From Bemidji with blood: Residents reflect on ‘Fargo’s’ settings
The FX series “Fargo” wraps tonight with its final episode. The 10-episode series has taken viewers down some bloody paths, a lot of that occurring in a fictionalized Bemidji.
While none of the series was filmed in Bemidji, the show did get some things pretty close, like last week’s episode featuring our famous Paul and Babe statues. Those were recreated from images from postcards.
The Bemidji Pioneer’s parent company, Forum Communications Co., wanted to know how people in the major settings, Bemidji, Duluth and Fargo, thought the show handled life here in the chilly northern Midwest, so last week we chatted with our colleagues and “Fargo” fans, John Lamb from the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Brady Slater from the Duluth News Tribune, in a roundtable discussion.
LAMB: So then, that “Fargo” has been a heckuva show, don’tcha think?
FROEMMING: Yeah, this show came along when I thought it would be years before something would match both the quality writing, acting and overall product of “Breaking Bad” that wasn’t on a premium channel like HBO. Boy, was I wrong about that. I loved the film “Fargo,” and was a little skeptical at first about this series, but I think they nailed the Coens’ black humor while making this something new.
SLATER: It sure is. I’d been looking for something after “Breaking Bad,” and this show picks up the mantle like an eerily simpatico brother to that masterpiece — the stunning use of the regional landscapes, the milquetoast Joe cum baddie in Lester Nygaard, the innovative cinematography (like Malvo’s execution of the Fargo crime syndicate playing out inside a building as the camera tracked his movements from outside). It’s just a fabulously twisted vision … There’s more than the spirit of the film “Fargo” at work here, it’s an homage to the whole Coen brothers’ canon.
LAMB: I feel like we’re all talking over coffee sitting in Lou’s Cafe in Bemidji, which should only be a short drive from Duluth. The way Bemidji police officer Molly Solverson and Duluth cop Gus Grimley would just drop in on each other made it seem like it was a 25-minute drive between the two cities.
FROEMMING: Yeah, that distance aspect did kind of bother me … It’s actually like a three-hour drive, which I would think local police on the job wouldn’t really take multiple trips of that distance and time … Also, where are all the trees?
SLATER: People have taken great pains to point out details just like that in the story. The show’s use of the term casserole vs. our preferred hot dish, for instance. Myself, I’m easily swayed into the suspension of disbelief.
I’ve loved the portrayal of Duluth, despite knowing it was filmed in Canada. Specifically, the first Malvo-Grimley interaction with the patrol stop resonated as pure Duluth for me. Industrial. Snow that both crunches and adheres to wheel wells. Their mufflers just exhaling fog into the icy cold air. That scene set a lot for me in terms of — and I’ll cite another personal favorite here in the “The X-Files” — “I want to believe.”
LAMB: Well, how believable was the skyline of Duluth? I could buy the few shots of Fargo, especially the ominous looking federal building, but they made Duluth flat and look more like downtown Dallas. Where’s Lake Superior? It’s a Great Lake.
SLATER: Again, fellas, you’re not going to unwind my suspension of disbelief. I believe I saw a grain elevator. That helped seal it for me. The neighborhood streets with crowded houses. The Nygaard basement, for gosh sakes. There have been enough reasonable facsimiles to authenticate the viewing experience as far as I’m concerned.
FROEMMING: Well, from the Bemidji standpoint, the big complaint I have heard from the locals was the flatness and lack of trees. I agree with that, it made Bemidji look like North Dakota or southwest Minnesota.
What I am truly glad about is that in episode nine, we got to finally see the Paul and Babe statues, pretty spot on, sans their size and those pedestals. But the fact they went to that length to copy our statues really says something about the incredible attention to detail this show went to.
LAMB: The show may have captured the feel of a Minnesota winter, but it wasn’t playing too Minnesota nice with its depiction of law enforcement. Gus Grimley and Bill Oswalt look like officers Dumb and Dumber. Have you heard any reactions from law enforcement officials in your neck of the woods?
FROEMMING: I tried to speak to officials here about how they are portrayed, but I haven’t heard back. My take on Gus is that he’s not a dummy like Bill. Gus told Molly he wanted to be a mailman. So he doesn’t have drive like Molly ... It is a job that scares him. Bill, he’s a cop who shouldn’t be a cop. But he can’t figure that out.
SLATER: The police are treated no worse than the FBI, trucking magnates, grocery owners, insurance salesmen, etc., in the show. It’s humanity upside down. Real people don’t serve narratives … Ultimately, this is an escape. Not art imitating life, so much as art mocking it. Truth is not stranger than this fiction at all.
FROEMMING: I’m sure this was also a question when the film came out, but how do people in Fargo feel about a show titled with the name of their city but really doesn’t take place all that much there?
LAMB: Because we wondered that 17 years ago, it wasn’t such a big deal here. It’s another nice nod to the original, just like the claim that the show is based on actual events. The bigger complaint was people saying, “We don’t speak like that.” So, who had the best Minnesota accent? Who had the worst? I hate to pick on Gus, but I thought Colin Hanks sounded the least credible. Actually, I thought Bob Odenkirk nailed Bill’s accent pretty spot on.
SLATER: I hear the accents, although, far subtler all the time. We’re in denial when we take offense to this as Minnesotans. We ought to embrace our caricatures. It means people pay attention to us. What do they talk like in New Hampshire? Exactly.
FROEMMING: Gus’ accent was awful. Overdone. Bill’s was interesting because it sounded like a hybrid of Minnesota and Chicago to me. Personally, I liked Lester’s and when Malvo faked one in Duluth the best.