Fargo – 1×08 “The Heap”

Photo Credit: tv.com

Photo Credit: tv.com

“You deserve it, Lester. All good things you deserve.”

Only two episodes remain before the season ends for FX’s fascinatingly experimental series, Fargo. Other shows might consider using this antepenultimate narrative position to dive right back into the action, anxious for its audience to find out just how our virtuous heroine Molly will outsmart the twisted and self-involved villains that plague this series. Instead, we open with a cheerful sequence featuring the bustling activities of an appliance factory. The standard weekly “disclaimer” title cards breeze by, as we watch the factory and its workers package the endless procession of its product: washing machines. The machines are loaded into boxes, fitted into a delivery truck, and hauled away.

And as the delivery man triumphantly lifts the cardboard box in the Nygaard basement, I’ll admit that a part of me wouldn’t have been surprised to see a beaming, confident human being – let’s call him Lester 2.0 – waiting underneath.

Because, whether we like to admit it or not, Lester Nygaard has finally made it. The “angry-sounding,” useless, rattling washing machine that we were introduced to in the pilot has finally been replaced with a sleeker and vastly more functional machine – just as the emasculated, meek “man” (with a boring tie) has been replaced by a guy who takes pride in his suits and doesn’t hesitate to strike asshole teenagers on the head with a stapler. Lester 2.0 has no need for the abundance of motivational signs plastered on his walls, because he knows he’s already the best he can be.

More importantly, the key notion of the season-long washing machine dilemma lies in the fact that Lester eventually solves it by simply replacing the machine. Trying to take the high road of being more “manly” and fixing it himself did absolutely nothing for Lester at first, except earn more mockery from his wife. Buying a whole new machine at this point is just a shortcut, about as lazy and false of a way for Lester to reclaim his identity as clumsily taking a hammer to Pearl proved to be. Placing an order online and killing his wife is apparently all that Lester Nygaard needed to feel like he has his life back in control.

And in the end, what makes this hour of TV just so goddamn painful is the fact that most of its runtime is devoted to nodding in agreement with Lester – showing us that for at least a whole year, this pathetic and despicable man truly gets to have everything he wanted. Virtually every other person we’ve encountered in Minnesota – Molly, Gus, Sheriff Bill, Vern’s widow, and the delightfully incompetent FBI agents Budge and Pepper (played by Key and Peele) – is sadly forced to pick up the blood-soaked pieces of the last seven episodes and try to make sense of their lives again.

Make no mistake, the way the Fargo creative team handles the yearlong time-jump is simple, beautiful, and really poignant – the way the series’ theme music swells up in the transition almost feels like we’re starting a brand-new episode, and Gus’ mail truck alone is a marvelously unpretentious way to show the changing times. But the inherent sadness that permeates everything we see after is staggering, and makes Lester’s victory all the more painful. Molly and Gus’ relationship has always been sweet, and although their family dinner carries that same level of warmth a year later, it is really hard to shake the look of utter defeat on Molly’s face as she stares longingly at the investigation board that she worked so hard on. Agents Budge and Pepper may be failure dimwits who have no business working for the FBI, but their imprisonment in the File Room has its own sense of wry sadness as well – as they stare dumbfounded at the long-forgotten picture of Malvo pinned to the wall, we truly have no idea if they’ve had some investigative spark, or if their similar expressions can simply be chalked up as indifferent stupidity. The intelligence gap between Molly Solverson and the Agents couldn’t be wider, but the fate they all suffer in being shut down by their infuriatingly ignorant superiors are strikingly similar.

Billy Bob Thornton’s terrifying and captivating Lorne Malvo is given an effectively Coen-esque leave of absence, with everything in the hospital – from his cold execution of the police guard to the subsequent monologue he delivers to Mr. Wrench – echoing the iconic demeanor of No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. And although Lester remains in Bemidji as the show’s tangibly human villain, the vanishing-into-thin-air nature of Malvo’s exit reinforces the sense of pseudo-omnipotence that surrounds this sociopath. As this show has made clear ever since Episode 4 (which features an incredible shot of Lorne calmly perched atop the roof of a Phoenix Farms Supermarket literally plagued with locusts), it may be safe to say that Lorne Malvo is a complete manifestation of The Devil – an unpredictable and unstoppable embodiment of chaos, who is free to swirl in and out of Bemidji without any personal consequence or loss…

… Which is why the very end of this episode proves to be the only saving grace for those of us who are desperately hoping to see Lester finally pay the price for his actions. His cool confidence and swagger while sitting at the hotel bar – obnoxiously scanning the attractive women nearby in hopes of finding a potential new conquest – is masterfully subverted by the understated reappearance of Lorne Malvo (who looks just as different and transformed as Lester). Malvo doesn’t even notice Lester, but the mood of the episode’s end feels undeniably apocalyptic. Our bumbling antihero is absolutely paralyzed by the sight of this force-of-nature man, and as the camera slows creeps toward the back of Malvo’s head in the final shot, it deliberately shields us from any concrete view of the assassin’s face (beyond the initial glimpse). Lester Nygaard may not encounter Malvo in the foreseeable future, and he is almost certainly home free of the snooping reaches of Molly and the Bemidji Police. But he knows this ruthless man is out there and ready to reappear in his life with a chaotic vengeance – at any time (and in any form) of his choosing.

What Else?

– Enraged Widow Hess: “I WAS PICKING YOUR PUBES OUT OF MY TEETH TWELVE HOURS AGO!” Jesus, even I can’t believe that line was cleared for a basic cable program.

– Emmy voters, please don’t be idiots. Just watch Alison Tolman try her hardest not to cry in front of Sheriff Bill and give me a good and real reason why she doesn’t deserve a Best Actress in a Drama Series nomination.

– Nice shot near the end, where Lester sits between his new wife and a co-worker. The chair very clearly looks like a throne, and no kidding, considering the way this guy carries himself these days.

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