The FX series “Fargo,” inspired by the 1996 Coen Brothers film, is based in northern Minnesota. As northern Minnesota’s leading pop culture, news, entertainment, iron mining and invasive species blog, MinnesotaBrown is here to review the show through Minnesota eyes. Now, to this week’s episode:
You know “Fargo” on FX is getting serious when even the dark, mysterious devil of chaos, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) whips out a passable Minnesota accent. “Eating the Blame” was not a good episode for the underdogs. Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) failed in nearly every task this week, including the simple act of keeping a cup of gas station coffee on the roof. Molly Solverson (Allison Tollman) is not only off the biggest murder case in fictional Bemidji history, now she’s in real dutch with her incompetent chief for running a secret investigation.
Gus manages to arrest the bad guy, but even that goes poorly when Malvo convinces the police chiefs of the two largest cities in northern Minnesota that he is a minister from Baudette.
Meantime, the Fargo mafia hitmen have Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) in their clutches. They think he killed Sam Hess to settle in with Hess’s sultry widow, which is actually a simpler explanation than what actually happened. (Lester murdered his own nagging wife in anger after passive-aggressively sic’ing a psychopath onto the grim task of killing Lester’s lifelong bully Sam Hess, who then killed the town’s police chief in Lester’s house).
As you might imagine, this is not the final episode of “Fargo” and, as such, the bad guys rather playfully escape the naive traps of their pursuers. The episode rides heavy on the concept of predators and prey: most characters alternate between these roles fluently, except for Lester. He’s prey, though he has managed to wiggle away time and time again.
Without revealing too much plot, here are my “Fargo” Minnesota observations (with my patented, highest to lowest, “Oh, ya!; Pretty good; Could be worse; Interesting” rating scale):
When the movie “Fargo” came out in 1996, everyone had boxy cathode ray tube televisions with square screens. It occurred to me watching the opening that television shows can spend time with cinematography now and produce great results. Oh, ya!
In the flashback scene (1987! Twins win! Twins win!) we get a direct homage to the Fargo movie. Stavros, the supermarket magnate being blackmailed in the show-present of 2006, is a poor young father who finds an ice scraper sticking out of the snow on a deserted winter highway. What’s there? Lots and lots of money. In the movie, that money was stashed there by one of the crooks, never to be found. Same money? Doubt that, but the visual callback was a cool thing for fans. The image of looking up and down a snowy highway in a Minnesota winter is one of those universal experiences that both the movie and TV show got right about life up north. And here we also get the heavy theme of the episode: Stavros is convinced that the money in the briefcase is a direct answer by God to Stavros’s desperate prayer. “God is real,” he repeats. But, does God really deal in briefcases of dirty cash? To be determined. Oh, ya!
Flashing forward, we see Stavros trying to figure out who killed his dog and put pig’s blood into his shower pipes in order to extract $1 million from him. Here’s where we get some great local stuff. First, the plumber. Now, my view of this might be colored by the fact that our plumber was at the house the same day this aired. This TV plumber was actually pretty dang close in build and mannerisms to our actual plumber. That was all pretty plausible. Oh, ya!
And, this is huge, did you see the plumber’s van? AUTHENTIC 218 AREA CODE! You know, this show gets a lot wrong about northern Minnesota, but I am willing to forgive nearly all of it in exchange for this glorious, wonderful detail. Thank you, big city writer’s pit. Thank you. Oh, ya!
I was really glad to see the area code being right, because the show biffed something important. The Bemidji characters kept talking about “going up” to Duluth. If the show were set in Brainerd, like the movie, that would be right. But Bemidji is northwest of Duluth and you’d never say you were going “up” from there to get to Duluth. This is a very common mistake. People look at Duluth and say, wow, that’s NORTH! That is as far NORTH as any human would want to go. Everyone in Minnesota would have to go NORTH to get to this CITY OF THE NORTH. But what that assumptions fails to recognize is that there is an area the size of a Baltic nation NORTH of DULUTH: A vast land of small towns and forests where people live and work and write stupid blogs about TV shows. We go SOUTH to Duluth. We go DOWN to the big city for shopping, country music and Elton John concerts. Bemidji is a part of this world. Interesting.
The Colin Hanks/Gus Grimly sequence was greatly amusing. He spills his coffee right before he gets a call dispatching him to animal control cases again. “Why is that guy always sick, does he have the cancer?” Well, the guy does have the cancer. Oooo. Then he actually finds the EVIL GENIUS causing all the problems in the entire show, arrests him, but because he hadn’t properly prepared his case, loses him. Rough times for old Gus. My wife really likes Colin Hanks now, though, which explains a lot about how we ended up together. Pretty good.
Gus makes Malvo drop his 2006 flip phone, but then doesn’t retrieve it. Cops are all about the phones nowadays. This whole thing could have been made a dramatic prequel to the timely Supreme Court cases Riley v. California, 13-132 and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212. That would have been quite a deal. Could be worse.
Will someone get Lester some disinfectant? Some cream? Jeez, Lester. Interesting.
It was fun seeing Billy Bob Thornton play with the Minnesota accents his character has been soaked in since he arrived on the scene. His alter ego, who successfully talks him out of trouble, is a minister from Baudette (Go Bears. And yes, Lake of the Woods High School is, in fact, the Bears.) One note here, Malvo pronounces Baudette the way most people do, but FUN FACT only people who actually live up there on the Canadian border six hours from everything pronounce it SUPER CORRECTLY. Most people say “BAW-det.” But people in Baudette say “BuDET.” The b-sound barely has a vowel after it and you hit that second syllable like it was the only way to escape a long, bitter winter in a remote Ojibwe village. I’ve run legislative campaigns in Baudette and it’s very important to them that you say it this way, but most other Minnesotans don’t care about their feelings and say it the way Billy Bob does in the show. Pretty good.
Another fine character profile of Lorne Malvo by Thornton. That smile to Gus after we realize he’s going to walk away is perfect. And we get a riddle about the color green, and the show is kind enough to have Molly answer it for us right there near the end. (Human see more green because it’s how we evolved to see predators in the ancient forests. Everyone in the show is predator or prey). Oh, ya!
Haven’t talked much about Lester’s predicament. He’s getting more desperate and yet, somehow, more competent in dodging the hitmen on his trail. I like the callback to the mob guys’ preferred method of winter kills — augering a hole in the lake to drop the victim down. We get the whole routine as we saw it in episode 2, only this time Lester zaps the Adam Goldberg character with a stun gun and runs off into the woods. Bonus: in this scene, right before the stun gun, Goldberg looks like every craft-brew, indie music scene northern Minnesota hipster I’ve ever met. The kind of guy who doesn’t go to Trampled by Turtles shows anymore, but still shows up on their Facebook feed somehow. Not sure what that means. Pretty good.
Overall, this episode was a lot of fun. The show is developing a real consistency and voice. The ending where the hitmen walk into the jail cell where Lester thought he was safe: wonderful. Much ahead, to be certain. Oh, ya!