Why Fargo Season 5 is Fixated on The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is Halloween! This is also Fargo season 5's obsession with a stop-motion animated classic.

"FARGO" -- "Insolubilia" -- Year 5, Episode 4 (Airs December 5) Pictured: Joe Keery as Gator Tillman.
Photo: Michelle Faye | FX

This article contains spoilers for FARGO season 5 episode 4.

Something festive, something spooky, something downright oogie boogie has been lurking around Fargo season 5 since its very first scene.

Flash back, if you will, to the opening moments of episode 1 “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The viewer is immediately thrust into chaos. Punches are being thrown at a meeting of the Fall Festival Planning Committee in Scandia Middle School. Look past the melee of writhing white Midwesterners towards to stage and what do you see? That’s right: crude plywood renderings of the iconic landscapes from the 1993 animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Later on, as Dorothy Lyon (Juno Temple) is being escorted out of the school, we see two Nightmare Before Christmas posters, confirming it as Scandia Middle School’s fall show.

Now, at the beginning of episode 4 “Insolubilia,” Fargo season 5 kicks its Nightmare Before Christmas appreciation up a notch. Not only does the Lyon family have a Jack Skellington decoration outside of their home, but when Gator Tillman (Joe Keery) and his goons come to kidnap Dot, they are all wearing Nightmare Before Christmas masks. Gator, naturally, is Jack Skellington. His partners are the Mayor of Halloween Town, Lock, and Stock. Though Gator and company don’t accomplish their central mission, it can’t be said they don’t look fantastically authentic in the attempt.

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“We asked [Fargo creator Noah Hawley] and apparently he called and got all the rights to [The Nightmare Before Christmas],” Wayne Lyon actor David Rysdahl tells Den of Geek.

But why, exactly? Premiering in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas follows Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, as he discovers and then plots to take over Christmas Town. The Henry Selick-directed stop-motion animated feature is an aesthetic masterpiece and a mainstay of both the Halloween and Christmas seasons.

Fargo is far from the first story to be inspired by the film, but it is one of the stranger thematic fits. At first glance, there’s nothing about Fargo season 5’s debt-filled trip into the American psyche that fits with Jack Skellington’s arc, aside from its Halloween 2019 timeframe. According to some of the actors involved, however, the two properties have more in common than you’d think.

“To me, this season is a fever dream of Americana,” Rysdahl says. “We always call it the American dream but the American dream is riddled with debt and is a nightmare now. Like the world of Nightmare Before Christmas. This idea of a nightmare American dream, for me that’s how I made sense of it.”

Dave Foley, who plays the Lyon family attorney Danish Graves, concurs.

“There’s definitely that sense of duality that Nightmare Before Christmas contains – the notion of haunted and dark characters wanting to take on the roles of Christmas,” he says. “All of our characters, especially our central character Dot, have this strong duality. That movie is about the dual nature of human beings. This season is very much about that.”

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Fargo, both the Coen Brothers 1996 film and the FX series inspired by it, has always celebrated odd dichotomies. In Fargo, evil is real. Or at least the kind of banal evil that can reside within the greedy human heart is real. And that evil coexists alongside a very simple, folksy Midwestern goodness that can effortlessly dispatch that evil on its way to the next local fish fry. It’s light and dark, good and bad, yin and yang. But most importantly … most Americanly, it’s Halloween and Christmas.

Fargo season 5 understands the interplay between the two major American holidays so well that it might even have snuck two other Christmas movies into its Halloween-set fourth episode. What is Dot Lyon’s boobytrapping of her house if not a classic Home Alone scenario? And one invader being dispatched via an unfolding attic door is right out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The question then isn’t ‘why is Fargo so fixated on The Nightmare Before Christmas?’ It’s ‘why did it take it this long to realize it should be?’

New episodes of Fargo season 5 premiere Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX and stream on Hulu the next day.