IMDB: Fargo

Seasons Type Genres
3- Serial Crime/Drama/Thriller
Scene Count
Pilot Screenplay
57 58

Main Characters

Lester Nygaard

FARGO - Pictured: Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard . CR: Chris Large/FXLester Nygaard

40. Lester is the kind of guy who apologizes when you step on his foot.

Lorne Malvo

FARGO -- Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo -- CR: FX/Matthias ClamerMalvo

Age unknown, birth place unknown… If he minds he doesn’t show it.

Deputy Molly Silverson



Other Characters:

Police Chief Vern Thurman


Sam Hess

Hess is a big guy, intimidating.

Pearl Nygaard


Ronald Nygaard

It’s clear he got all the looks and charm in the family.



Kitty Nygaard

32. She’s pretty, well appointed.

Gus Grimly


Character Differences:

Ronald Nygaard’s name is changed to Chaz Nygaard.
Scotty Nygaard ‘s name is changed to Gordo Nygaard.

Kurt Grimly is changed from a boy to a girl named Greta Grimly.

Location Differences:

The entire screenplay is set in Saint Cloud Minnesota.

In the pilot, the location is changed to Bemidji, Minnesota, which is about 154 miles north of Saint Cloud.

Act Breakdown

Lester, Malvo and Molly are the main characters in this episode, so I will be focusing on them when applicable.
The Screenplay did not have acts, so the commercials in the pilot are used to break up the acts.

Excel Breakdown Pilot Screenplay
Fargo Screenplay Breakdown Fargo
Act 1


A brief scene of Lester leaving his house and several exterior shots of the town are added before the scene at the insurance shop.

A scene of Vern pulling into his driveway is added.

Main Points: Lester
Lester is introduced as a loser.
Lester accidentally orders a hit on his bully.
Lester hits his brother after being called a loser.


Lester is your typical down on his luck character that is introduced with one inherent flaw, he is a loser and no one respects him.

He is still bullied, he sucks at his job, his wife is ready to leave him and his brother tells his coworkers he is dead to save the embarrassment.

Lester is at his breaking point, and has never experienced true power and respect, something Malvo tries to instill in him.

Main Points: Malvo
Malvo gets in a car crash.
Malvo agrees to do a hit for Lester.
Malvo learns about his target.


Malvo is introduced as a hitman who plays by his own rules, but has a soft spot for the people who feel down and out. Malvo offers Lester a free hit on his bully, and treats it like another professional hit despite no payment involved.

Main Points: Molly
Molly investigates the car crash crime scene with her mentor.


Molly is introduced as a gifted cop who is still learning the ropes. You can see the difference in experience with Molly and Vern. Molly is careful and taking in all the details. Vern is using his experience to ignore the useless information and focus on the important facts.

Vern sees great potential in Molly.

End of Act 1:

Pearl gets angry at Lester for hitting his brother.

Best Scene:

Lester meets Lorne Malvo.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay Hess gets out of his car to talk to Lester specifically and after Lester broke his nose, the Hess’s were shown reacting.
In the pilot, the dialogue between Lester and Hess and his sons is changed slightly and condensed. Hess just walks up to Lester and after Lester breaks his nose, it transitions to the hospital scene right away.

In the screenplay, Lester and Malvo remain in their seats at the hospital.
In the pilot, Malvo gets up and moves next to Lester after drinking his soda at the hospital.

In the screenplay the car is a Ford.
In the pilot, the car is a 93 New Yorker in the pilot.

In the screenplay, Molly and Vern find the deer still alive in the trunk of the crashed car.
In the pilot, Molly and Vern find the deer dead in the trunk.

In the screenplay, Molly and Vern discover the car crash as night turns to dusk.
In the pilot, Molly and Vern discover the car crash during the day.

In the screenplay we see Hess taking with his men before Malvo enters.
In the pilot, Malvo enters and immediately interacts with Hess’s sons.

Act 2


A scene of Malvo sitting in the Lucky Penny is added before he kills Hess.

A scene of Molly explaining the crime scene to Vern is cut.

Main Points: Malvo
Malvo checks in with his associate.
Malvo kills Sam Hess.
Malvo toys with several people for his own amusement.


Malvo has other obligations to attend to, but his character plays by his own rules and personally takes care of Lester’s problem.

We also get to see how Malvo uses people for his own amusement.

Main Points: Molly
Molly and Vern investigate the Hess crime scene.


Again, Vern focuses on the hard facts and Molly takes a look at the bigger picture. In an ominous scene, Vern tells Molly she’ll make a great chief one day.

End of Act 2:
Malvo toys with the motel staff for his own amusement.

Best Scene:
Malvo kills Hess.

Location Differences:
In the screenplay, Mr. Rundle works in a skyscraper in St. Louis under the cover of Claims and Adjustments.
In the pilot, Mr. Rundle uses Reality as a cover and works in an average building in an unknown location.

In the screenplay, the name of the motel Malvo stays at is called Farmdale Motel.

In the pilot, the name of the motel Malvo stays at is called Leroy’s Motor Inn.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Malvo’s employer calls him by name.
In the pilot, Malvo’s employer calls him by his location.

Bill is added to the Lucky Penny crime scene and cannot handle blood and gore well.

In the screenplay the motel owner’s car is a Miata.
In the pilot, the motel owner’s car is a cavalier.

Act 3


A scene of Molly questioning the Hess boy about hurting his brother is cut. Very similar to the scene of Pearl questioning Lester for hitting his brother.

Main Points: Malvo
Malvo toys with Hess’s son for his own amusement.


Malvo continues to toy with people knowing that their reaction will be well worth the effort.

Main Points: Molly
Vern says Molly will make a great chief one day.
Molly and Vern visit Hess’s wife for questioning.

Molly continues her fine investigation work and makes the connection between the two crimes. Vern takes over, but praises Molly for a good job.

End of Act 3:
Molly tackles Mickey after he beats his brother.

Best Scene:

Malvo convinces Mickey that Moe is getting all their father’s money.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, the Hess boys are wearing suits.
In the pilot, the Hess boys are wearing Letterman jackets.

In the screenplay, Malvo is clipping his toenails while talking to Mickey.
In the pilot Malvo is undoing the wraps on his stomach while talking to Mickey.

In the screenplay, the police do not question Gina about her husband’s illegal side business.
In the pilot, the dialogue with Gina Hess is inquiring about her husband’s illegal side business.

Act 4


A scene with Molly interviewing the nurse about Lester is cut. It is essentially rehashed when she talks to Vern.

A scene of Lester practicing his call to Malvo is cut.

The end scene of Lester preparing his shotgun and then answering the door to Vern is cut after Lester opens the door and sees Vern. Initially, it was one continuous scene until Molly arrives.

Main Points: Lester
Lester confronts Malvo about Hess’s death.
Lester tries to fix the washer to be a man.
Lester kills his wife.


Lester begins to question the rules, as Malvo influences him to start standing up for himself. Lester takes the high road by trying to fix the washer, but finally snaps after his wife belittles him for screwing up again. Lester kills his wife and finally feels power for the first time.

Main Points: Molly
Molly finds out Lester was talking to Malvo at the hospital.
Molly tells Vern, but Vern decides to talk to Lester.

Molly continues her fine investigation work and makes the connection between the two crimes. Vern takes over, but praises Molly for a good job.

End of Act 4:
Lester opens his door to find Vern.

Best Scene:

Lester finally snaps and kills his wife.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Malvo is eating at an Arby’s.
In the pilot, Malvo is eating at an oriental grill.

In the screenplay, Bo is in his 50s.
In the pilot, Bo is younger.

In the screenplay, the poster says “There’s Always One. Be the One.”
In the pilot, the poster says “What if everyone is right and you’re wrong.”

Both have fish swimming in one direction except one.

In the screenplay, Lester calls the motel and gets right through to Malvo.  Malvo is surprised to get the call.
In the pilot, Lester calls the motel and accidentally speaks to the employee first.

Act 5


Act picks up right after Lester answers the door.

Main Points: Lester
Lester panics when Vern finds Pearl’s body.
Lester knocks himself out to get away with murder.


We see several sides of Lester after Vern discovers Pearl.

First he tries to plea innocence, hoping to pin the murder on Malvo, but instead he is saved by Malvo. Then we see Lester faced with a dilemma, two dead bodies in his house and nowhere to run. Lester decides to knock himself out and hope for the best.

Main Points: Malvo
Malvo kills Vern.


Malvo has no problem killing people as we’ve seen, and killing the police chief is no exception. The real question is why go through all the trouble to kill people for Lester. We see later he has no problem killing people just so there are no more witnesses, but he lets Lester live despite Lester seeing him kill twice.

Main Points:Molly
Molly finds her mentor and friend dead.
Molly finds the rest of the crime scene.


Molly has done excellent investigation work throughout the episode, and continues to learn from Vern, which sets up the importance of Vern’s death. Finding her mentor and friend dead is not something you can prepare for, but Molly handles it well. She takes it on herself to talk to Vern’s wife and to continue the investigation which now includes Vern’s death.

End of Act 5:
Molly finds Lester unconscious and Pearl dead.

Best Scene:

Malvo kills Vern.

Script Notes:

The murder scene follows exactly what’s in the script with a few variations, but generally word for word, the same.

Act 6


The scene with Gus Grimly letting Malvo go is after the crime scene and Molly giving Ida the bad news.

Main Points: Malvo
Malvo convinces a cop to let him go.


Malvo has overextended his stay and doesn’t want anymore trouble. He would have no problem killing Gus, but decides to let him choose his own fate. This isn’t out of character for Malvo as we’ve seen his soft spot for Lester.

Main Points: Lester
Lester wakes up in the hospital realizing he got away with murder.


Things are looking up for Lester, as he’s killed his wife and indirectly killed his bully. He has gotten away with murder, and has now experienced playing by his own rules, like Malvo told him to do.

Main Points: Molly
Molly delivers the bad news to Vern’s wife.
Molly refuses to quit being a cop and gets back to work on Vern’s case.


Despite losing her mentor and friend, Molly wants to continue on and find the murderer. Molly will always be a cop through the good and bad and will do what it takes to bring people to justice.
End of Act 6:
Molly gets back to work.

Best Scene:

Malvo convinces Gus to let him go.

Script Notes:

In the screenplay, Gus has a son.

In the pilot, Gus has a daughter.

Overall Breakdown

I have not watched the original Fargo movie, so I cannot comment on the similarities between the two.


Overall the structure between the pilot and screenplay remained relatively the same. There are a few added and cut scenes, but they have little to no influence on the story or screenplay.

Noah Hawley had a vision for his pilot when he wrote the screenplay, and the vision translated perfectly on screen. Everything, from the characters mannerisms to their dialogue is exactly what is written in the script, even the pauses in the dialogue.



Lester is set up as an everyday loser and we see his transition to a person capable of killing by the end of the episode. It’s interesting that Lester doesn’t actually get his hands dirty early on, but he is indirectly responsible for Sam Hess’s death. His continued interactions with Malvo and the belittling he receives from both his wife and brother are the last straw for Lester.

I’d also like to give praise to Martin Freeman for Lester’s portrayal when Vern finds Pearl dead. The panic and instant pleas of innocence were perfectly captured.


Malvo is a character that remains the same throughout the pilot. Malvo is a calculated contract killer, and as we see throughout the season, he takes his job very seriously. Malvo doesn’t think rules apply to him and we see him toy with others who willingly follow the rules. Malvo also has a soft spot for some people, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to kill Sam Hess for Lester.


Molly is a talented and hard working cop who still has much to learn about the job. Fargo did a good job showing the different experience levels of Molly and Vern, while still having Molly provide valuable input and detective work. There is clearly a mentor relationship between the two, which gives Vern’s death a lot more weight.

It is important to note that all three main characters converge into one story line at the climax of the pilot. Molly’s investigation leads to Lester, who has been in contact with Vern.


The slug lines used in Fargo are an example of too much information. I don’t know what went into the decision to use Saint Cloud, Minnesota in every slug line, but it is unnecessary. There is no consistency as there are variations of St. Cloud, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, MN, used throughout the screenplay.  There are a few scenes that take place in a different city, but those are rightly noted in the slug line.

After examining both the movie Fargo screenplay and Noah Hawley’s pilot screenplay for the Unusuals, to see if it was to copy Fargo’s style or because it is his own style, I cannot find a reason for the long inconsistent slug lines.

Screenwriting Techniques 

Text over black

Fargo opens with it’s famous opening line about being a true story. If you’re story begins with a message to the audience, an example of formatting is on page 1.


There is a lot of debate about using the word Beat. Some say it’s an older technique and no longer used, others say it is fine to use.  A beat is used to denote a pause, either in a character’s action or dialogue. It isn’t as common now, but still useful and appropriate to use.

There are plenty of examples of Beats in the Fargo pilot.  A few examples can be found on page 1, 18, and  65


Fargo uses a lot of parenthesis to describe a feeling for the character or a particular action while they are talking. A few examples of these are on page 2, 6 and 43.

Pauses (use of dash)
Because Lester is such a nice guy, he likes to speak without confidence. This is conveyed in the screenplay with the use of — in the dialogue. Some examples can be found on page 12 and 13.

This is not to be confused with the beat. The beat is to denote an intentional pause by the character. The — is used to show the character trying to talk, but unsure of himself.

Cut to:

“Cut to:” is used throughout the pilot to transition from scene to scene. It is redundant to use in the screenplay because it is understood you will be cutting to the next scene, but it can be used. Screenwriter’s preference.


A reveal is used to suddenly reveal a character in the scene while the focus is on other characters. Fargo uses this when it reveals Malvo behind Vern before he kills him. The example is on page 57.

Slug Lines

Fargo’s slug lines are an example of what not to do. There is no consistency with Fargo’s slug lines especially since St. Cloud MN is used in every slug line. It’s over complicating the issue, and there is no need to repeat the city every time.

Car- Traveling

There are several scenes taking place in a traveling car. To see how that’s denoted in the slug line, see page 1,  and 41.

Next Pilot: TBD