Fargo Season 2: A Who's Who of Strong and Sinister Characters (PHOTOS)

Oriana Schwindt
Fargo cast

Ice Hassles

Executive producer Noah Hawley had a high bar to clear when thinking up the second season of FX's tundra-bound anthology series Fargo. Instead of trying to duplicate the elements of the critically-acclaimed first installment, though, Hawley decided to spin the tale of the apocryphal 1979 Massacre at Sioux Falls—ostensibly, the story of how Lou Solverson, father of Season 1 hero cop Molly, got his limp.

But the second installment of Fargo is also a crime-story twist on the rise of Corporate America and the death of the Family Business, an examination of the societal fallout of the free-love 1960s and the Vietnam War and a darn-tootin' lot of dark fun thanks to a massive cast built from a list of everyone you've ever loved on TV. Here's our handy-dandy guide to who's who.

Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Fargo

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Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart)

Tougher and sharper than any nail, the Gerhardt family matriarch is trying to stave off a (very) hostile takeover from the Kansas City mafia while sorting out her troublesome sons. The Gerhardts have controlled the north from Fargo since just after the first World War, but freezing-cold hard cash and some nasty violence are starting to sway a few of the family's staunch allies. "Every empire has its life span—is this the middle or the end for the Gerhardts?" asks Hawley.

Jeffrey Donovan as Dodd Gerhardt, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

Dodd Gerhardt (Jeffrey Donovan)

The eldest surviving Gerhardt boy is champing at the bit to take over the family business: "He's fortysomething—if he doesn't take over now, it could pass him by," says Hawley. He's also a raging misogynist, and the thought of his mother negotiating with Kansas City works him into a bloody lather.

Angus Sampson as Bear Gerhardt, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson)

"Bear's a mama's boy," Hawley says. "He's comfortable where he is." Therefore, the middle Gerhardt brother will support Floyd's claim to the throne.

Kieran Culkin as Rye Gerhardt, Fargo

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Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin)

"If your boss yells at you, you go home and you kick the dog," says Hawley. "Rye's the dog." The chip-shouldered runt of the litter bears the brunt of Dodd's power tripping, though Dodd's anger isn't always undeserved.

Cristin Milioti as Betsy Solverson, Fargo

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Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti)

The daughter of a cop is bound to pick up a trick or two from her daddy, Hank Larson, and Betsy turns out to be quite the ace deductionist. Says Hawley, "This is as much the Molly Solverson Origin Story as it is anything else. You can very specifically see pieces, like from her mom and say, 'Oh, I see where she gets these very inventive leaps of reasoning, which is not the way you're trained to think." Unfortunately for Lou, little Molly, and dad Hank, her battle with cancer isn't going so well.

Ted Danson as Hank Larsson, Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson)

The Lou of 1979 is a Gen-yoo-ine Good Guy, the kind of action-hero cop who runs toward gunfire. But he's also weighed down by worries about his cancer-stricken wife and the war that seems to have followed him from Vietnam back to his hometown of Luverne, Minnesota.

In Season 1, Keith Carradine played the older Solverson. "When you look at Keith Carradine's performance, this is an older guy who's at peace with himself, and who has had the distance and the time from the events of his youth to go, 'All right, I understand what that all means now,'" says Hawley. "But there is an inherent quality that Patrick has that Keith also had in the role, which is that he's just a good guy. He's brave in a very unflashy way. And it's an archetype that the movie didn't have and we didn't have in our first year, which is a male protagonist who runs into danger."

Hank Larson (Ted Danson)

Hank, Lou's father-in-law, is another Good Man who finds himself struggling with the Vietnam War. "There's a great camaraderie with him and Lou, where Lou doesn't have to say much," says Hawley. "He can just say recipe cards and 'lit the soufflé on fire' and Hank can say, 'Yeah, you don't have to tell me, I've been living with her my whole life.'" In true Minnesotan fashion, though, the two aren't exactly spilling their guts about their shared fear of losing Betsy. "That doesn't mean they're cold people," Hawley cautions. "They don't want to embarrass each other; there's a dignity to it."

Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blomquist, Jesse Plemons as Ed Blomquist, Fargo

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Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst)

Beautician Peggy and her butcher husband Ed live a typical life in the same town as the Solversons, but their already-rocky marriage is about to get rockier after the events of the first episode. "Peggy and Ed want different things in life," says Dunst. "I think part of Peggy is happy staying in Minnesota, because it's what she's used to, but then the other part says, "I want to get out," and go be, you know, a celebrity hairdresser in California. But she doesn't have the tools to do that."

Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons)

Let's let Plemons fill you in: "Ed wants what his father had. At the time, people were just trying to get back to the American Dream and get beyond the war and the whole Watergate fiasco. What I really like about Ed is… I come from a small town, and it really can be that simple—it is that simple for Ed: A good life is working hard, being your own boss, marrying the woman you love, starting a family. Which is why things with Peggy get a little askew, he thought that was what she wanted as well."

Read more: Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons

Brad Garrett as Joe Bulo, Fargo

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Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett)

The scarily pragmatic Joe has been given the task of acquiring the Gerhardt territories for the Kansas City mafia any way he can. "You either buy 'em out or kill 'em dead," says Hawley. It's in the Kansas City-Gerhardt conflict that the Rise of Corporate America/Death of the Family Business theme is explored: "It's this idea that you branch out—you have an east coast branch and a west coast branch and eventually you take over the whole country and grow to be that Fortune 500 company, but in this case, it's about crime."

Bokeem Wodbine as Mike Milligan, Fargo

Chris Large/FX

Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine)

Brrrrr. Milligan is Joe's slightly sociopathic enforcer is cool as a frozen cucumber, and much more dangerous. "He sort of doesn't fit in anywhere," Hawley explains. "He's a very iconoclastic character, but the question becomes, 'Is there a place for an African-American man at that time the table?' Just as, is there a seat for Floyd at the table? Everyone was thinking, 'This is our time,' so I wanted to personify that struggle, even as we tell the story of these people."

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Fargo, Season premiere, Monday, Oct. 12, 10/9c, FX.