[This is a review of Fargo episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Lorne Malvo is the Devil. Or at least he's the closest approximation to the Devil a narrative that's as obsessed with infusing Biblical allusions and moral paradoxes as Noah Hawley's Fargo is likely going to see. Malvo's chameleonic ability to insert himself into any situation wholly and convincingly, all for the purpose of eventually taking a life is just one of the many facets of his devilish or trickster-like persona. Another, of course, would be the persuasive sway he holds over other, morally weak or conflicted individuals like Lester Nygaard, and then there's the fact that Malvo has so far managed to elude punishment for his crimes, as though evading capture or worse was simply a perk of being the enigmatic Lorne Malvo.
And honestly, when it comes to a character like Malvo, that's about the level of explanation necessary from a narrative that doesn't seem terribly concerned with the sense of ambiguity around a character. A lot of what's going on in Fargo – and a lot of what there is to like about the show – goes beyond a need for total clarity, so when an episode like 'A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage,' starts off with a silver-haired Lorne Malvo doing what looks like some fairly competent dentistry in Kansas City, and saying things like "aces," to Stephen Root – who delightfully drops the word "friendo" with slightly less menace than Javier Bardem did in 'No Country For Old Men' – the lesson that Fargo has taught its audience over the last eight episodes is to just go with it; it's all part of Malvo's inexplicable knack for shape-shifting that, oddly enough, makes him such a distinctive piece of Fargo's already idiosyncratic landscape.
But 'A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage' is coming off the one-year-later time jump from 'The Heap' that altered so many character dynamics and seemingly brought about the birth of a whole new Lester Nygaard. Therefore, the episode has to establish a new set of rules to go along with the change in character. Here, that new and improved Lester is younger looking, vibrant, and brimming with confidence – the kind of confidence that apparently tells a person he should approach a known killer in a hotel bar in Las Vegas to some sort of unknown end. It is certainly a strange choice for Lester to make, but it is indicative of Malvo's gravitational pull. Was Lester planning on reminiscing or did he just want to show off the transformation he's undergone since the two crossed paths so fatefully in that hospital waiting room?
Clearly though, that change in Lester's demeanor doesn't do him any good, as his newfound assertiveness makes him a witness to a shocking triple homicide that's so abhorrent, it's only outdone by the murder of Lester's new wife Linda at the end of the episode. And in that sense, because of another chance encounter, Lester and Malvo are brought back into one another's orbits, into Bemidji, and back to their old tricks. It is a return to the status quo of sorts, as Lester again resorts to using his wife as little more than a means to his personal end, halting any sense that his character might still have a shred of decency within him.
As this is the penultimate episode of Fargo (at least this particular story) there's a sense that the sometimes-nightmarish tenor of the series is headed toward a waking moment. The episode begins with a deep, dreamlike depiction of hotel hallways, filmed with a Shining-like eeriness; the kind that makes it feel as though the long, disturbingly silent corridors might go on forever, or extend into some tangled labyrinth of narrow passages from which escape seems impossible. Perhaps that's what it feels like for the characters to be in this particular story: surrounded by closed doors, and constantly looking for a way out.
In the end, this is a surprising and sometimes astonishingly cinematic episode that begins to set up the end by pulling the various threads together with a sense of inevitability. Agents Budge and Pepper – as marginalized individuals themselves – are tellingly the first people to praise Molly's investigation into Malvo and the Fargo massacre, leading to a well-earned moment of triumph for Deputy Solverson (and one of forced modesty for Bill). That is a small glimmer of hope in an otherwise endlessly grim situation, but with someone like Malvo running around, a glimmer may be as good as it gets.
Fargo will conclude next Tuesday with 'Morton's Fork' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Chris Large/FX