The 13 Best Fargo Characters, Ranked

Noah Hawley was understandably nervous to bring "Fargo" to the small screen. Hawley told the Daily Beast, "You don't want to be the guy who ruined the Coen Brothers. It's like kicking the Pope." The 1996 film premiered to critical and commercial success, earning Joel and Ethan Coen an Academy Award for best original screenplay and best actress for its star Frances McDormand. It has since been preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry. The original "Fargo" is the story of a down-on-his-luck Minnesota man (William H. Macy) who orchestrates his wife's kidnapping to get the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. The ill-conceived caper goes off the rails almost immediately and pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson is tasked with solving the resulting murders. Hawley's adaptation premiered to similar praise, earning a slew of Primetime Emmy nominations and six wins to date. The anthology series is not a remake of the original film. Instead, it features brand new characters and original storylines. However, Hawley keeps the same absurdist feel and dark humor.

Three seasons have all debuted to similar fanfare — each jumping through timelined connected by one or two characters who find their lives intertwined.  Harkening back to the original film's plot, one bad decision spins irrevocably out of control. Another central aspect of the show, and what keeps the blood-soaked story from becoming too depressing, is its deep bench of entertaining characters. Each season features a virtual smörgåsbord of quirky characters — heroes and villains who fill out the show's wintery world. The following is a ranking of the top 13 characters from Noah Hawley's "Fargo."

13. Gloria Burgle

Season 3 of "Fargo" is grounded by one of the more stable characters in the show's rich tapestry. Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is the chief of police in Eden Valley, Minnesota, preparing to lose her authority when her precinct is absorbed by the county. Newly divorced, Gloria finds purpose in investigating the death of her stepfather, Ennis Stussy, who is murdered in a bizarre mixup by a confused hitman looking for Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) of Eden Prairie. While investigating the case, she finds herself pulled into a war between twin brothers and a mysterious mob boss named V.M. Varga. Believing there is more to the case than meets the eye, she forms an unlikely bond with ex-con Nikki Swango and offers to discuss the case with her over pie after Christmas.

Gloria Burgle is a classic "Fargo" protagonist. She's noble, persistent, and fiercely dedicated to her admirable code of ethics. She quickly susses out the truth at the heart of the case, even though some of the stranger details elude her. With a strong aversion to technology, Gloria seems like a relic from another world. She often feels invisible, not taken seriously by her colleagues, and sometimes she's even undetectable by electronic sensors. She is direct but reserved and rolls with the strange punches the complicated case delivers.

12. Floyd Gerhardt

Played by Jean Smart, the matriarch of the Gerhardt crime family is arguably the toughest mother in "Fargo" history. When Floyd's husband Otto (Michael Hogan) suffers a debilitating stroke, she takes over family operations to the chagrin of her hothead son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), whom she knows will lead them directly into a turf war with the Kansas City mob. However, when war seems inevitable, she rises to the challenge, vowing to protect her family's position at all costs. Her cool demeanor when delivering a counter offer to Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) is both inspirational and heartbreaking as she describes the tragedy her life has seen. Surrounded by her two living sons, she reminds him that just because she looks like an old woman that doesn't mean she's stupid, weak, or easily manipulated.

Known for her charming role as Charlene on the '90s sitcom "Designing Women" and her Emmy-winning guest appearances on "Frasier," Smart is no stranger to TV.  Though the role is a bit of a departure for the veteran actress, Smart clicked with the character right away, telling ET, "I pretty much knew what I wanted to do with her as soon as I started reading the scene." The old-lady haircut also helped her fully embody the character, though she notes the look does bear an uncanny resemblance to her mother. Smart was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her portrayal of the steely Floyd and has gone on to similarly dark fare in both "Watchmen" and "Mare of Easttown."

11. Peggy Blumquist

Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) is a woman ahead of her time. The slightly bubble-headed hairdresser from Luverne, Minnesota, finds herself in the middle of an organized crime war when she accidentally hits Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) with her car and then drives home with his body still lodged in her windshield. Still, this optimistic feminist won't let such a minor setback stop her from fulfilling her dreams. She hatches a naive scheme to cover up the crime with her devoted husband Ed, played by Jesse Plemons. In true "Fargo" fashion, the plan spins rapidly out of control and the Blumquists find themselves wanted by both the Kansas City Mob and the Gerhardts as well as the Luverne police. Her often oblivious plans to reach full actualization are both endearing and frustrating but never dull. Her determination often clashes with Ed's dreams, and her secret birth control pills and plans to attend an expensive self-help seminar indicate that they are far from being on the same page regarding their shared future.

Peggy often seems comically unaware of how dire her situation is becoming but proves herself more than capable. She is able to defend herself against an attack by Dodd Gerhardt and his two henchmen, killing one man with a kitchen sink and subduing Dodd with his own cattle prod. Speaking about Peggy, Dunst told the Daily Beast, "It's been the best role I've ever played." Many critics agree and the actress was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her work on the show.

10. Lou Solverson

Coffee shop owner Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine) plays a relatively minor role in the first season of "Fargo" as officer Molly Solverson's father and confidant. The former Minnesota state trooper offers sage advice and level-headed support for his daughter, but there's something about Keith Carradine's magnetic performance that draws you in and makes you want to know more. That's exactly what Season 2 delivers, based on Lou's offhand mention of an incident in Sioux Falls with a high body count. In the show's first multi-season connection, Patrick Wilson steps in as a younger version of the character with what he describes to Variety as "steely determination and quiet strength." In this outing, Lou cares for his young daughter Molly and sick wife Betsy while investigating the disappearance of Rye Gerhardt. He channels the audience in his frustration with Peggy's refusal to admit her crime but wins our affections with his steadfast determination to do the right thing.

It would be easy for this everyman protagonist to veer towards the boring, but Carradine and Wilson imbue the character with so much heart that Lou is always a welcome presence whenever he graces the screen. Wilson received high praise for his recreation of Carradine's performance, even earning a comparison to Robert DeNiro as a young Vito Corleone in "The Godfather Part II." But it's sweet details like his "Goodnight, Mrs. Solverson" and both versions of the character standing guard all night in the freezing cold that make it impossible not to root for this good-hearted family man.

9. Hanzee Dent / Moses Tripoli

Appearing in just two Season 1 scenes as Moses Tripoli (Mark Acheson), founder of the Fargo Mob, Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is better known as the Gerhardt Family's unstoppable hitman who is tasked with doing whatever it takes to find out what happened to youngest son Rye in Season 2. What begins as a straightforward assassination story soon reveals a complexly drawn character with relatable motivations. Though we've previously seen Hanzee bury a living man under hot cement, he wins our empathy when his Native American heritage is mocked by racists and he avenges himself in cathartic acts of violence. Actor Zahn McClarnon drew on similar incidents drew on similar incidents in his own life and played the character as "pissed off and resentful" but also focused." Finally tired of similar treatment from Dodd Gerhardt, he turns on the family and begins a new life on his own terms.

McClarnon's final scene sows the seeds of Hanzee's transformation, as he receives new identification and discusses plastic surgery while watching the children who will grow up to be Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench play baseball in a park. Though the retcon feels slightly forced, all is forgiven when Hanzee turns the full weight of his ferocity on the bullies harassing his future hitmen. This, combined with his tender request that Peggy give him a haircut because he is, "tired of this life," is enough to bring us fully on board with the formidable killer and hope he will be able to find a happier life in Fargo, even though we already know his story's conclusion.

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8. Oraetta Mayflower

Jessie Buckley portrays one of the most memorable characters in Season 4 as Oraetta Mayflower, the serial killer nurse who winds up entangled with two rival crime families. Obsessed with holding power over anyone who crosses her path, especially those she views as inferior, Oraetta is an angel of death with flaming red hair. She stealthily kills her patients, attempting to relieve them of their pain or punish them for perceived weakness, then basks in their family's sorrow at their funeral. In what is perhaps a willful misinterpretation of Josto Fadda's (Jason Schwartzman) request that she take care of his father, she murders the head of the Fadda crime family. However, her tendency to take trophies leads to her undoing. Teenage Ethelrida (E'myri Crutchfield) discovers her murderous treasure trove and writes an incriminating letter to her boss and then reports the elder Fadda's murder to the Cannon family crime syndicate.

Buckley plays the character with an intoxicating glee and what she describes to the Hollywood Reporter as "a certain American madness," milking Oraetta's self-righteous hypocrisy and obsession with death for all it's worth. Her final request for her executioner to shoot Josto first so she can watch is only eclipsed by her first romantic interlude with the family's heir apparent. 

7. Molly Solverson

Central to the show's theme of rapidly spiraling chaos is a well-meaning protagonist caught up in the turmoil. The first of these is Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), a police officer from Bemidji, Minnesota, who attempts to solve the murder of Pearl Nygaard (Kelly Holden Bashar) and the strange case of a frozen man found nearly naked in the snowy woods. Her investigation also leads her to Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), a Duluth deputy and would-be mailman raising his daughter, Greta, alone after his wife's death. The two officers become close while following the case and bond over Gus' relationship with Greta and Molly's childhood memories with her own widower father. We see this young version of Molly (Raven Stewart) in Season 2 as she finds her mother Betsy passed out on the kitchen floor — a harbinger of the young Mrs. Solverson's approaching death.

Though Molly is perhaps a spiritual successor to Marge Gunderson in the original film, "Fargo" creator Noah Hawley  took great pains to avoid comparisons to Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning performance. He described sneaking his protagonist in through the side door by presenting police chief Vern Therman as the hero, then killing him off in the first episode. Having beaten out over 600 other actresses for the coveted role, Allison Tolman received an Emmy nomination for her role as the intrepid Molly Solverson. Casting director Rachel Tenner describes Tolman as a palette cleanser and praised her ability to find "moments of humor and compassion" in the role amidst a sea of actresses by merely performing the iconic accent.

6. Wes Wrench

Wes Wrench (Russell Harvard) is the taller half of the original team of Fargo assassins in Season 1. Working with his childhood friend, Mr. Numbers, Mr. Wrench skillfully navigates the line between hero and villain as he harasses Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and searches for the elusive Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). This dichotomy is on full display when he begins a tense conversation with a client by opining in American Sign Language that every town should have a library and then ends it by coldly pantomiming slitting his target's throat. Mr. Numbers, charmingly played by Adam Goldberg, puts a humorous spin on this threat with a simple, "We'll find him."

Russell Harvard always dreamed of playing the villain. Though Wes is a ruthless killer in Season 1, he reappears as a protagonist of sorts in Season 3, as he finds himself handcuffed to Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on a doomed prison bus. His interactions with Mr. Numbers may be endearing, but the scene in which he and Nikki save each other in the woods by using the chain that connects them to trip and then decapitate the hitman on their trail solidifies his status as a multi-season favorite. Noah Hawley reportedly loved the character so much that he kept him around for an extra episode in Season 1, and Wrench has the distinction of being the only character to appear in three of the show's varied seasons. With the upcoming Season 5 set to take place in 2019, is it too much to ask that we see a return of the fringe-wearing hitman with a heart of gold?

5. Lorne Malvo

Noah Hawley's new iteration of "Fargo" likely wouldn't have succeeded without a formidable but perversely likable villain. Lorne Malvo, played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton, fits the bill as a rogue hitman with a predilection for manipulating the actions of others. Malvo is the epitome of a predator, seeming to appear out of nowhere with no other motivation but to kill. A single interaction with the terrifying assassin in a hospital waiting room is all it takes to turn Lester Nygaard's life upside down. Malvo later amuses himself by listening to a recording of Lester's pleading message, begging for his help in cleaning up the resulting mess. Malvo's threats are thinly veiled in profound conversation, and those who cross his path find themselves haunted by his scary eyes.

Thornton was reluctant to accept the role due to TV's typical multi-season format but was won over by Noah Hawley's script and the definitive 10-episode commitment. The indie veteran enjoyed sinking his teeth into the character, telling EW, "I love the fact that he has no conscience at all, and yet, he's got this bizarre sense of humor where he likes to mess with people." Equally intriguing is the eighth episode's false ending which sets up one of the most shocking scenes of Season 1. Refusing to be ignored, Lester confronts Malvo in an elevator and then is forced to watch as the contract killer shoots everyone else in the confined space while maintaining eye contact with Lester the whole time.

4. Lester Nygaard

Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is a brow-beaten insurance salesman from Bemidji, Minnesota who starts up a life-altering conversation in a hospital waiting room. When describing a humiliating incident with his childhood bully that led to his broken nose, the stranger he's talking to turns out to be a ruthless hitman. When Malvo suggests he should have killed the bully, Lester jokingly asks the hitman in disguise to do it for him. Malvo carries out the murder and later gives Lester an ominous piece of advice: There are no rules. Taking this advice to heart, Lester impulsively beats his wife to death with a hammer and falls down a rabbit hole of destruction as he desperately tries to cover up the crime. Lester's shocking and abrupt death is perhaps the most fitting of any TV character in its stupid yet inevitable simplicity.

English actor Martin Freeman manages to channel the delightful "aw shucks" energy William H. Macy brings to the original film without ever feeling like a retread of the same character. Freeman is no stranger to the small screen but was reportedly hesitant to take on a TV role, especially one filming so far away from his home in London. As with Billy Bob Thornton, he was won over by the script and the acting challenges presented by the character, telling Screenspy, "In all the 10 episodes I get to play pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling." Thornton and Freeman's cat and mouse chemistry is the highlight of a stellar season, earning both actors Primetime Emmy nominations.

3. Ed Blumquist

There is no shortage of ironic suffering on "Fargo," but few characters are put through the wringer quite like butcher's assistant Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons). Due to his wife Peggy's increasingly erratic decisions, he winds up wanted by both the Gerhardt crime family and the Kansas City Mob, who erroneously believe him to be a hitman called "the Butcher." To cover up Peggy's collision with Rye Gerhardt, the Ed winds up killing the unfortunate son with a garden spade and then puts the body through a meat grinder. His simple dream of owning the butcher shop and starting a family is again thwarted by Peggy, who spends the money on a self-actualizing seminar that Ed barely understands.

In a deadly comedy of errors, Ed is eventually shot by Hanzee Dent and dies in Peggy's arms but not before seemingly deciding to end their relationship. He's finally realized that his devotion to Peggy has derailed his life and that perhaps they weren't meant to be together after all. Off-screen, Dunst and Plemons found more lasting love and began a relationship shortly after filming Season 2. They are now the proud parents of two boys and were both nominated for Academy Awards for the 2021 film "The Power of the Dog." Peggy and Ed's romance may have been doomed, but it looks like the real-life couple is headed for a happier ending.

2. Nikki Swango

Mary Elizabeth Winstead manages to stand out in a season filled with over-the-top characters, including two played by Ewan McGregor. Nikki Swango is an ex-con with a talent for competitive bridge who challenges her parole officer fiancé, Ray Stussy, to stand up to his manipulative twin brother Emmit. She is the driving force in the relationship and proves capable of defending herself and her man time and again. In the Season 3 opener, she kills a man with an air conditioning unit, loosening it from the wall while he descends the stairs from her apartment and releasing it to fall on his head as he exits the building. Angry that Emmit has tricked Ray out of a lucrative inheritance, she breaks into his study and leaves him a message in her own menstrual blood.

After Ray's death, she finds a new partner in Wes Wrench, with whom she escapes from the wreckage of a crashed prison bus. The two form a powerful team and exact revenge for her lover's murder. Though she does not survive the season, it's tempting to envision a new vigilante partnership with the giant in the fringe jacket and the confident femme fatale. Winstead described her role to Glamour as "the best material," saying that she loved the chance to embrace a more sexy persona. The role also led to offscreen love with her co-star Ewan McGregor. Winstead gave birth to the couple's son Laurie in June of 2021.

1. Mike Milligan / Michael Satchel Cannon

They don't come much cooler than Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), the smooth-talking Kansas City Mafia man sent with the silent Kitchen brothers to locate Rye Gerhardt. Always the dominant player in any conversation, he deftly navigates interactions with Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and Lou Solverson with insightful witticisms, icy impressions, and a signature bolo tie. His skillful management of Gerhardt's demise earns him a coveted promotion within the organization's ranks, but this may be more of a curse than a blessing. When we leave him in Season 2, he's staring at the walls of his tiny office and contemplating the necessary wardrobe change that would more fittingly suit his current position.

Bokeem Woodbine was thrilled to accept the role and described Mike's swagger to Indiewire as "uber-confident and capable and somebody who isn't confident in a bloodstream way, but someone who has tested themselves and has been tested by this environment and come out a winner." Noah Hawley shares this interpretation and credits Mike Milligan's backstory as the inspiration for the entirety of Season 4. Satchel (Rodney L Jones III), the youngest son of the Cannon family crime syndicate, is traded for his rival family's youngest son as a sign of peace. Perhaps predictably, this turns out to be a dangerous move, and Satchel finds himself on the run with his appointed guardian Rabbi Milligan (Ben Whishaw). A post-credits sequence reveals an adult Mike remembering Satchel's lonely walk back to his family's home, confirming the fan theory that the two characters are the same person. Woodbine's return has not been announced for the upcoming fifth season, but given Hawley's fondness for the character, it's possible that we could see the silver-tongued gangster make comeback.