[This is a review of Fargo episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
So far, Fargo has constructed an interesting story based on the idea that most people are basically a wild hair away from making epically bad, morally wrong decisions. And after four episodes , the series has made sure to focus on the ramifications of those decisions in different ways.
However, as the story line progresses, the narrative has grown increasingly interested in probing the process behind the primary characters' decisions, especially when they prove to be inherently self-interested yet flawed, and will only lead to more trouble.
Certainly most of that has to do with Lester Nygaard's continuing trouble with Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, after he popped up on their radar following an ill-fated meeting with the widow Hess (in which Kate Walsh's ex-stripper character put on the kind of show that gave the two hitmen the wrong idea but the right conclusion).
For obvious reasons, Lester would like to keep his troubles with the men from Fargo from becoming the business of the Bemidji law enforcement, so he decides to deal with it in a way that inevitably exacerbates his troubles. Lester's day moves in a bizarrely circular pattern, moving him from the clutches of would-be kidnappers to assaulting a police officer to sharing a cell with the same duo that wish to do him harm.
Each decision seems to lead him back to the same point and, interestingly, Lester keeps making essentially the same decision – which is intended to help him avoid acknowledging culpability in the triple homicide that rocked Bemidji.
Odd decision making pops up again as Gus Grimly attempts to atone for his earlier mistake of letting Malvo go, by making an arrest after spotting Lorne near Stavros' house. Last week, Gus' conscience won out over his pride and he made the humiliating admission to his boss that he'd let stopped Malvo, only to let him go.
The story was more truthful for obvious reasons when he recounted it to Molly, and after making the difficult decision to do the right thing, Gus thinks he's on a roll by doing what he perceives as the right thing again by apprehending the suspect.
This time out, though, the strangest decision comes on behalf of Molly, when she reports Malvo's arrest to Bill. She could have informed her boss the suspect was related to the frozen guy in the woods – which is the truth and actually the case she'd been assigned – but instead, she opts to make the connection to the larger case she's been thrown off of, resulting in Bill sidelining her once more to take over the futile questioning of Malvo.
It seems like an odd blunder on Molly's part, as she's aware of Bill's insistence on overruling her when it comes to Lester, but, if anything, it helps establish a flaw in her that grants the character a greater dimensionality and takes her beyond simply being the good guy in the narrative.
All in all, 'Eating the Blame' works as a bridge to the halfway point of the storyline. The narrative is basically pushed along in increments here, rather than toward a more comprehensive resolution. This affords the audience a chance to become better acquainted with Malvo, certainly, but it does more to flesh out Stavros, by explaining his backstory somewhat.
While the moral/religious angle is heavy-handed, it seems fitting for a character like Stavros, who sees himself as something of an overwhelming, larger-than-life presence. Besides, the moral angle is already well-represented by Lester's festering wound, and so Malvo unleashing a plague of locusts in his store certainly fits with the thematic underpinnings of the series.
So far, Fargo has shown that it can handle finesse, as it did with last week's episode, but it really enjoys being far more pronounced and pointed in its observations and delivery. As the story progresses, it will be interesting to see the choices the series makes in terms of when to use both those aspects to its greatest advantage.
Fargo continues next Tuesday with 'The Six Ungraspables' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Chris Large/FX