Did that ice scraper in the snow look familiar to you? Last night’s episode of FX’s Fargo began in 1987, when a young Stavros and his family run out of gas along the side of the road. He asks God for help and then spots a lone red ice scraper standing in the snow. Beneath it, he finds a briefcase that by then we know is filled with exactly $920,000 in cash. Series executive producer Noah Hawley says in his mind, Stavros finds the briefcase about a week after Carl, the character played by Steve Buscemi in the original Coen brothers film, buries it in the snow. “There was another storm. Obviously, it was the same winter,” he said.
To recall: In the movie, hit men Carl and Gaear (Peter Stormare) had been led by Jerry (William H. Macy) to believe they were coming into $80,000 in ransom money from his boss and father-in-law Wade. When Carl kills Wade and discovers it was actually $1 million, he buries it near a barbed wire fence and marks the spot with his ice scraper so he doesn’t have to share. Hawley said he’d always wondered about the blood money. “I, like everyone else on Earth, thought that was such a hanging element. What happened to that money?” he tells Vulture. “I loved that all of the press and reviews focused on the face that the show and the movie were completely separate — but then four episodes in, suddenly, we connect the two. It’s a ‘holy shit!” moment.”
Did he get permission from the Coens to do it? Not really. They prefer to be silent partners on the show. “I’ve sent them all the scripts and all the episodes, but they’re off in Coen land. They have no desire to give notes on anything,” Hawley laughs. “I like to think that they’re watching, but I don’t even know if they are. I don’t know that they know about it.”
But don’t expect the worlds of the film and the TV show to overlap much more. “I think this is our nod,” Hawley says of further direct connections. The show is already rife with specific homages to the Coens oeuvre, from the White Russians to Stavros himself (“Is he Nathan Arizona or the Big Lebowski? He’s certainly a kind of character who exists in the Coens’ movies.”) What he really wanted was to flesh out Stavros’s (Oliver Platt) backstory. “Finding that briefcase is meant to be organic to his journey,” Hawley says. “He made a promise to God. ‘If you help me, I will devote my life to your name.’ He didn’t keep that up.” He teases that Malvo’s (Billy Bob Thornton) campaign to re-create the book of Exodus in order to drive Stavros mad is only going to get worse. “You’ll see over the next few episodes, it’s a profoundly moving thing to him, the idea that he’s let down God and that God is angry about it. Of course, he’s in an increasingly hallucinatory state, so things get stranger before they get normal.”