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It’s early March at the Calgary Film Centre and a quiet family scene is unfolding on a darkened set.
There are not a lot of quiet moments in Fargo Year 5, which wrapped early this year. But on this particular day, a group of journalists have been invited to watch the filming of a scene on the centre’s sound stage. It features protagonist Dorothy (Dot) Lyon (Juno Temple) and her kind, soft-spoken husband Wayne (David Rysdahl) having a seemingly innocuous conversation about a change in plans for Halloween costumes. Their daughter, Scotty (Sienna King) and Dot will now be going as zombie hunters wearing real bullet-proof vests, Dot sweetly but forcefully informs her husband. There is a bit of awkwardness to the scene, as the befuddled Wayne is trying to figure out some of his wife’s mysterious behaviour as of late. But it’s a gentle conversation, made even more so by Temple and Rysdahl’s mastery of Fargo’s trademark Minnesota-nice accent.
The scene is from the second episode of the season, which debuts on FX on Nov. 21. It seems typically Fargo-like, played with golly-gee midwestern enthusiasm but with an unsettling darkness lurking beneath.
Without giving away too many spoilers, by this point, audiences will have already gotten a graphic look at Dot’s messy past coming back to haunt her. Both Dot and Wayne come with plenty of baggage. Wayne is the hen-pecked son of Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the formidable “queen of debt,” who heads the country’s largest debt-collection agency and disapproves of her son’s seemingly mousy wife. Dot, on the other hand, is quickly shown to be anything but that. She is a ferocious mother more than capable of defending her family while desperate to keep them in the dark about her past. When Dot’s carefully constructed new life is at risk of unravelling, mayhem ensues.
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“She does not want her family to bear the burden of her past,” says Temple, an English actress who maintains her Minnesota-nice accent even between scenes on set. “So she is going to do everything in her power to protect them without bringing them into it…. She is going to deal with it and make it go away without them having to get involved. I think you see a crack in some of the decisions she makes in protecting her family not working out exactly the way she wants them to.”
The fifth season of Fargo returned to Alberta (Season 4, starring Chris Rock, was shot in Chicago) in 2022 and 2023. Much of it was filmed at the Calgary Film Centre but also in surrounding towns such as Didsbury and High River. That helped achieve the original frosty Fargo feel of “Siberia with family restaurants” that Joel and Ethan Coen established in the Oscar-winning 1996 dark comedy that inspired the series. The fifth instalment seems to be the season that most closely resembles the original film. There’s a kidnapped wife, menacing but often inept criminals, disapproving in-laws and a resourceful Minnesota deputy (the wonderfully named Indira Olmstead, played by Richa Moorjani). Creator Noah Hawley says he was interested in returning to the original film for inspiration. Fargo and numerous other Coen brothers’ films have been slyly alluded to in past seasons, of course. But Hawley said he wanted to take the film’s original premise of a desperate used-car salesman’s moral dilemma and turn it on its head by presenting it from the point of view of the wife.
Dot is the kidnapped wife, but the man doing the kidnapping is not her current car salesman husband but a malevolent force from her past in the form of North Dakota sheriff Roy Tillman (an against-type Jon Hamm). He is a Bible-thumping, far-right lawman who thinks he is doing God’s work and is above the law. Alongside his eager-to-please son, Gator Tillman (Joe Keery), he sets out to reclaim what he thinks is rightfully his. So father-son and mother-son dynamics are explored. So is the idea of debt. What does Dot “owe” Tillman? What does Lorraine owe her son and his new wife? What will all these characters do to protect what they think is theirs?
“It’s exploring this idea of wifeness and the expectations,” Hawley says. “On Jon Hamm’s part, and Joe Kerry his son, there’s this idea of a much more restrictive masculine world in which a woman’s role is very submissive. Then, on the other side with Juno and her new husband and child, it’s a very balanced happy family life where she is the person she wants to be and what happens when he comes to say ‘get back in the box.’ That’s definitely the thrust for us this year.”
Hamm says Hawley described Roy Tillman as a mix between former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio, an abusive far-right racist and Donald Trump ally; and Joe Exotic, the subject of the Netflix documentary The Tiger King who was charged with abusing the animals in his care and a murder-for-hire plot against one of his rivals. As absurd as such a character sounds, Hamm says he thinks Tillman reflects a mindset that is disturbingly on the rise.
“We live in such an odd world at the moment where ridiculous narcissism can be perceived as rugged individualism and it really isn’t in any world,” Hamm says. “We are, by nature, a communal species. None of us can survive alone. You have these people who are the sovereign staters and the off-the-gridders and the preppers and all the other things and you go ‘to what end?’ It’s couched in this language of freedom and patriotism and all these things that are wonderful concepts and yet when they are exploded into their ridiculous extremes make no sense. I think that’s a big thematic pillar of the season and, as an actor, it’s (expletive) fun to play that because delusion is a real fun place to live in a character study for sure.”
Hamm is best known for playing Don Draper, the dashing if morally challenged ad man on AMC’s Mad Men for seven seasons. When asked if he sees Roy Tillman as a “villain,” Hamm doesn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” he says. “I was asked that question about Don Draper quite a lot because he made some questionable choices and decisions throughout his existence. With Don, I would always say ‘I don’t like to judge characters, I just play them.’ I could make the case that Don was behaving as we were programmed and I could make that case for Roy, too. But he is a dark individual. That said, there may be people who watch the show and think he is the coolest. But I don’t know if I do.”
Fargo Year 5 debuts on FX on Nov. 21.