Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 of Fargo
Episode 7 of Fargo contained a number of big surprises, but it also contained a small surprise that only fans of Season 1 would have noticed. When Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is being transported to prison after being falsely arrested for the murder of her boyfriend/partner-in-crime Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), the man sitting next to her on the bus is none other than Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), the deaf hitman who, along with his partner Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg), was tasked with taking out Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in Season 1.
As fate would have it, Mr. Wrench and Nikki would turn out to be more than seat-mates. After the bus crash orchestrated by Yuri and Meemo, Nikki and Mr. Wrench escape into the woods but are chained together (the last time we saw Wrench in Season 1 he was also handcuffed, but he got away because Lorne Malvo gave him the key instead of killing him). Much of the action of Episode 8 centers on Nikki and Wrench as they try to get away from the assassins who are pursuing them, and there are all sorts of crazy and gruesome twists and turns along the way.
“This year I didn’t really see any other connection that would be possible. He’s such a great character, and Russell Harvard is such a great component of the show.”
Hawley said he drew inspiration from living in Austin:
“If you live in Austin, then you know we have a huge school for the deaf here. The idea originally came from wandering around this neighborhood and seeing sign language on a daily basis. It’s such a visual way of speaking.”
Mr. Wrench was a menacing character in Season 1, partly because of his being mute, and the way he used sometimes very simple sign language to convey certain things (a neck slash for instance, which doesn't require much interpretation). Having Wrench be deaf and unable to speak adds an extra dynamic to the scenes where he and Nikki are fleeing through the woods, and the fact that they so quickly learn to communicate actually turns out to be helpful when it seems they are about to get murdered, but manage to turn the tables on their would-be killers (in one of the show's most flat-out gruesome moments).
In addition to his appearances in Season 1 and Season 3, Wrench also showed up in Season 2 as a small boy (in the credits his name is given as Wes Wrench). In that Season 2 episode, Wrench and Numbers are playing in a park when some other boys start beating them up. The scene ends when Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon) rushes in to intervene on Wrench and Numbers' behalf, and speculation is that Hanzee afterward took the youngsters under his wing and taught them the ways of murder.
With all sorts of aesthetic and thematic connections already in place, the three seasons of Fargo really don't need a bunch of criss-crossing characters and storylines in order to feel like they take place in the same universe. Noah Hawley has always endeavored to avoid creating artificial connections between the seasons, but with the Mr. Wrench's retu, n he picked a good spot for a direct call-back.