrible things. And as the narratives escalate, everyone is ultimately either trying to survive, trying to kill, or trying to end the violence.

But then there’s Peggy. She’s seeking something beyond these things. She wants to escape her life, but not in the flailing, violent ways of Lester Nygaard or Jerry Lundergaard. She also isn’t necessarily unhappy. She loves her husband and works to both build a life with him but undermine it at the same time. Taking birth control while promising him children, spending their money on self-help classes while making other plans for the money with her husband, killing a man in a hit-and-run then driving home to make supper.

And every time she takes a step in one way to escape this quiet Minnesotan life, she does something new to maintain the status quo. She cannot decide whether to leave or to wait.

Is this your train of thought on how Fargo’s second season was inspired by Beckett’s masterpiece?

Zach Ellin

You’re right on the money regarding Peggy and her hopes to “self-actualize” through the Lifespring seminar as a similarity to Waiting for Godot. The way she talks about it and fixates on it is pretty much identical to how Vladimir, the more talkative of the main pair from Waiting for Godot, sees the arrival of Godot. There’s no clear reason she wants to go apart from her boss urging her, but she’s still convinced it will solve ALL her and Ed’s problem. So that’s one facet of it. And everything people have said about Peggy being “insane” or unstable and so on is also an accurate way of describing Vladimir.

Then there’s Ed Blumquist [Jesse Plemons], who acts more like Estragon from the play. Estragon is also “waiting for Godot,” but unlike Vladimir, he doesn’t seem to even believe in Godot, and definitely doesn’t understand what Vladimir expects to happen if he shows up. The boy in the play who tells Vladimir that Godot is coming doesn’t speak to Estragon at all. But Estragon nonetheless feels attached, or tied, to Vladimir throughout the play. So that’s pretty much Ed’s view on the Lifespring seminar as well. He’s very skeptical of it but he’s not leaving Peggy. And somehow this crazy confluence of events leads him to drive her out in the direction of Sioux Falls and her seminar anyway.

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Jesse Plemons as Ed Blumquist.

Continue reading “In the Midst of Nothingness: a Conversation about Fargo and Waiting for Godot”

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It’s the Way You’re Unfriendly: A Conversation About Fargo and Minnesota and Fargo

This is the third piece of an ongoing conversation about Fargo (the television show and the film) and its homages, inspirations, characters, and the world it builds. You can either jump in right here or start at the beginning.  

D. F. Lovett

At this point, we might be ready to move past the Lewis Carroll analysis. Not that I’m bored of it – I could talk endlessly about Alice, the Jabberwocky, the Bandersnatch, and more – but there is so much yet to cover.

I’d like to return to something you said earlier in our conversation:

Only Fargo has used the built-in audience’s expectations against them, almost maliciously, to such wonderful effect. When we meet Lester and we meet Molly, we think we have a very clear idea of where things are headed. But Malvo seems to have walked in from literally another universe, and everyone proves to differ from the characters inspiring them in some surprising ways. The story is written not as an imitation of what came before, but with a deep understanding of it.

There’s another layer to this that you haven’t touched on much, and it’s that the original Coen Brothers’ Fargo film did this by setting the film in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I’m from Minnesota and live here still, although I’ve always lived in the Twin Cities area, which you don’t see much of in the two seasons so far, although there was more of Minneapolis and its suburbs in the film.

Anyway, my point is that Minnesota is known for many things, but rarely is it known for being a setting for violence, tales of organized crime, and conspiracies of murder. These installments in the Fargo narrative – if you choose to look at them that way, as installments in a larger narrative (whether the films and the series are canonical with one another or not) – each begin with one set of expectations and then subvert and explore them.

And to tie this in with our conversation about Milligan: he delivers a piece of observation on what makes Minnesotans Minnesotan, when Lou Solverson refers to Minnesotans (and his father-in-law, in particular) as friendly.

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Ted Danson as Hank Larsson in Fargo’s second season

Milligan responds: “Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. You’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”

Zach Ellin

That’s an astute observation about the movie—and you could say many of the Coens’ films—subverting the laid-out expectations. As for my impression of Minnesota… talking with Minnesota Public Radio (who puts out good stuff about the show online) Noah Hawley said that he’s not so much trying to recreate the Minnesota or the Fargo that actually exists but the setting that was created on screen by the Coens. That’s sort of how I look at it first and foremost, before any of the rest. I’ve actually never been to Minnesota. Overall I imagine it as like the rest of the Midwest, but maybe a bit less easily excitable (see the colors on a recent map for evidence of this). Continue reading “It’s the Way You’re Unfriendly: A Conversation About Fargo and Minnesota and Fargo”

And Shun the Frumious Bandersnatch: a Continued Conversation about Fargo and the Homage

This is the second piece of an ongoing conversation about Fargo (the television show and the film) and its homages, inspirations, characters, and the world it builds. You can either jump in right here or start at the beginning.  

D. F. Lovett

Okay, so you’ve asked me why I think Milligan specifically recites “The Jabberwocky”, and it if connects to Milligan or the story in a deeper way.

One thing about it: I knew what poem he was reciting immediately. Not only am I rather fond of Lewis Carroll, but I actually worked at a coffeeshop for four years named The Bandersnatch (at Denison University), named for his poem. The moment I heard twas brillig out of Milligan’s mouth, I became simultaneously hyped to be hearing a poem I love and confused about why Milligan would be reciting such a bizarre poem, unprompted.

I’m still not sure why “The Jabberwocky” is the poem Milligan recites, but I think it does connect with the idea of transforming perspectives. It’s from Lewis Carrol’s stories of Alice, after all, in which we see Alice first fall down a rabbit hole and then step through a looking glass. Her adventures leave her changed and with a new perspective, but unlike The Wizard of Oz or The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe or any of the other similar narratives, we aren’t handed a final moral or even a clear explanation of what exactly has happened here. Dorothy and the Narnia children each have lessons learned. Their tales are allegories; Dorothy’s trip through Oz is about America, politics, and money, while the Pevensies are witnesses to a heavy-handed extended Christian metaphor. Alice’s adventure is nonsense.

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How does this connect to Fargo and Mike Milligan? Because I think Fargo refuses to give us ever exactly what we expect or anticipate from such a narrative, in so many ways.  Like the Solversons or the Blumquists, Alice enters a universe of senselessness and confusion and comes out the other end changed, but it’s not clear why. (Of course, there is one consistent moral in all three Fargo narratives so far, but we can get to that later).

Okay, so that’s mostly why I think they chose “The Jabberwocky.” What’s your thought on it?

Zach Ellin

Before I say what I think about “The Jabberwocky”, I have to start by noting that a lot of people would find it ridiculous already that we’re trying to draw such meaning out of a poem that has been labeled, literally and accurately, “nonsense.” But I think everything you’ve said is a reasonable and fair observation. And that goes regardless of what Noah Hawley thought when using it, of course. Continue reading “And Shun the Frumious Bandersnatch: a Continued Conversation about Fargo and the Homage”

Beware the Jabberwock: A Conversation About Fargo and the Art of the Homage

Say what you want about the impending year 2017, but there is one thing we know it will bring us: a new season of Fargo, the quasi-anthology television masterpiece from Noah Hawley and FX.

A few months ago, I reached out to blogger and Fargo (the show, not the place) super fan Zach Ellin to see if he would be interested in conversing about what exactly makes Fargo so good, including literary references, fan theories, politics, and more.

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Zach writes a blog called Blue Ox Talks, where he explores the world of Fargo, investigating motifs, comparing the television show and the films of the Coens, and interviewing the cast of Fargo, including an enlightening conversation with Zahn McClarnon of Season Two.

The first of our conversation appears below. Over the next several weeks, we will continue to publish installments of the conversation.  Continue reading “Beware the Jabberwock: A Conversation About Fargo and the Art of the Homage”

Why Everyone Should Calm Down and Take Vonnegut’s Approach to Talking about Big Game Hunting

People love to shame these days. They also love to shame the shamers. And with the tendency for the internet to get hysterical about anything that seems worthy of hysteria, we have turned our outrage to the recent poaching of a beautiful and famous African lion, named Cecil.

The entire world appears to be dividing into two camps: a) those who are outraged over the recent death of this beautiful beast, and b) those who think that the people being outraged over this beautiful beast makes you evil. There is, unfortunately, like most political issues, very little middle ground being sought. On one side, you have people calling for the death-by-hanging of the wealthy and unethical suburban dentist with a history of killing animals, both legal and illegal. On the other side, you have people who think that the real problem here is that people are talking about a lion when they should actually be talking about abortion (yep, that’s something that people are saying, including presidential hopefuls. I guess you have to say whatever it takes to be heard over the screaming of Donald Trump.)

Poor Jimmy Kimmel misses his friend.
Poor Jimmy Kimmel misses his friend.

And then you have all the sane voices, on both sides of the issue and in all the places in between, being drowned out by the hysteria.

When it comes to saner voices, there is one who I wish could still be here today: Kurt Vonnegut. He died a few years ago, but during his lifetime he consistently wrote intelligent, calm, thoughtful words about the things that troubled him and the things that faced society. Continue reading “Why Everyone Should Calm Down and Take Vonnegut’s Approach to Talking about Big Game Hunting”