In the winter of 1987, Jerry Lundegaard, the sales manager at an Oldsmobile dealership in Minneapolis, is desperate for money. He floats a $320,000 Ally Financial loan, which he collateralizes with nonexistent vehicles and is unable to pay back. On the advice of the dealership mechanic (and paroled ex-convict) Shep Proudfoot, Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota, and hires small-time cons Gaear Grimsrud and Carl Showalter to kidnap his wife, Jean, and extort a ransom from his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson. Payment would be a new car, and half of the $80,000 ransom. Jerry Lundegaard's inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen's bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson.