In the riving crossing puzzle that this episode is titled after, a farmer must figure out how to transport a fox, rabbit, and cabbage (or an equivalent set of three) across a river if the boat can only hold one item at a time and certain duos can’t be left alone (the fox would eat the rabbit, for example). The solution involves finding a way to get all three across without any of them dying. It’s possible, and the fun is in figuring out how, but when Budge and Pepper talk about it while holed up in the file room, Pepper offers a different solution: shove them all inside of each other, turducken style. “That’s not the answer,” Budge protests. “It’s an answer,” Pepper retorts. The farmer gets all the items across and he gets a nice meal, but does so in a murderous and self-satisfying way. Well, that’s Fargo.
Fargo is one of the bloodiest shows I’ve watched in recent history but it somehow feels necessary even when the murders are unnecessary. In the cold open, Lester confronts Malvo in the bar. At first, Malvo pretends not to know who Lester is — and smartly advises him to walk away, something that so many of these characters should have done so many times — but Lester 2.0, the Lester who has become an even bigger piece of shit, is brimming with deathly confidence and forces the issue. It’s strange to see the cracks in his bravado as he talks to Malvo in the elevator while reverting back to his stuttering and head tics. “Is this what you want?” Malvo asks and Lester answers affirmatively (as opposed to the pilot when he refused to give an answer). Malvo murders the other three people in the elevator — one is poor Stephen Root — and calmly tells Lester: “That’s on you.” What a tense and violent opening to a tense and violent episode.
Lester runs away and sets off a chain of events as Malvo goes on the hunt to find him. At the same time, Molly’s visited by Budge and Pepper (major kudos to Key and Peele who adorably finish each others sentences) and finally gets a bit of vindication when they believe her claims and somewhat chastise Bill for ignoring Molly’s detective work.
Molly pays a visit to Lester to question him about the elevator murders as a possible witness (though Molly knows this can’t be a coincidence) and Lester denies knowing anything about it. His new wife Linda covers for him and their quick exit; she has no idea why she’s lying but does it effortlessly, which immediately makes me worry about her. Then again, I’m worried about everyone on this show. Except Lester. Lester can fuck right off. Molly asks Lester not to leave town and he agrees but we know he’s lying.
Meanwhile, Malvo visits Lester’s old home and has no luck finding him. He goes to Lou’s diner but Lou is wary and never gives Malvo a straight answer. It is an incredibly tense scene though — aren’t they all? — and I spent the entirety of it half-expecting Malvo to take out Lou right then and there. To add to this tension, Molly is driving toward the diner and arrives as Malvo’s still there. She enters through one door, he exits through a different one. Any other show and this would be ridiculous; on Fargo it’s wonderfully and infuriatingly nail-biting. Also? At the same time as Malvo’s leaving the parking lot, Budge and Pepper are arriving. Fargo is going straight for heart attacks. Everyone is so damn close to each other but miles away, chasing each other in circles with arms outstretched but never quite within reach.
Lester and Linda are leaving town but first have to stop at his office. Lester isn’t stupid and knows that Malvo is waiting there to kill him. Again, sorry for the comparison but it is so reminiscent of Breaking Bad except it’s actually worse. Lester asks Linda to go grab the money and passports for him and she happily obliges. He even gives her that bright, unmistakeable winter coat to wear and instructs her to put on the hood. It’s terrifying, it’s loathsome, it’s some of the best television I’ve seen all year. I’m a quiet TV watcher — I sometimes cover my eyes or stare agape, but I don’t make a sound — but I caught myself involuntarily yelling “NO!” at my TV screen when he gives her the jacket and then murmuring, “no, no, no” for the duration of her walking up to the door and into the office. Sure enough, Malvo pops up and shoots Linda right in the head. Lester is cold-blooded and I’ve never hated any fictional character more.
I keep thinking about the pilot episode and the way Lester is set up in the first few acts. What a delight it was to be manipulated by Noah Hawley’s writing! Lester’s written as a character for us to care about. We’re supposed to sympathize with this pathetic creature, see ourselves in the way he’s put upon by bullies and his boss and his wife. He doesn’t deserve any of this, we’re supposed to think, because the guy can’t even go a day without accidentally breaking his own nose. Then he murders his wife in the same hour.
Now he sends a second wife to the slaughter. Lester couldn’t give two shits about the cabbage nor does he care about the rabbit’s safety. In the river crossing puzzle, Lester would put the rabbit and the fox together in the boat and then sit on the bank of the river, shrugging as he watches the bloodshed.