The 1996 film took place in Minneapolis and Brainerd; Season 1 set up shop in Bemidji and Duluth; Season 2 spread out across Luverne, Fargo, and Sioux Falls. Now, Season 3 of Fargo will take viewers on a tour of St. Cloud. But is St. Cloud a real town in Minnesota? It's often difficult to separate fact from fiction in a show that begins every episode by insisting it's "based on a true story." But this Midwestern town is one thing that showrunner Noah Hawley (Legion) isn't making up.
With 66,300 residents as of the 2015 census estimates, St. Cloud is the tenth largest city in the state of Minnesota — and the largest in the vast central region of the state. But how did it get so lucky as to be chosen for the majority of the action on the third season of a critically acclaimed FX anthology series? "I'd like to say that there was a science to it, but it's more of just an instinctual process," Hawley said on NPR's Fargo-themed podcast Aw Jeez last June, when discussing how he picks the locations for each season.
Ultimately, his selection of St. Cloud came down to a simple matter of geography; the upcoming season actually splits its time between St. Cloud and a nearby small town called Eden Valley. "I wanted a city setting," Hawley tells reporters in a conference call ahead of the Season 3 premiere, "and one that was also close enough in proximity [to Eden Valley] that you could see Gloria [Burgle, Carrie Coon's character] driving up to check in." (The two towns are about a 40-minute drive apart.)
Hawley says that the cities' closeness was a key component of the season. "We're not as spread out, obviously, as the second year," he says, "where we had Kansas City, we had Fargo, we had a bunch of places around the region in South Dakota. This year, we are more stuck in a triangle of close proximity. And that intimacy, I think, is nice for the story."
However, if you're from the St. Cloud area, don't expect to see a lot of familiar sights when you tune in to Season 3. The episodes were actually filmed in Calgary, with the snowy Canadian landscape standing in for Minnesota.
Ultimately, Hawley claims that the integrity of the show's atmosphere and tone is more important than the accuracy of its setting. "The job I've been given is not to recreate Minnesota as it exists, but to recreate it as it existed in [the 1996] movie," he told Aw Jeez, "which I always saw as a very respectful portrait with a certain comic aspect to it."
In that regard, Fargo has been remarkably faithful to its source material… even if it has to fudge the real-life details a little bit.