This review contains spoilers
1.6 Buridan’s Ass
It’s a mark of Fargo’s quirkiness that this, by far the darkest, blackest episode of the series so far, was presented against a background of blinding whiteness. If we’re looking for a more conventional metaphor, then the bleakness of the snowstorm and its capacity for confusion, were perfectly pitched, the latter especially. Confusion fell so hard from the sky that it was tempting to imagine that the vengeful and capricious God of Stavros Milos’ imagination was actually up there pulling His divine strings. Whatever its origin, the outcome was far from pretty and while several characters took advantage of the opportunities presented by the confusion, none were without victims.
The exploitation of Don Chumph took a profoundly unpleasant turn and, although it was perhaps the most difficult sequence we’ve been presented with, showcased some of the tricks of comedy in its timing and switching point of view. The sudden escalation, from his farcical entrapment in a cupboard to being strapped to a jury rigged killing platform, marked how far Malvo had raised the stakes. When the plan slipped into action, the details were teased out slowly, dropping hints as to Chumph’s predicament before the whole horrible scheme became terrifyingly apparent. The timing delivered exquisite torment, delaying the actual death for just long enough to ramp up the hope of escape and enhance the feeling of terror. The death itself, slow motion with a plaintive opera soundtrack, recalled the balletic violence of Hollywood movies. The audience could do little else but look on in horror as the ‘weirdest case of suicide-by-cop’ played out.
Confusion had a similarly destructive effect on the heretofore happy partnership of Gus and Molly. Between them, (well, mainly Molly) they have been so good at slicing through the Malvo-manipulated fog of war that their misadventure this week felt earned, in the worst possible way. It was very smartly done, particularly in the handling of Gus’ angle. Another welcome diner scene gave us the opportunity to learn more about how the unlikely Mr Grimly became a cop in the first place. His idea of being a postman was touchingly sweet, believing that the role was simply one of bringing people cards and presents ever morning like some beardless Santa Claus. That the majority of such work would involve delivering window envelopes of bills and final demands was as lost on him now as it was back then. The reason for his taking a different uniform was also pleasantly Gus-like. The PD were hiring when the PO wasn’t, meaning that an accident of the jobs market defined his life. As ever, he responds to situations rather than directing them.
It also meant that the episode’s Gus/Molly payoff was very well earned indeed. The past few weeks have shown us a Gus Grimly too paralysed by moral inertia to do anything. He’s looked for guidance from several quarters –Greta, his neighbour, Molly- but ultimately has to make his own decision. He’s unwilling to call in the latest Malvo lead because his stock as a sworn officer is so low, and then, inspired by the rather more decisive Molly, he decides to take action. And it goes disastrously wrong.
The opening scene, our first direct view of ‘Fargo’, wherever or whatever ‘Fargo’ actually is, set the tone for the episode, and not just in the metaphorical sense of the fish prefiguring death (the fish was freshly killed before landing on the plate of the man that ordered the indiscriminate killing of whoever got Sam Hess before a skyful of his ichthyic buddies saw off Dmitiri Milos and his old man’s bodyguard) The boss doesn’t care who killed Sam Hess, or indeed why. He just wants them gone. The details are irrelevant and there’s little point in wading through the confusion any further.
In a more practical sense, it prefigured the sudden and severe escalation of Malvo vs Numbers/Wrench that culminated in a snowbound murder-off. I confess to a little bit of surprise that Numbers was killed off so quickly, partly because I’m not sure how a solo Wrench will cope and partly because I was expecting a more even match, offering a tense stalemate for another couple of episodes, but when Malvo decides that it’s time, then I guess your number’s up, Numbers. The scene itself, like so much in this episode, played out brilliantly, with director Colin Bucksey getting the most out of the whiteblinded background, making characters disappear and reappear at the whim of the blizzard, ratcheting up the tension and fear.
It worked even better in the scene in which Milos desperately reburied the cache of cash in an attempt to placate his god. The image of man, battered by the unforgiving elements and melting into invisibility was powerfully done, even more so than the emotionally charged discovery of his son in the upturned car, surrounded, with brutal surreality, by dozens of dead fish. If there is one image that captures the show’s offbeat brutality, it is that aerial one.
Oddly, and brilliantly, it was Lester who took the best advantage of the confusion, swapping places with the conveniently bandaged and pliant Mr Creech to mount an audacious plan to frame his own brother for killing his wife. Like Gus, his moment of opportunity came after a revelatory conversation, in Lester’s case, the revelation of just how poorly he is regarded by his own family. Chaz’s comments that ‘something is wrong’ with Lester cut deeply, if silently and marked another step on the timid Nygaard’s downward spiral.
His plan was brilliantly executed and played out like a comedy crime caper, offering a welcome relief from the violence happening elsewhere. The cheery nurse and her care for the beleaguered Mr Creech chimed through the scene like a jolly leitmotif, adding a gentle tension to Lester’s scheme without offering an overt, terrifying threat. Lester’s moment in front of his brother’s gun cabinet (his Chekhov’s Gun Cabinet, if you will) pulled us out of the caper for a moment and let us reflect on Lester’s predicament. Again he resembles Gus in that the circumstances of his life, in particular the recent circumstances, have pushed him unwillingly to finally taking action, and, again like Gus, when he does so it’s very poorly judged. That we can still root for Lester is immaterial, he’s not going to get away with this as easily as he got into it. Or will he? That final shot of Lester’s cautious but warming smile came as necessary relief, suggesting not only a moment of mental and emotional respite for him but for the audience as well. We needed that, it was a bloody difficult slog, but a superb episode.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode,The Six Ungraspables, here
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