Noah Hawley’s Fargo series has paid homage to the Coen Brothers movie that inspired it, and other Coen movies like The Big Lebowski. Hawley said he drew from the Coens’ Raising Arizona to begin his fourth season. The show is currently in production, but Hawley and the cast were on a Television Critics Association panel to discuss it.

Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman star as rival gangsters in 1950s Minnesota. Hawley discussed the Raising Arizona influence, the role of police in this season, and the season’s thematic connection with Fargo. Fargo returns April 19 on FX.

Raising Arizona was the perfect example of how to do this

Season 4 of Fargo has a bit more to establish than most season premieres. There are always new characters, but season four has two sets of gangs, some historical background that will be relevant to the story, and plenty of supporting characters. The Coen Brothers had dealt with this before. In Raising Arizona, they introduced H.I. (Nicolas Cage), Ed (Holly Hunter) their prison courtship, and their trouble conceiving all before the opening titles.

“I started to think about Raising Arizona because I had a lot of information and history and backstory to get in before the story started,” Hawley said. “The opening 15 minutes of that movie is a master class in the comic delivery of information, and so it seemed like a great way to have a lot of personality and still tell you what you needed to know.”

The cop is not the hero this season

The movie and past seasons had heroic cops played by Frances McDormand, Allison Tolman, Ted Danson, and Patrick Wilson. Jack Huston plays season 4’s officer Odis Weff, but he won’t be the hero.

“In the movie and in the first three seasons, the all-good, moral character was always a cop,” Hawley said. “But the reality is there are a lot of Americans, that is not their experience of cops. So my hope was to create a story this year in which that burden was lifted off the cop and allow Odis to land in a different place on the moral spectrum.”

If there are two gangs at war in the streets and even the cops aren’t the good guys, who is? Well, look to Emyri Crutchfield playing Ethelrida Pearl Smutney.

“Part of how we do it is to find, you know, another moral center for the show, which is really Ethelrida’s character,” Hawley said. “You’ll see over the course of the series, she might do some detecting, in a way. Again, we’ve done three of these, and it’s really, I think, essential not to take anything for granted, and to question every decision we make, to make sure we’re not repeating ourselves.”

This is still the essence of Fargo 

Any season of Fargo is still about people turning to crime when they need money. Loy Cannon (Rock) comes to town with a business plan. He actually proposes something to a bank which is an item we all take for granted today, but was revolutionary in the ‘50s. When he’s rejected, there’s only one way a man in his position can make money.

“For me, the history of America is the history of the entrepreneur,” Hawley said. “It’s the history of someone who starts with nothing and works their ass off to get someplace and then fights to hold onto what they have. I don’t know the world of standup comedy, but you start with nothing, alone, and you have to fight your way up and then hold onto what you have. It felt to me like Chris embodied that spirit, and so that’s why I thought of him. Plus he’s funny.”

The movie and first three seasons may have been about individuals trying to get away with the perfect crime, but season four deals with crime on a larger scale. 

“This year we’re really looking at the kind of origins of the American capital crime, which is the exploitation of free and cheap labor,” Hawley said. “It’s the fact that in order to create wealth, people were exploited, and their labor was exploited, and it took a long time for those people working to break their way into what we consider to be mainstream America. And some people are still trying. So I think that this story is very much about that, but in a character driven way, obviously. I never want to feel like the audience is being lectured to on any level, but I do think there’s a process whereby whoever is on the up is making their money off the back of the person below them, and then there’s always somebody below them. What’s interesting is this battle between Chris’ group and Jason’s group, which is almost to climb over each other to get into what’s considered mainstream society.”

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