Instead of going with the typical fedora-wearing P.I. swilling booze in a seedy downtown office, the Coens create Marge Gunderson: a super-preggo police chief who's better at her job than 90% of fictional detectives.
Played by Frances McDormand, Marge is the ray of sanity and goodness in the bleak landscape of murder and betrayal gone horribly wrong. In our humble opinion, Marge is one of the most unforgettable movie characters ever created. She's a smart, no-nonsense professional who never loses her cool… unlike the crazy, impulsive criminals she's chasing.
Marge has a happy home life with her hubby Norm and spends her free time scarfing down Arby's with Norm, going to all-you-can-eat buffets, and watching TV in bed. (Her prodigious pregnant appetite is a running joke in the movie.) It's a pretty conventional life, besides the fact that she's running down some pretty brutal killers.
Here's a weird thing, though: we don't meet Marge until more than thirty minutes into the movie. Jerry's kidnapping scheme has already gone south, and Carl and Gaear have left three dead bodies outside Marge's hometown of Brainerd. It's the discovery of those Brainerd bodies that introduces us to the oh-so-lovable Marge.
She quickly sets about unraveling the case—talking to sex workers who slept with the culprits, interviewing Shep Proudfoot and Jerry in Minneapolis, having dinner with a definitely insane-o former classmate (well, that's a digression), identifying Jerry as someone who's definitely involved, and finally arresting Gaear as he disposes of Carl's body. She's relentless—you betcha.
Marge defies the stereotype of the movie police chief. She's a small-town cop, she's a woman, she's pregnant, and she's unfailingly polite. (Sorry, other police chiefs of the world.) But after we see her lumber out of bed and eat breakfast, we learn that she's a crack investigator. After arriving on the crime scene, she figures out the basics of what went down in about thirty seconds.
MARGE: Okay, so we got a state trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting, and these folks drive by, and we got a high-speed pursuit, ends here, and this execution-type deal.
MARGE: I'd be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd.
MARGE :Yah. And I'll tell you what, from his footprints he looks like a big fella.
You can always see the wheels quietly turning when Marge gets information. And she's pretty relentless when she senses something just isn't right. She goes back to interview Jerry a second time about the missing Ciera and see that Jerry's getting pretty defensive:
MARGE: So how do you - have you done any kind of inventory recently?
JERRY: The car's not from our lot, ma'am.
MARGE: But do you know that for sure without –
JERRY: Well, I would know. I'm the Executive Sales Manager.
MARGE: Yah, but –
JERRY We run a pretty tight ship here.
MARGE: I know, but - well, how do you establish that, sir? Are the cars, uh, counted daily or what kind of –
JERRY: [loudly] Ma'am, I answered your question.
[Marge looks intently at Jerry.]
MARGE: ... I'm sorry, sir?
JERRY: Ma'am, I answered your question. I answered the darn - I'm cooperating here, and I...
MARGE: Sir, you have no call to get snippy with me. I'm just doin' my job here.
That kind of seals the deal. Jerry knows Marge is onto him, and he takes off.
Back to those stereotypes… you might think that Marge, being pregnant and all, might want to avoid dealing with potential nastiness. You'd be wrong. For instance, she doesn't back down when dealing with the ominous looking Shep Proudfoot, the guy who helped Jerry set up the kidnapping.
MARGE Well, Mr. Proudfoot, this call came in past three in the morning. It's just hard for me to believe you can't remember anyone calling.
[Shep says nothing.]
MARGE: Now, I know you've had some problems, struggling with the narcotics, some other entanglements, currently on parole –
MARGE: Well, associating with criminals, if you're the one they talked to, that right there would be a violation of your parole and would end with you back in Stillwater.
MARGE: Now, I saw some rough stuff on your priors, but nothing in the nature of a homicide...
[Shep stares at her.]
MARGE: I know you don't want to be an accessory to something like that.
MARGE: So you think you might remember who those folks were who called ya?
Marge also doesn't hesitate to approach Gaear while he's busy cramming Carl's body parts into a wood chipper. She calls for backup, but that doesn't come until well after she shoots him in the leg, arrests him, and somehow manages to get him into her cruiser. She doesn't seem physically strong enough to drag him in there herself—he's a huge guy—so we assume there was something about Marge that got him to cooperate. Sure, he was wounded, but he could've tried to grab her gun—he's a pretty bloodthirsty dude.
But that's our Marge: she's a force to be reckoned with.
Marge is written as a typical Minnesota type: very understated, always polite, and respectful even when dealing with criminals (like in that exchange with Shep Proudfoot). We never really see her express strong emotion, even in highly charged situations.
She's affectionate with Norm but never gushes and never loses her cool. She seems confident in her ability to handle situations without reporting to threats or raising her voice. At one point she needs to correct Lou, one of her officers, about a pretty dumb mistake he's just made:
LOU: Under the plate number he put DLR - I figure they stopped him or shot him before he could finish fillin' out the tag number.
LOU: So I got the state lookin' for a Ciera with a tag startin' DLR. They don't got no match yet.
MARGE: I'm not sure I agree with you a hunnert percent on your policework, there, Lou.
MARGE: Yah, I think that vehicle there probly had dealer plates. DLR?
Lou gazes out the window, thinking.
LOU: ... Geez.
MARGE: Yah. Say, Lou, ya hear the one about the guy who couldn't afford personalized plates, so he went and changed his name to J2L 4685?
It's not like Marge to say "Don't be an idiot, Lou." She corrects him gently and when she sees he's embarrassed, she changes the subject with a joke. This makes Marge one of the best bosses we've ever seen… especially in movies about cops and homicide.
The same thing happens with her nutty old high school friend, Mike Yanagita, who she meets for a drink when he's in town. Mike's always had a crush on Marge, and while they're talking, he slides out of his seat and sits next to Marge on her side of the booth.
MARGE: No, I - Mike – why doncha sit over there? I'd prefer that.
MIKE: Huh? Oh, okay, I'm sorry.
MARGE: No, just so I can see ya, ya know. Don't have to turn my neck.
MIKE: Oh, sure, I understand, I didn't mean to –
MARGE: No, no, that's fine.
Marge tries to spare Mike's feelings, but she still stands her ground and doesn't let him get too close. This combination of firmness and politeness is one of her most striking qualities. She's not just a people-pleaser, like lots of polite folks, but she sees no purpose in humiliating anyone.
Sometimes her expression is hard to read—after she's rebuffed Mike, for example, or when she's looking at Jerry as he's getting more and more freaked out during their interview. All this composure and self-control is really useful to her in her work, because it's hard to second-guess her. Not that she's not intense about her work—the most excited we see Marge get is when she spots the tan Ciera outside the cabin on Moose Lake and knows she's found the bad guys.
When not engaging in her heroic course of action, Marge hangs out with Norm, mainly eating and watching TV in bed. They have a strong and supportive marriage—it looks super-cozy, and Marge always makes Norm feel important. For instance, when Norm doesn't win the prize he wanted with his postage-stamp art, Marge consoles him and finds the sunny side:
NORM: Hautman's blue-winged teal got the twenty-nine cent. People don't much use the three-cent.
MARGE: Oh, for Pete's sake, of course they do! Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.
Here's a very telling detail: when Marge is awakened and told about the three murders, Norm, makes sure he makes her a hot breakfast. Marge bundles up and heads out the door to the crime scene, but a few seconds later, she's back in the house. She tells Norm, "The prowler needs a jump," and Norm (being the sweetiepie that he is), comes out and helps her start her police cruiser in freezing Minnesota weather.
Not only is Marge is a stand-up individual, but she's also content. She's not unduly self-conscious: she's happy eating Arby's, she's a sound sleeper, and she loves her husband. You couldn't say she necessarily changes throughout the movie—she's basically the same nice person she was at the beginning, although she's successfully resolved a gruesome case and had to shoot somebody. (Change is reserved for the bad guys, who typically end up dying or getting arrested.)
Marge is buoyed along by her positive philosophy and her willingness to embrace her simple life. Unlike people who are craving things they can't have—running into debt like Jerry, or stalking people like Mike Yanagita—Marge is pretty satisfied with her life. She expresses this at the end, when she tells Gaear, who's sitting impassively in the back of the cruiser:
MARGE: So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it.
Marge is a decent person thrown into a very, very indecent situation. One reviewer described it as if Andy of Mayberry accidentally drove his police car into the Kansas of In Cold Blood. While greed, bad judgment, murderous rage, narcissism, and deceit swirl around like Minnesota snowflakes, Marge grounds the movie. She doesn't have to abandon her small-town values in order to deal with this corrupt world. She can witness a man shoving his partner through a woodchipper and still maintain that it's a beautiful day.
Marge is the moral center of the film, even though she's not trying to be. She's just decent, calm, kind, focused, honest, and levelheaded; she's everything that Jerry, Wade, Carl, Gaear, and Shep aren't. Her marriage to Norm is in stark contrast to Jerry's callous indifference to his wife. She listens while the others spout off. She's not driven by greed or dissatisfaction. She is content.
And that's not too bad.
Jerry Lundegaard is… a total wreck. There's honestly no other way to put it. (Unless we were to call him a spineless total wreck.)
Dude's a sales manager at his father-in-law's Oldsmobile dealership. He's not making a ton of money and subject to his father-in-law's dismissive and distant attitude. He's in a heap of trouble.
Although we don't know the specific nature of his problem, Jerry's drowning in debt of some kind. He's already tried to solve the problem by embezzling $320,000 from the dealership by taking loans on non-existent cars. In order to pay it off, he has the genius idea of hiring someone to kidnap his wife, so he can get his hands on the ransom money his wealthy father-in-law, Wade, will undoubtedly pay.
Unbeknownst to the kidnappers, Jerry actually asks Wade for a cool million while telling his co-conspirators that the ransom will just be $80,000. He's swindling everyone. Things start to fall apart when the kidnappers end up murdering a state trooper and some witnesses. The police eventually close in on Jerry, who had the bright idea to steal a car from his own dealership to give to the kidnappers. Jerry ends up getting his wife killed, getting Wade killed, and ruining his son Scotty's life. Finally, the police catch him at a motel as he's trying to run away. In his underwear.
Like we said: a total wreck.
Just about everything Jerry tries to do is wrong. He cheats a customer into paying for an option he didn't agree to… and can't even pull that off convincingly. He thinks he can talk his father-in-law into loaning him $750,000. He's totally out of his league when it comes to serious crime.
His kidnapping plan is riddled with flaws. First of all, he doesn't even know the kidnappers; he has a very shady character find them—a shady character who works for the same dealership. Secondly, the plan involves stealing a car from his own lot to pay off the kidnappers, and we know that he's already in a lot of trouble with GMAC about the loans for missing cars. And thirdly, he has no way of getting in touch with the kidnappers when at one point he thinks he should call off the scheme.
When Carl calls to tell him that things have gotten more "complicated" (translation: they killed three people), what's he concerned about? The money, of course.
CARL: Look. I'm not gonna debate you, Jerry. The price is now the whole amount. We want the entire eighty thousand.
JERRY: Oh, for Chrissakes here –
CARL: Blood has been shed. We've incurred risks, Jerry. I'm coming into town tomorrow. Have the money ready.
JERRY: Now we had a deal here! A deal's a deal!
CARL: Is it, Jerry? You ask those three pour souls up in Brainerd if a deal's a deal! Go ahead, ask 'em!
JERRY: ... The heck d'ya mean?
No sooner does he hang up with Carl, than Reilly Diefenbach from the GMAC loan company calls to pressure him about those loans. He can't even manage to lie about it that well. And he's totally transparent and defensive when Marge comes to interview him about the stolen Ciera. His smile looks frozen on his face, and he won't answer her questions. During Marge's second visit, he eventually freaks out, jumps into a car, and takes off. That pretty much seals his fate.
Any judgment that Jerry had (and we doubt it was very much) goes down the drain because of his desperate need for money. As he tells Carl, while refusing to explain why he needs it:
JERRY: Well, that's... that's... I'm not going into, into... see, I just need money. Now, her dad's real well off.
But we don't completely hate Jerry; he's just too pathetic. We can even empathize with his desperation, if not with his stupidity and utterly mindless disregard for his wife's wellbeing. There's something slightly touching about his ability to keep trying to make things right, when they're obviously on the verge of plummeting into chaos.
Jerry's family life isn't the greatest. He's dependent on his narcissistic father-in-law for a job, and Wade clearly doesn't like him all that much. We don't learn much about his relationship with Jean, but whatever it is, he's decided to turn her into his own personal fundraiser, putting her life at risk in the process.
He actually thinks his plan can go down without anything bad happening. (As if the act of being kidnapped in a home invasion isn't anything bad, just as long as she's returned to her family.) He has to turn Jean into an object and ignore the suffering she'll experience in order to carry out this plan.
When the kidnapping actually takes place, Jerry's so preoccupied with how to tell Wade and procure the money that he completely forgets about his son, who's at home terrified about what happened to his mom.
STAN: Okay. And Scotty, is he gonna be all right?
JERRY: Yeah, geez, Scotty. I'll go talk to him.
Geez. Once he does talk to Scotty, he tries his best to be reassuring until Scotty makes a sensible suggestion: they should call the cops. At that point, the lies start:
SCOTT: Dad, I really think we should call the cops.
JERRY: No! We can't let anyone know about this thing! We gotta play ball with these guys - you ask Stan Grossman, he'll tell ya the same thing.
SCOTT: Yeah, but -
JERRY: We're gonna get Mom back for ya, but we gotta play ball. Ya know, that's the deal. So if Lorraine calls, or Sylvia, you just say that Mom's down in Florida with Pearl and Marty. That's the best we can do here.
That's the best he can do? Pretty sad.
Jerry's definitely a lost soul. It's hard to really get a read on his psychology too, since the Coens won't let us know his true motives for doing what he's doing. There's nothing he can really rely on in his life; there's no moment of possible salvation for him, no point at which he can reverse course.
He doesn't even know it, but as soon as he set his course of action at the beginning, hiring Carl and Gaear, he's sealed his—and his family's—own doom.
Carl Showalter's part of a crazy criminal duo. He's an accident waiting to happen, He's a ticking time bomb.
Played by Steve Buscemi—in a role written expressly for him—Carl's a talkative, irritable, and fundamentally incompetent criminal. Carl thinks he's smart and sophisticated, but he makes some pretty ridiculous moves: committing the initial kidnapping in a moronic way, forgetting to put tags on his car, trying to bribe the state trooper who pulls him over, hiding the money-filled suitcase in a snow-covered field with a tiny windshield scraper to mark it… we could go on and on.
Carl's written as a small-time criminal who likes to impress prostitutes and act like a smart tough guy. He's in way over his head when he gets involved with someone like Gaear, who doesn't think twice about killing anyone in his way, including Carl. He's shaken up when Gaear shoots the state trooper—we get the impression that this really isn't his thing. In fact, when the trooper pulls him over, he says to Jean, covered up in the back seat:
CARL: Let's keep still back there, lady, or we're gonna have to, ya know, to shoot you.
At this point, it doesn't sound like he has any intention to shoot her. He pauses at "ya know" as if he's trying to make up something to say. Carl ends up killing two people in a rage anyway.
Carl's a hothead. Here he is at his most typical, yelling at Gaear after Gaear wants to eat pancakes for lunch:
CARL: What are ya nuts? We had pancakes for breakfast. I want to go somewhere I can get a shot and a beer, and a steak, maybe. No more f***in' pancakes, c'mon man. C'mon man! Okay here's an idea. We'll stop outside of Brainerd. I know a place there we can get laid. What do ya think?
He also can't resist mixing it up with the parking lot attendant, who charges him for parking even though he went quickly in and out of the lot:
ATTENDANT: I'm sorry, sir, we do have to charge you the four dollars.
CARL: I just pulled in here. I just f***ing pulled in here!
ATTENDANT: Well, see, there's a minimum charge of four dollars. Long-term parking charges by the day.
CARL: I guess you think, ya know, you're an authority figure. With that stupid f***ing uniform. Huh, buddy?... King Clip-on Tie here. Big f***ing man.
Carl's temper has been building up since the murder of the trooper. His calls with Jerry just push him to the breaking point. When he finally sees that Wade has shown up with the ransom money instead of Jerry, he totally loses it. He has no idea how to deal with this unexpected turn of events.
CARL: Who the f*** are you? Who the f*** are you?
WADE: I got your goddamn money, you little punk. Now where's my daughter?
CARL: I am through f***ing around! Drop that f***ing briefcase!
WADE: Where's my daughter?
CARL: F*** you, man! Where's Jerry? I gave SIMPLE FUCKING INSTRUCTIONS –
WADE: Where's my damn daughter? No Jean, no money!
CARL: Drop that f***ing money!
WADE: No Jean, no money!
CARL: Is this a f***ing joke here? [He pulls out a gun and fires into Wade's gut.] Is this a f***ing joke?
Carl grabs the million dollars, tears out of the parking garage, and kills the attendant just for good measure. He really thinks this is all working out pretty well, except for the fact that Wade shot him in the face. He's still worked up when he gets back to the cabin, and he picks a fight with Gaear. We all know how that works out for him.
His volatile personality is his ultimate undoing. And by "undoing," we mean getting chipped up into itty-bitty pieces.
Carl even takes out his aggression on the TV at their lakefront hideout. (But honestly, can you blame him? That reception was terrible.)
Carl is like Jerry in that he doesn't think things through. He's not acting like a guy who's trying to keep a low profile. When Jerry offers him the kidnapping job, Carl starts to entertain some logical doubts, like—why does Jerry need this money?—but he plunges in anyway.
After he and Gaear agree to the gig, they promptly start by leaving a trail of evidence, sleeping with prostitutes at a motel, hinting at their criminal history with a bartender, staging the kidnap in a ridiculous way, and then murdering three people including a state trooper.
When Carl finally gets his hands on Wade's money, he hides it in a totally idiotic way, burying it in the middle of snowy, featureless expanse, with a tiny windshield scraper to mark the place. The scene practically screams "There's no way he'll be back for this money."
Then, after returning to the hideout, he flips out at Gaear about how to split the value of the Ciera, prompting Gaear to kill him with an ax and dispose of his corpse in a wood chipper. Greed and a hot temper are what get Carl in the end. Even without the Ciera, Gaear would've probably killed him just for being noisy… like Jean.
Carl's a classic sociopath—no empathy at all. One of the most disturbing scenes in the movie is when the kidnappers bring Jean to the hideout and she tries, with a hood over her head, to run away. As she staggers around in confusion and terror, Gaear goes to get her and bring her inside, but Carl stops him.
He's getting a kick out of the scene and lets her stumble around a bit more while he watches and laughs. This is one of the few moments he feels in control; Jean's tied up and hooded and completely helpless. After he finds out Gaear killed Jean, he's too upset about his own injury and the money to care.
Gaear Grimsrud's a difficult character to understand, in part because he says so little… and in part because he's such a stone-cold sociopath.
Unlike his partner and foil, Carl, Gaear's almost mute, rarely speaking in full sentences. He's got eighteen lines in the whole film. We know he's a antifreeze-blooded murderer—he kills four people without seeming to give it a second thought. But right after the fourth murder, and with the victim's body a few feet away, he almost drops his TV dinner when a soap opera character announces that she's pregnant. What's going on in his head?
The Coens milk a lot of dark comedy from Gaear's weird personality. For example, when he and Carl are in the process of kidnapping Jean Lundegaard, she bites Gaear on the hand. Gaear screams the last thing we might expect him to scream: "I need unguent!" He feverishly rifles through the Lundegaard's medicine cabinet, until Jean jumps out of the shower behind him. There's also that way-too-insistent interest in pancakes—he's like some sick version of Cookie Monster.
Another facet of Gaear's personality is how casually he commits murder. He thinks nothing of shooting a state trooper in the head or murdering two innocent people who happen to drive by. He kills Jean simply for being "too noisy," and murders Carl with an ax for complaining about the Ciera deal.
He calmly feeds Carl's dismembered body through a wood chipper, hitting his sock-covered foot with a block of wood to make it go in quicker. He's a man who knows how to get things done. Yet despite all this horror, there's something oddly child-like about Gaear. We get the sense that he might be too dull or too damaged to really comprehend anything he's doing.
In a way, the kind of evil Gaear represents is the total opposite of that represented by Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. Chigurh's almost like some metaphysically evil being, seemingly invincible, in total control, very intelligent. He's efficiently doing a job he's hired to do, and likes to have philosophical discussions with his potential victims.
Gaear, by contrast, is primitive; he does evil things because he's ignorant and limited. His bad deeds emerge from a defect inside him, in his makeup, and aren't part of some crafty, super-villainous design. But that vacant stare is definitely terrifying. You gotta wonder what it was that Shep Proudfoot was vouching for when he vouched for Gaear.
For a play-by-play of Gaear's actions, check out Carl's timeline.
Even though Jean Lundegaard is technically the focus of the film's crisis, she gets surprisingly short shrift from everybody else. Her husband, Jerry, apparently never considers her wellbeing, and lets her get kidnapped in order to pay off some unknown debt he owes. And her kidnappers quickly stop considering her as a person, eventually murdering her just for being too loud.
Really, the only people who cares are her son and father, Wade. Wade dies attempting to pay the ransom for her.
But Jean seems nice enough—she's a responsible parent and wife. She's just a needless casualty of other people's stupidity. The Coens actually said that they intentionally minimized Jean as a character after her kidnapping, to illustrate how little the criminals (and by extension, Jerry) care about her as a person. No one is going to help her or comfort her or develop a rapport with her—she's just a person tied to a chair with a bag over her head… until Gaear kills her for being "too noisy."
The scenes of the kidnapping are horrifying—Jean is terrified and terrorized. But he viewer is kept at a distance from her terror, though, because we know so little about her and the directors haven't provided us with any emotional connection. It's not until Jerry returns home to his empty house with its shattered glass doors that we realize what a sickening thing has just happened.
Wade Gustafson is a dominating presence: a wealthy, arrogant guy who owns the car dealership where Jerry, his son-in-law, works. We get the impression that Wade doesn't like or respect Jerry… and doesn't hesitate to humiliate him.
He doesn't see why he should loan Jerry the money for the real estate deal and cuts him out of the deal altogether when Jerry protests. Compared to Wade, Jerry's a sweetheart.
Wade's a self-important guy who's used to being in control and getting what he wants. He's not going to leave the ransoming business to the bumbling Jerry; it's his money, and he'll deliver it himself. He figures he'll show up and intimidate the punk who's kidnapped his beloved daughter, and that will be that.
He can't possibly know that his usual M.O. isn't going to work this time. Carl, just coming off a serious beating from Shep Proudfoot, is in no mood to negotiate. He's too agitated to be intimidated. He sees this arrogant, confident guy as a "f***in' joke," and shoots him.
Just as the Coens spend little time getting the audience to sympathize with the terrified Jean, they don't seem all that interested in getting us to feel sorry for Wade. In reality, he's a distraught father willing to do anything to get his daughter back and get revenge on her kidnappers. But to Carl, he's just another annoying complication.
To the viewers, he's just an obnoxious, pushy guy who can't imagine that anyone wouldn't do what he demands. That swaggering confidence does him in—at least he gets a shot off before he dies.
Norm Gunderson is Marge's husband. Every time we see him with Marge—actually every time we see him in the film—he's either eating with her or watching TV in bed with her.
But this is a vision of domestic bliss: Marge and Norm root for each other and help each other out. Marge brings Norm a bag of worms for ice-fishing bait, and encourages him when his painting of mallard ducks only makes it onto the 3-cent stamp in a competition when another artist got the 29-cent. Norm supports Marge in her police work, as well, making sure she eats…and eats…and eats. He's quiet but very attentive to her.
NORM: I'll fix ya some eggs.
MARGE: That's okay, hon. I gotta run.
NORM: Gotta eat a breakfast, Marge. I'll fix ya some eggs.
MARGE: Aw, you can sleep, hon.
NORM: Ya gotta eat a breakfast. I'll fix ya some eggs.
MARGE: Aw, Norm.
The Coens had this to say about Norm:
Joel Coen: We were intrigued from the moment we started casting by the notion of very simple interplay between them and by the impassive expression of John Caroll Lynch, which seemed to suit the tone of the film perfectly.
Ethan Coen: He is the perfect incarnation of the undemonstrative personality of people from that region. The relations between husband and wife are based on what is not said, and yet they succeed nevertheless in communicating in some sense.
Norm seems to be employed as an amateur nature artist in the film, but is mostly a househusband. When the Coens started writing the film, they asked McDormand and Lynch to come up with a backstory for the characters. They decided that Norm used to be a cop as well, but when Marge got pregnant, they decided that only one of them should stay on the force. Since Marge was the better officer, Norm quit to stay home.
It's hard to get to know Norm because he doesn't say much, and is very undemonstrative. But from what we know about Marge, we trust that she's picked a solid guy. And you have to respect a man who can gaze into a bag of night crawlers and not let it interfere with lunch.
Played by Tony Denman, Scotty is the accordion-playing son of Jerry Lundegaard (we never actually see him playing accordion, but there's one in his room along with an "Accordion King" poster, featuring some dude who looks like a Swiss yodeler).
He appears to be about middle school or high school age, and his parents won't let him go out for the hockey team, to his consternation, because his grades aren't up to par. He's a little foul-mouthed, too. Naturally, he's pretty sad and worried after his mother gets kidnapped, and his dad tries to comfort him while explaining why they can't go to the police.
Scotty goes out to hang with his friends at McDonald's, which his grandfather thinks is a screen for some sort of devious, anti-social behavior. Overall, he doesn't appear to be such a bad kid though. It's disturbing to watch Jerry lie through his teeth to this terrified kid whose mom has just been kidnapped.
Shep Native American man who works as a mechanic at Wade's dealership—but he's also an ex-con with criminal connections. He's the guy who helps put Jerry in contact with Carl and Gaear in the first place, facilitating the kidnapping deal.
After Marge tracks him down and asks him to cooperate, politely suggesting that he might get sent back to prison in Stillwater if he refuses, Shep finds Carl and beats him viciously with a belt for leading the cops to him. Shep really loses it in this scene; he almost kills Carl. It's a shockingly violent scene. His previously emotionless demeanor totally breaks down.
Stan is a financial advisor to Wade Gustafson, who tells Wade that the real estate deal Jerry is bringing to them is actually a good one. However, they just want to give Jerry a "finder's fee" without letting him in on the actual deal itself.
Stan appears at other points in the film as well, discussing how to approach the kidnapping situation with Jerry and Wade. When talking with Scotty, Jerry justifies his decision not to call the police by saying that even Stan agrees with him. So Stan's seen as a sensible and smart guy by the family.
Yanagita shows up in one of the weirdest parts of the movie. As Ethan Coen noted, " It was certainly our intention while writing this sequence that it should be a digression."
While in Minneapolis, trying to crack the case, Marge meets up with Mike, an old friend from high school. Mike heard about her while watching TV news about the murders up in Brainerd. They eat dinner at the Radisson, where Mike ineptly tries to seduce her. He tells Marge he's working as an engineer at Honeywell, then claims that he's felt so lonely since his wife, Linda (who Marge also knew in high school) died:
MIKE: Yah, well, I, uh... it's not that it didn't work out... Linda had leukemia. She passed away.
However, Marge later discovers that Mike made all this up; he was never married to Linda, who's still very much alive but had to move away because Mike was stalking her. Mike apparently has psychiatric problems and is now living with his parents, according to a friend.
Why is this in the movie? Maybe the Coens just wanted to mess with people and have them debate. The bros themselves said it was just to give us a look at Marge's life outside of her job. Some critics believe that Marge's realization that she was tricked made her think that maybe Jerry was lying to her as well, and that's why she went to see him a second time.
Reilly is a GMAC employee who keeps phoning Jerry Lundegaard and asking him for serial numbers pertaining to cars that are supposedly being sold at the dealership. (GMAC was a finance company that provided auto loans.) At one point he says, "Yeah, but we have an audit here, I just have to know that these vehicles you're financing with this money, that they really exist." To which Jerry replies, unconvincingly, "Yah, well, they exist all right."
Jerry doesn't seem very confident when he says this, so it's likely that Jerry is scamming GMAC. Perhaps he's using the money for whatever debt he secretly owes, and is pretending to be financing the purchase of cars for the dealership to sell, when, in reality there are no cars.
At any rate, Reilly's polite but extremely persistent and firm in his demands. By the end of the movie, he says that if he doesn't get the serial numbers soon, he'll be forced to consult the legal department. By then, Jerry's already well on his way to being arrested for the kidnapping plot.
Officer Lou assists Marge in investigating the murders, showing up at the crime scene where Carl and Gaear have murdered the state trooper and the young couple who witnessed the crime. He brings Marge coffee to warm her up.
Lou isn't the brightest bulb on the force, and makes a pretty basic mistake in not realizing that a license plate starting with DLR is a dealer plate. Lou also helps track Gaear and Carl's trail to the Blue Ox Motel, and identifies the women they slept with.
He's a sweet guy, which is why Marge feels bad after she corrects him about the dealer plate thing. We're probably meant to think that he's the more typical small-town cop, compared to the smarter Chief Gundersen.