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Communion and Redemption in Fargo Season 5

We love seeing ourselves on TV. 

Particularly when glimpses of our Christian lives appear on the big screen in ways that connect our spirituality to everyday existence. It helps us bridge the sacred to the secular. The fifth and latest season of the TV show, Fargo, is a ten-episode series that bridges this chasm in an altogether unexpected way. The show is not made with an explicitly Christian framework in mind but I believe it is among the best representations of “sacred” television we have today.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the show, Fargo is a television anthology series on the FX Network that is loosely adapted from the 1996 Coen Brothers’ movie of the same name. Each season is a self-contained narrative that needs no prior knowledge of the previous seasons to be enjoyed. The common thread between each iteration is that all the storylines are set in and around the North Dakota-Minnesota border. 

For Season 5, two questions must be answered to prime your viewing experience. Do the storylines revolve around murders, kidnappings, bigotry, and domestic violence—the utter depravities of the human heart on full display? Yes. Do these same storylines highlight the redemptive nature of the gospel message in ways that are artful, inspirational, and entertaining?

Oh, you betcha. 

When I was just beginning to learn how to craft a sermon in seminary, my preaching professor seared this mantra into our minds: Show, don’t tell.

The Bible is full of both “show” moments and “tell” moments, but it’s the showing that often makes for a more lasting impact. Instead of God merely rebuking the Israelites for their repeated infidelities in the wilderness (telling), the Exodus author vividly writes that God will force-feed them quail until it comes out of their nostrils (showing). Instead of telling us to reconcile with our fellow brothers and sisters, Jesus paints a word picture of turning the other cheek. Instead of telling us that his grace will always abound to us, he breaks a loaf of bread and raises a cup of wine. 

Showing, not just telling, is the basis of my claim that Fargo season five is among the most modern gospel presentations on television.

With an ensemble cast filled with Emmy-worthy performances, the undoubted star of the show is Juno Temple, who plays Dorothy “Dot” Lyon. Dot is a traditional Midwestern homemaker. She is married to Wayne Lyon (David Rhysdahl), and together they raise their tweenie daughter, Scotty (Sienna King). Wayne owns and operates a successful Kia dealership. Dot’s day is filled with cooking, cleaning, and attending Scotty’s PTA meetings. In many ways, the Lyons are a stereotypical Midwestern family. But we also discover Dot is concealing an atypical past. 

Dot has gone to great lengths to create a new persona and hide the trauma of her previous life. She is a survivor of domestic abuse, formerly married to Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm). Tillman is the elected sheriff of Minnesota and is the worst kind of authority figure; one whose ruthlessness and bigotry are scaffolded by a deluded brand of religion. The only thing more rigid than his cowboy hat is his view of male authority. The caricature is a bit heavy-handed but Hamm is brilliantly evil in his portrayal. He reaches Joffrey-esque levels of evil in his hatred-inducing scenes.

We learn that Dot’s previous name was Nadine Bump, and that she assumed the Dorothy/Dot alias after she escaped from Tillman’s violent subjugation. Tillman learns of her whereabouts and enlists a brooding juggernaut named Ole Munch, pronounced Oola Moonk (Sam Spruell), to kidnap Dot and bring her back to the Tillman Ranch, where retributive death certainly awaits. Dot fights back and takes off Munch’s ear in the process. She is more than a survivor; she’s “tiger,” as Ole calls her.


Ole Munch is a man fueled by a code: all debts must be paid. Because of this, Dot must also pay her debt. A pound of flesh for a pound of flesh, Munch reasons. It’s a personal code that persists due to a seemingly unquenchable need for penance in the form of perpetual self-reproach. The nature of his character is a bit of a mystery. He is shrouded in ageless ambiguity and supernatural underpinnings. In a former life, he had literally eaten the sins of the wealthy and is both an embodiment of debt and a stand-in representative of moral licentiousness and wanton chaos. Though his exact mortality is always in question, the thrust of his narrative arc is anything but ambiguous. He is a placeholder for humanity’s need for forgiveness and redemption. 

(WARNING: Spoilers from this point on)

Munch’s mission in this show is to complete his given task and exact a reckoning on Dot. But in the season finale, Munch’s vendetta is all but forgotten as the main conflict between Dot and Tillman takes center stage. Dot and Tillman square off at his compound, ending in a bloody climactic firefight and with Tillman in handcuffs.

With the apparent conflict of the season resolved, and the episode winding down, we settle in with the Lyons at their home. It’s dinnertime. Wayne’s making chili. Dot and Scotty are in charge of the biscuits. With Tillman in prison and the Lyon family reunited, we expect to see a happily-ever-after endscene. We are jolted, however, when we see Munch in the Lyon residence, ready to fulfill his sworn duty to collect on Dot’s debt. 

“Every debt must be paid.” Munch declares in his enunciated tone. His words are slow, measured, and methodical.

“Why?” questions Dot. “Why must debt be paid?... Isn’t the better thing, the more humane thing, to say that debt should be forgiven? Isn't that who we should be?”

Dot then presents Munch with a flippant ultimatum. “Whatever it is you think you came here for, we’re halfway to supper…and it’s a school night. So either you wash your hands and help, or we do this another time.” 

Because, of course, it’s chili night.

Caught off guard and swept away by the Lyons’ Minnesotan dinner routine, Munch acquiesces and begins to wash his hands. Amid the hustle and bustle of dinner prep, he attempts to explain his code. 

“A man…” 

Wayne interrupts mid-sentence, “You know I was thinking, I might have a beer. What do you think?”

Munch furrows his eyebrows and lumbers ahead, “...has a code. He has a code, and the code…” 

This time Scotty interrupts him with a tap on the shoulder. “You’re in the way.”

Munch, interrupted once again, moves out of Scotty’s way and continues, “...the code is ev-”But before he could say “everything,” Wayne hands him a beer. “Here you go.”

Dot continues to interrupt. “I’m gonna tell you a secret,” pointing to the box of Bisquick. “It says to use water, but I use milk. Even better, buttermilk.” She pulls out a measuring cup and hands it to Munch, while Scotty shows him the “1-cup” marking on the measuring cup. “So go ahead and measure out a cup.”

This is a magical scene. For those who have spent any amount of time in Minnesota, this is the quintessential Minnesota-nice at its hospitable finest. Munch is profoundly confused as he kneads the Bisquick dough. Each time he attempts to explain his process of reckoning, he is interrupted by the Lyon family, and with each little interruption a transformation takes place. Hate and stoic coldness begin to give way under the warmth of the Lyon family who have kneaded him into their dinner liturgy. When the preparations are completed, they all sit together and Dot presents Munch with a drop biscuit that he made, “You wanna know the cure [to your sin]? You gotta eat something made with love, and joy, and be forgiven.”

Munch eats. 

Bread is broken. 

An overwhelming smile appears on Munch’s face as the final scene cuts to credits and, for the viewers, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Fargo season 5 tells a violent story but violence is not the end. Rather, it ends with the Eucharist. Where many of us have been programmed to expect the worst, portraying this very familiar means of grace leaves us surprised and humbled because it’s the way grace usually meets us in real life. Unexpectedly. And often around a table.

As the credits roll, the conscientious viewer recognizes the embedded gospel message that Season 5 of Fargo has shown us: rebellion, abandonment, penance, redemption, and forgiveness are all there for us if we can stomach the graphic nature of the show—and of our own lives too.

In the end, this show makes us scream “Hallelujah!” In part because its artistic quality is top-notch, partly because they didn't tell us the gospel, they showed us, and partly because, well, we love seeing ourselves on TV.


Daniel Jung is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary and a teaching elder in the Korean Northwest Presbytery. He lives in Northern California, where he serves as an associate pastor at Home of Christ in Cupertino. In his spare time, Daniel loves the 49ers, good coffee, and writing media reviews for Think Christian. You can find more of his work here.


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