Fargo episode 4 review: Eating The Blame

Review Michael Noble
14 May 2014 - 06:50

A plague has descended on Minnesota. Or has it? Here's Michael's review of the latest Fargo episode...

This review contains spoilers

1.4 Eating the Blame

‘God is real’. The impoverished, put-upon Stavros Milos’ saviour was simultaneously literal and figurative. Stumbling across a cache of cash is one of those happy accidents of fortune that we’d all rather like to happen to us, with or without the desperate plea for intercession that convinced Milos that the event was divinely inspired. 

We, of course know that it wasn’t. Or at least we think we do. For anyone who hasn't seen the original film, the provenance of that briefcase full of money is a mystery, but the hands that placed it in the snowy redoubt were certainly human, as were those that killed the wealthy, domineering Stavros Milos’ dog, poured blood into his hot water system and cast a plague of shop-bought locusts into his supermarket. Stavros Milos is not suffering at the whims of a capricious god; he’s merely the plaything of a determined and resourceful human being. I doubt, however, that this information would prove a comfort to him. Whatever its origin, Milos’ torment is the product of a mysterious force that he does not understand. It, he might be persuaded to admit, is real. 

Adding credence to the mysterious force theory is the fact that it hasn’t just been affecting Milos. This episode illustrated several examples of good fortune (or fortunate events that simply appeared to be good), coincidence and curious happenstance. Take Gus Grimly’s sighting of Malvo, entirely by coincidence while he was taking the call about Milos’ dog. Malvo’s actions are everywhere at once, his heightened presence ensuring that…

Malvo remains a force beyond our understanding. Some of his techniques are broadly obvious, such as his posture and voice changes to carry off the Pastor Frank Peterson effect. Some suggest access to a deeper resource, such as his instant, hyper-plausible alibi. Others operate without rational explanation, such as his accurate prediction that the words ‘you’ve made a big mistake’ would tumble out of the hapless Grimly’s mouth just a couple of hours after his reckless arrest. 

Grimly remains a figure of pity, a status confirmed from his first appearance, spilling his coffee in an effort to respond to his radio. He’s clumsy, highly self-critical and well intentioned, the anti-Malvo. He, like Milos and Nygaard, is subject rather than object, the victim of forces rather than their agent. Everything he does is riddled with uncertainty, either at the moment of commission (such as waiting until he got to the station to decide what he was arresting Malvo for) or after the fact. This division between those who are the victims of force and those who are its agents is the central spine of the show. 

The force of coincidence made Nygaard its plaything too. His tumble into the boot of Numbers/Wrench’s car was all too easy, as was their positioning on the frozen lake that enabled his escape. The cop at the car? All too easy. Numbers/Wrench managing to be placed in the exact same cell? Brutal happenstance. Writers are advised to keep outright coincidences to a bare minimum, but it suits the internal logic here. Nygaard, like Milos, is subjected to a run of events that leave him bewildered precisely because of their apparent unconnectedness. 

By rights, Molly Solverson would be on the victim side. She’s untried…but her naivety is tempered by scepticism. She has all the makings of an excellent detective, able to see the subtle connections between people and their actions. Wandering into the middle of Oswalt’s StormWatch ’06 briefing (another example of an ineffectual Canute facing forces he cannot control), Solverson is upset that she’s been Grimly’d into irrelevance, but she’s made of rather different stuff. She sees straight through the riddle that naturally confused poor Gus. He’s the junior in their nascent partnership. ‘What do we do now?’ he asks, in the manner of an employee to his boss. ‘Lester’, she replies. She’s taking control, she’s an agent rather than a victim and somewhat less likely to be side-stepped by anything as inconsequential as a fear of fate. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, A Muddy Road, here.

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