“Reality is fractured” — think about those words for a second. Reality is supposed to be the one thing that’s absolute. It’s a state of existence we all must face, whether we’re waking up to a cold reality or embracing the reality of now. For it to be fractured, to be broken, is an impossibility. Reality simply is, and what is cannot be undone.
Unless, of course, you’ve been watching the third season of “Fargo.”
Throughout its television saga, Noah Hawley’s period drama about unexpected violence in small town America has been framed as a “true story.” It’s not, of course — that’s merely an appropriation from the Coen brothers’ film. Specifically, like the 1996 movie each episode begins with the statement: “This is a true story,” even though, like the film, it’s not.
But Season 3 has doubled down on its tricky typeface: Hawley, through characters like former police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) and a mysterious crime lord named V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), has broken down the meaning of truth in modern America.
“At a basic level, I have to be aware that I’m saying it’s a true story and that reality rarely ties itself up neatly; that reality is subject to randomness and coincidence and all of those things,” Hawley said in an interview with IndieWire. “I felt like our first season, the story basically played itself out until the very last scene. […] The second year, the ninth hour was really the big hour, […] and yet, in the end, it was a tragedy with a happy ending — just like the movie and just like the first season.”
“You’ll see how it turns out this year, but I’ll say I don’t want to take anything for granted like ‘Oh, it’s okay, it always wraps up neatly,'” he said. “There is a sense to which this year’s ‘Fargo’ is really a mirror reflecting our reality back to us at this moment in time, but we don’t know how it’s gonna end or how it’s gonna play out.”
Speaking the day after James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hawley was quick to point to relevant parallels between “Fargo” and our current cultural status.
“At the end of the day, everyone said, ‘Well James Comey testified and said a lot of damning things for the President of the United States.’ Then this morning the President of the United States tweets that he’s totally vindicated by the testimony yesterday and you go, ‘These two things are completely opposite — only one of them can be true.'”
And yet they’re both true. Objectivity has been tossed aside and much of the news, much of the world, is interpreted solely through the eye of the beholder. In 2017, alternate facts form alternate realities, and the same can be said of “Fargo’s” 2011 world.
“I think that the most jarring impact of this last year — on storytelling in general but certainly on this season of ‘Fargo’ — is the sense that our sense of reality is fractured and that what you think is real and true can be completely opposite from what someone next to you thinks is real and true,” Hawley said.
As an example, Hawley brought up a key scene from Season 3: After a particularly jarring experience, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) returns home to his wife, hugs her, and says, “The world is wrong. It looks like my world but everything is different.”
“I think there are a lot of people who feel that way [right now],” Hawley said. “Like, ‘Wait what? I went to bed in one America and I woke up in a different America.’ And there’s something violent to that.”
Fighting back against the violence is Gloria Burgle, embodying the world’s general symbol of truth, as well as “Fargo’s”: a police officer. Gloria’s journey in Season 3 has filled her with tremendous doubt, and there are many, many scenes of a flustered, frustrated, but resolute Gloria fighting for truth in a world ready to accept a lie. Whether she was rejecting her new chief’s theory that there was a serial killer targeting people with the last name “Stussey” or resisting the transition to technology over one-on-one human interaction, Gloria is both a dying breed and a beacon of hope.
“The war Gloria is really fighting is for the truth itself, that a case can be solved, that we can look objectively back into the past and say, ‘This happened,'” Hawley said. “This idea that you would be presented with a reality that you fundamentally don’t believe in is something that I think a lot of people who live in other countries are more familiar with, but as Americans we’re really not.”
Who wins the war between facts and alternative facts will be revealed in the “Fargo” finale, but the casualties have been clear throughout the season. For now, we wait to see who else will join the list and pray, for the sake of our country, that Gloria is not among the fallen.