This post contains spoilers.
Creator Noah Hawley and the cast of the FX drama Fargo haven’t been coy about the influence of Donald Trump’s presidency on the show’s third season.
“There’s clear references in there to what’s going on,” David Thewlis, who plays the show’s villain, V.M. Varga, told Deadline. “Varga is a supreme example of this bullshit, quite honestly.”
Varga is not exactly supposed to be Trump—he’s a bulimic Brit with shabby clothes, wispy hair and terrible teeth. But his character is also a rapacious capitalist, who cunningly makes a prosperous businessman (played by Ewan McGregor) question his own sanity in order to bleed him dry.
“I like the term ‘gaslighting,’” Thewlis said. “I’ve heard it in reference to Trump, in terms of gaslighting the whole fucking country.”
The season’s last episode, which aired on June 21, concludes with a dramatic face-off between Varga and police officer Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon, who represents the forces of goodness, truth, and order. In the final scene, she has left the sheriff’s department to work for the US Department of Homeland Security.
As she sits across from Varga in a detention cell beneath JFK airport—the same place where travelers from majority-Muslim countries were detained under Trump’s executive order—Vargas remarks, “Ah, the nation state defending its borders.” Presented with a photo showing him at a crime scene, he scoffs:
“Are you familiar with the Russian saying, ‘The past is unpredictable?’ Which of us can say with certainty what has occurred, actually occurred, and what is simply rumor, opinion, misinformation? We see what we believe, not the other way around.”
He alludes to a man who confessed to a series of murders (in fact, he was a patsy who was framed to cover up other crimes) and Burgle laughs: “That didn’t happen.”
Varga counters: “And yet, if evidence is collected, if confessions are made, if a verdict of guilty is entered in a court of law, then its happening becomes as the rocks and rivers, and to argue that it didn’t happen is to argue with reality itself.”
It’s easy to see the allusion to Trump. The show was largely written and shot during the first 100 days of his administration, when Trump uttered an average of 4.9 false or misleading claims per day.
In the season premiere, a Stasi officer tells one character: “We’re not here to tell stories; we’re here to tell the truth.”
Hawley told the New York Times that scene “wasn’t designed to be political. When I wrote that first hour, we weren’t yet in our post-truth world.”
In the months that followed, however, “There are people who feel like they woke up in a different world than they went to bed in,” Hawley said. “There’s a violence to that.”
Truth and violence are the overarching themes of Fargo itself, from the original Coen Brothers movie to the three engrossing TV anthology seasons that have followed. The original film and every episode since opens with the false claim, “This is a true story.”
Contrary to prior installments, this season has an ambiguous ending: Burgle tells Varga that officers will soon escort him to jail while she takes her son to the county fair: “There’s no better way to spend a Sunday in this, our great American experiment…think of me among the amber waves of grain.”
Varga, however, insists that someone will imminently walk through the door of the cell to make him a free man once more. The show ends with a close-up of the door, never offering the audience the merest glimpse of which character is correct.
Hawley told Deadline that Fargo’s cliffhanger ending stems directly from “our living in a complicated moment”:
If I present you with a choice, you have to decide how that door is going to open and if it’s going to end well. It still has a happy ending if you’re an optimist. It just becomes a more active process. It’s an allegory to the conversation we’re having at this moment. How will we treat each other? Is it American carnage?”