Fargo episode 3 review: A Muddy Road

Review Michael Noble 4 May 2014 - 21:58

It's dog-eat-dog in snowy Minnesota but who is the hungriest dog? Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers

1.3 A Muddy Road

It comes, like so much in this show, as a throwaway line, one of those casual but quirky conversations that seem to have been thrown in for purely entertainment reasons. When the jolly prescription meds dealer tries to upsell Lorne Malvo by suggesting that, in addition to his black market Adderall, he buys an off-the-shelf Zombie Survival Kit™ he insists that, should such a rise of the revenants take place, things will very quickly turn dog-eat-dog. 'It's already dog-eat-dog, friend', replies the preternaturally cynical Malvo, 'I'm not sure what much worse a bunch of zombies could do'. I’m with Malvo on this and, at the risk of making this review a hostage to fortune, there will be no zombie uprising but certain dogs will prove to be hungrier than others and the smarter ones may even decide that it’s time to arm themselves with something a little more heavygoing than a backpack.

The cynicism of which Malvo speaks is but one strand of two emergent themes in Fargo and the one of which he is simply the most prominent exponent. It’s still unclear who or what he is actually working for, his capture of Phil McCormick was apparently done on the clock but his capture (and escalation) of Don Chumph’s hapless blackmail plot seems to have been done for Malvo’s own reasons. Chumph had a suspiciously precise target figure, Malvo’s million dollar demand seems altogether more arbitrary, as though the money itself isn’t even that important. His methods enjoy their own momentum too, the switching of Milos’ drugs, the killing of his dog (eat dog), the shower of blood. They have their own theatricality, their own purpose beyond simply putting a message across. Whatever Malvo’s ultimate purpose, his methods are at least consistent with his bleak worldview. Cynicism? Oh ya. 

Fargo is a show of parallels. Malvo has conjoined doppelgangers in the form of Messrs Numbers and Wrench who, like him, wander quietly but confidently into other characters' lives before proceeding to wreck things with words. They’ve caught up with Lester Nygaard, thanks to his visit to the Hess place where they saw him suffering at cynical seduction at the hands (or rather, legs) of Gina, whose cynical exploitation of the financial implications of her marriage parallels that of Helena Milos.

There are further parallels, including some that run in the opposite direction, with decency in place of cynicism. If we can temporarily overlook the Billy Bob Thornton’s effortless stealing of every scene in which he appears, the better part of this week’s episode belonged to Colink Hanks and Allison Tolman.

Having Grimly meet up with Solverson gave us not only the most sweetly affecting scene of the episode (despite the dinner-table conversation about flesh-dwelling spiders) but also provided a chance to compare the two of them. They are both essentially decent, even perhaps too decent, people with dearly-held responsibilities. Grimly backed off from doing the right thing because of his commitment to his daughter, while Solverson continues to pursue her hunches in the face of her doting dad's concern for her safety. For now, Grimly is the more interesting because he is wrestling with several problems; his desire to do the right thing, his need to do the safe thing and his guilt that leads him to suspect that, this far, he has done neither thing truly successfully. The scenes with Molly and Greta suggested that he needs the support of these two women to find the correct path. His guilt over leaving Malvo to his own devices has been consuming him, but Molly could see very easily through his motivations, perhaps better than he could himself.

The tale of Gus Grimly also provides a neat parallel with that of Lester Nygaard. Both men, quiet and unassuming in rather different ways, are still navigating the territory left to them by their separate encounters with Malvo. While Grimly enlists the help of his daughter and now Molly too, in attempting to retroactively do the right thing, the jittery Nygaard is coming to terms with the liberation that destruction has brought. Having embarked on a major lie for reasons of proximate necessity, Lester's now developed a taste for it. He's still not very good at it, no man with his nerves could ever be, and his attempts at obfuscation are becoming ever clearer to the intrepid Solverson. And yet, there's a hint of a change here. In his final scene, having stumbled as quietly as ever onto his brother's gun hoard, he finally drums up the courage to have a go and finds it transformative. Forget the dead dogs and showers of blood; this week's scariest moment has to be the look of delight on Nygaard's face as he unloads that rifle into the cold night air. It was a great moment not merely for him as a character, but the show as a whole. In a two-hour film the change would appear more of a sudden snap rather than this progression into a new and possibly ultimately short life. As his wobbly meeting with Numbers and Wrench showed, he’s still more nervous than not, but there’s the beginnings of a suggestion that in this dog-eat-dog world another canine is ready to take his turn at the bowl.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, The Rooster Prince, here.

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