FX's Fargo is like a master class in storytelling: Beautifully structured episodes, interesting character introductions, awesome deaths, hidden callbacks, sweeping shots, cool visual transitions and, of course, tons of symbolism. Our favorite recurring theme in the first season: Fish.
"The fish symbolize what they symbolize," the show's creator and executive producer Noah Hawley told Yahoo TV, basically telling us absolutley nothing as only the most secretive showrunners can. He then gave a bit more insight: "The presence of the fish, you know... in some ways, all the fish imagery builds from Episode 1 until the fish fall from the sky in Episode 6, and then there's no more fish imagery. You could think, I suppose, that all that imagery along the way was a foreshadowing or a set-up to the fish fall. I think there's a real theme in a lot of the Coens' work, but especially in Fargo, which is civilization in the wilderness. The fact that, in this region specifically, you're living on the edge of the frozen tundra... just this idea of running that wilderness imagery in the story to keep that idea alive."
But how did he and the writers manage to layer it in throughout the season in so many obvious and more obscure ways? "That's the great thing about telling a complete story and breaking the whole thing ahead of time — every opportunity, every episode, you're playing into your larger story and your larger themes," Hawley said.
This should go without saying, but just in case: Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the first nine episodes of Fargo Season 1!
Here are 11 interesting fishy moments from Fargo — we know there are more, so share your finds in the comments.
That Inspirational Fish Poster
After Lester brutally murdered his wife Pearl in their basement in Episode 1, "The Crocodile's Dilemma," splattering blood everywhere with his angry head-hammering, his gaze went straight to a inspirational poster hanging on the wall: What if you're right and they're wrong? This poster, with its adorably cartoonish school of fish now covered in his dead wife's blood, suddenly became more of a delusional therapeutic mantra for Lester — Pearl had been wrong to question his manhood, so maybe he was right to murder her. It later covered up the spot where Lester chose to hide his handgun.
Are Fish Considered Pets?
When Lorne Malvo checked in to Leroy's Motor Inn, he was told it'd be an extra $10 a night if he had a pet like a dog or a cat. "What if I got a fish?," he replied, with a mounted fish on the wall just behind him. "Would a fish cost me $10? Or what if I kept spiders or mice? What if I had bacteria?" Noting that he is "a student of institutions," Malvo left the innkeeper annoyed, but he certainly made an impression.
Signs of Swordfish
There were even mentions of fish hidden away in unsubtitled sign language scenes in Episode 2, "The Rooster Prince." When Yahoo TV spoke to Hawley and Adam Goldberg about the unique introduction of Goldberg's Mr. Numbers and his partner Mr. Wrench, played by Russell Harvard — using sign language without subtitling it for the audience — neither one would say exactly what was being signed in the scene. We tried to find a reliable translator to no avail, but Reddit user HandySigns notes that the word "swordfish" came up as a joke about how Sam Hess died, saying he could've been on a boat when "all of a sudden a swordfish jumped out of the water and landed on the back of his head stabbing him." It actually looks like it checks out:
A Big Mouth Bass
While Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) was eager to investigate leads in the murder of her friend and chief of police Vern (Shawn Doyle), the new chief Bill (Bob Odenkirk) was more concerned with hanging his bass on the wall of his new office. Centered! Higher! Incompetence at its finest.
A Mesmerizing Screensaver
The very first death of the series in the pilot episode was given more screentime in Episode 4, "Eating the Blame," as the man only really known as "naked man" got a bit of backstory... before Malvo came to his workplace and dragged him off to stuff him in the trunk. Phil "Naked Man" McCormick (David Trimble) must've been a daydreamer — that fish screensaver was mesmerizing.
Ice Fishing, Anyone?
While in town to track and kill the people responsible for Sam Hess's murder, hired hitmen Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers holed up in an ice shack on the frozen lake. Guess that makes them one step ahead of Malvo, as far as not leaving a trail, but at least Malvo had a bed with clean(ish) sheets at the motel.
Speaking of Wrench and Numbers, their next big scene came in Episode 4, "Eating the Blame," and since it was just between them, the audience was finally clued in to what they were signing. While they had what can only be desribed as a silent work-lovers quarrel, all subtitled for our amusement, another mounted fish was hanging above their table.
Bargain Bin Socks
When Lester stopped by Uli's Sporting Goods in a flashback in Episode 5, "The Six Ungraspables," he was drawn to a bargain bin of mismatched socks. The owner threw in a gun with the sale — because, of course — but he could've just as easily grabbed him a fishing pole from the same wall instead. That maybe would've saved Vern's life if he had... that gun later shot the good chief dead.
Google "Lorne Malvo"
Gus's (Colin Hanks) idea of how to be a good detective in Episode 5 involved asking his daughter Greta (Joey King) to Google the alias Lorne Malvo had given him: Pastor Frank Peterson. The search turned up an article about Peterson's Lake of the Woods Congregation on the Web site of The Baudette Laker, whose logo is a fish being caught. Gus then asked Greta to Google Lorne Malvo... but we all know that's not how you catch a fish this big and slimy.
Fresh and Delicious
For all the nods to fish and fishing, no one was actually eating fish... until Episode 6, "Buridan's Ass." The episode opened on fish swimming, then panned to reveal they were in a tank at a restaurant as one was caught with a net. It was then beaten dead with a mallet (Pearl flashbacks, anyone?), scaled, gutted, dredged in flour, deep fried, covered in sauce, and served to the head of the Fargo syndicate at what was a seafood feast fit for hitmen.
The Final Fishdown
All the fish symbolism came to a dramatic, memorable, and totally biblical end when it began raining fish. From the sky. Seriously. While it was later revealed to be the act of a tornado that pulled the fish right out of the water, at the time it appeared to be the last in a long line of "signs from God" for grocery store king Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt), all of which had been secretly manufactured by Malvo until this point. These flying fish were fierce, deadly, and truly an act of more than just a clever hitman.
The Fargo season finale airs Tuesday, June 17 at 10 p.m. on FX.