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Fargo and reconciling debt

  • 25 January 2024
‘What I am going to say is not a dogma of faith but my own personal view: I like to think of hell as empty; I hope it is.’ Pope Francis, interview on Italian television, 14 January 2024.    It might seem strange to start a review of a television show with a recent quote from Pope Francis, but much of the online conversation in the wake of the Pope’s words has revolved around questions of God’s response to human sin, and whether it should be guided by justice or mercy. The fifth season of the TV show Fargo concluded last week, and one of the main explorations of the latest instalment of the series is the question of debt: How do we reconcile what we owe?

For those not familiar with the series, Fargo is a dark comedy/drama set in the Midwest USA (the latest season covers Minnesota and North Dakota). Series creator and showrunner Noah Hawley was inspired by the original 1996 Cohen brothers movie of the same name, and based much of the first season off that story. Subsequent seasons have shared other self-contained stories, each set in different eras with mostly different characters.

The latest story takes place in 2019 and begins when Dorothy Lyon (played by Juno Temple) is arrested after mistakenly punching a police officer during a riot at a school board meeting. That arrest brings her to the attention of the sinister Sherriff Roy Tillman (John Hamm), who it turns out was married to Dorothy many years before.  

The other major characters in the season line up on one side or the other, either supporting Roy as he tries to track down and bring Dorothy home, or in some way helping Dorothy as she tries to elude him. There’s the mysterious Ole Munch (Sam Spruell) who Roy initially sends to kidnap Dorothy, but who is left maimed after the plot fails; and Roy’s son Gator (Joe Keery), himself a deputy, desperate for his father’s approval. Drawn into the drama on Dorothy’s side are her mother-in-law Lorraine (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is the CEO of a debt collecting agency and powerful force in local politics; and police deputy Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani) and state trooper Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris) who at different times try to intervene on Dorothy’s behalf.

Each of the major characters is preoccupied in one way or another by debt. In some cases it’s monetary – Deputy