‘Fargo’ Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: “A Muddy Road”

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It wouldn’t be unreasonable, while watching the first two episodes of Fargo, to ask, “Why?” Why remake the classic Coen Brothers film, a tight murder mystery with darkly comic elements, into a ten-hour miniseries? It became more clear with last night’s episode, as the show moves away from the plot with Lester Nygaard at its center and focuses instead on the storyline that’s original to the show — and also begins to truly examine its characters through their interactions with each other.

Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is becoming the Anton Chigurh of Fargo, and the opening scene in last night’s, in which Malvo enters the St. Paul office of the frozen-to-death “naked fella” whose death Molly Solverson is trying to, um, solve (oof, right?). In front of all of the man’s coworkers, Malvo drags him out of his cubicle, down the hall, and into the parking garage, where he strips off his clothes and puts him in his trunk. All of this is caught on security cameras, of course, and Molly, during her visit to St. Paul to investigate the dead man’s original disappearance, takes with her a still photograph of Malvo dragging the man out of the office building’s elevator.

While in St. Paul, Molly meets up with an old school friend — a nod to the scene in the original film between Marge and Mike Yanagita — and the woman tells Molly all about her big-city life, which doesn’t sound much less gruesome than what Molly sees back in Bemidji: she tells Molly about her divorce and subsequent online dating experiences, the latter involving an anecdote of sleeping with a man who had recently been bitten by a spider, discovering, mid-coitus, that the spider actually laid eggs in his neck. It’s an odd little scene, but one we come back later when Molly retells the story to Gus Grimly, saying that she doesn’t want to live in a world where that sort of thing can happen. This episode of Fargo, though, proves that much worse — and weirder — happenings are possible.

Malvo is now on a full-fledged mission to harass Stavros Milos once he discovers that his ex-wife’s trainer boyfriend is the one actually blackmailing Milos. In a confrontation, Malvo tells him how stupid he is — the trainer doesn’t even really know why he’s blackmailing Milos, which certainly makes me feel a little more confused about this plotline — but announces his plan to turn the tables and begin to blackmail Milos himself. “You made a choice,” Malvo says. “I’m the consequence.” (Yet another allusion to this omniscient, Angel-of-Death-like figure. The later Biblical allusions — we’ll get to that in a second — make this heavy-handedly clear by the end of the episode.)

Meanwhile, after having a flashback to the gruesome murder of his wife, Lester Nygaard decides to go back to work. (It’s a brilliant scene, I’ll admit, to have the audio of the murder playing while focusing the camera on Lester sitting in front of his brother’s fridge, the phrase “THE KEY TO LIVE IN HAPPINESS” spelled out in magnets.) The first item on his to-do list? To visit Sam Hess’ wife in order to talk about a settlement (but, really, to get even more stupidly close to Hess despite suggesting to Molly that he doesn’t know him). Hess’ wife, eager for the money, literally climbs all over Lester while telling him that she met Hess when she was a stripper in Vegas. The encounter is cut short when one of Hess’ idiot sons shoots his idiot brother in the ass with his crossbow. When Lester looks outside at the carnage, he spots the men from Fargo — Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench — staking out the place quite obviously from behind the tree line in the backyard.

Numbers and Wrench then visit Lester at his office, but their shake-up is interrupted by Molly, who also comes by under the ruse of buying insurance from Lester. (Man, it really is a small town.) Molly drops a file on the floor, conveniently letting the image of Malvo in the St. Paul office slip out of the folder. Not only is Lester pretty stupid, but he’s also incapable of lying even silently; once he sees the picture, he freaks out, coming up with an excuse to leave the office suddenly, proving to Molly that he does, in fact, know Malvo. Her boss, however, refuses to accept the bumbling and dull Lester could be involved in anything too heinous, so he tells her to drop it.

She can’t, of course, especially when Gus Grimly comes by from Duluth to admit he pulled over Lester’s car a few nights before but, upon looking up the information later, discovered that Lester was not the terrifying man driving the vehicle. He tells his lieutenant, and Gus gets reprimanded and is told to go the Bemidji and straighten things out. (“It’s goddamn Sioux Falls all over again,” the lieutenant says, mysteriously. This is a clue to something more complicated, methinks!) Gus’ daughter agrees, as she is, somehow, his conscience. Of course, Molly is thrilled that he came by, and she shows him the picture of Malvo, who Gus confirms was driving Lester’s car. She realizes quickly, upon meeting his daughter, that Gus’ innocent misstep of letting Malvo go with a warning without checking his ID was because he felt threatened and worried about his daughter in the event that something brutal happened to him. She has an affinity for him and his daughter immediately, and takes them to her father’s diner. Casually, his father reveals he worked with his boss years before on an operation — the Sioux Falls dilemma? Most likely.

While all of that relatively normal procedural stuff is going on, things gets real Twin Peaks-y between Malvo and Milos. I know that everyone throws around comparisons to Twin Peaks to every dark police procedural, from The Killing to True Detective, and they are often very lazy about it. But Fargo, with its comic overtones, small-town themes, bizarrely bumbling characters, and, hello, diner scenes, seems like the most Twin Peaks-like show in years. (I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Coen Brothers owe a bit of a debt to David Lynch’s more lighter sensibilities, if not his supernatural and cerebral aesthetics.) Malvo, double-crossing Milos, plays dumb about who could be blackmailing him, all the while pulling gruesome, gaslighting pranks on him, ranging from switching his Tylenol for 30mg tabs of Adderall, murdering his dog, and pumping pig’s blood into the plumping so that Milos, unwittingly hopped-up on speed, takes a bloodied Carrie-style shower.

Why? Again we come back to that question. I don’t really have an answer for Malvo’s motives, and that’s probably the point. I certainly hope they make sense in a later episode. But for now, I’m quite satisfied with how Malvo’s behavior fits the mood and the show’s theme. He is, after all, an avenger type, offering revenge for those around him. As the blood pours down over Milos’ naked body, Malvo’s voiceover recites the Biblical passages of Moses. We’ve already seen one plague — rain of blood — how many others will we see before Fargo ends?