Jerry Lundegaard, who works in his father-in-law's car dealership, is an inept character who has gotten himself into debt. To pay his debts, he has done some creative accounting in the hope of raising money, but GMAC has threatened to no longer deal with Lundegaard and the car dealership because of his questionable accounting. Desperate for money, the inept Lundegaard talks with two criminals whom the dealership's mechanic, Shep Proudfoot, knows. They agree to kidnap Lundegaard's wife and demand a ransom from Wade Guftason, her father. However, things do not work out as Jerry has planned.
When Marge Gunderson, the local police chief, follows the trail of murder to Lundegaard's office, Jerry is nervous and evasive. He stutters when he talks, faltering in his answers about a missing car on the dealer's lot. After Gunderson demands to talk to Wade Guftason, Jerry, angrily storms out of the office, contending that he will locate the car. Instead, he jumps into his car and flees in fear and desperation. Marge immediately phones the state police and follows a lead on the kidnappers.
When the state police locate Jerry in a motel room, he tries to escape out of the window. But, the police grab him, and he breaks down, crying and whimpering like a child.