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:
Deputy Molly is on the ropes and the weasel Lester thinks he’s got it made; it can only mean that the tables are about to turn on “Fargo.” Well, “math” would also indicate the same, as after this one, only two episodes remain in the “Fargo” mini-series. The stunning, “aw jeez” end is near. Indeed, the narrative shifts dramatically in this episode.
Per usual, I’ll be reviewing “Fargo” with my special Minnesota rating system, pegging out at “Oh, ya!” and running down past “Pretty Good,” “Could be worse,” and the midwestern mark of shame: “Interesting.”
“Fargo” Episode 8, “The Heap,” starts with the curious imagery of mechanization, an assembly line where washing machines are being made. Lester (Martin Freeman) is getting a new washing machine, and in doing so symbolically washes the blood from his hands. As we watch the spin cycle with him, the shot dissolves to that of stirring coffee and Lester consoling his brother’s wife. (Bearing in mind that Lester was the one who set up his brother to make it look like he killed Lester’s wife after an affair).
“You don’t cheat on Miss Hubbard County,” she tells Lester. Having been to Hubbard County, I can certainly respect why a person might think this, and also why she’s almost certainly not the first Miss Hubbard to feel that way. Also, she’s giving Lester his brother’s hunting gear, the final and complete end stage of any marriage north of Highway 2. Pretty Good.
(FUN FACT: in the contentious 1912 election, Hubbard County went to the Socialist Eugene Debs, who outpolled three past, present and future presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson).
As Lester is cleaning away all his wife’s stuff, he throws out an entire display of decorative spoons. NO, THOSE ARE COLLECTIBLE! If you didn’t feel the power of this at home, older people in Minnesota sure did. Oh, ya!
Back in Bemidji, Molly (Allison Tolman) wrestles with her knowledge that the department is prematurely celebrating the closing of the murder case. They’ve got the wrong guy. The real killer is not only free, but has killed again and and again since. Lester is walking around town like a peacock. But at least Molly has flowers from Gus, whose sad sack wooing of his fellow police officer is actually fairly representative of the romantic capabilities of northern men. Could be worse.
Chief Bill (Bob Odenkirk) has a slew of great lines today, as his character rushes to put the murder cases behind him. When a deputy tell him Molly wants to see him, he says “Can it wait. I just ate an omelet.” In describing Molly’s “welcome back” cake, “It’s got an assault rifle on the top which I don’t even know how they do that,” and, in consoling Molly over his dropping of the case, the Minnesota mantra: “Sometimes you just go to bed unsatisfied.” Oh, ya!
Another great line from Bill in describing a deputy that he and Molly know is kind of dumb: “He’s not the brightest bulb, but he’s soldiering through.” The line stood out to me because I’ve heard this exact sentiment get people elected to office around here. Oh, ya!
The Widow Hess (Kate Walsh) has some good lines, too, none of which I’m comfortable repeating here. The newly emboldened Lester power staples her oafish sons’ faces, which is actually among Lester’s only redeeming actions in this episode. He’s become pretty hot stuff for an insurance agent, and the secretary at his agency sure has noticed. Pretty Good.
We see Malvo finally get to Mr. Wrench, still handcuffed to a hospital bed. Though Malvo murders the police officer in the rest room to get there, he lets Mr. Wrench go. Naturally, he gets to deliver a little monologue in this process. “You got close; closer than anyone else.” All this does for me is leave me wondering if Mr. Wrench will play a role in the conclusion. It would appear not as “Fargo” execs say this is Russell Harvard’s last episode. Could be Worse.
Back in Bemidji, at the party celebrating the closing of the case, Molly is eating cake with Sheriff Verne’s widow and baby. Ida mentions that there are a lot of rumors about Molly getting flowers. This leads to some of Tolman’s best Minnesota accent and dialogue work, culminating with the line, “There’s a suitor is all I’m prepared to say.” Oh, ya!
We then see Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) on patrol in a place that looks like Fosston, but is allegedly Duluth. As a viewer of “Fargo” I’ve learned that the moment you see Gus with a thermos or gas station coffee cup you should prepare for the inevitability that he’ll spill it on himself, and Gus does not disappoint. He’s bored, so he decides to call Molly (which was probably something he’s planned all day). Gus does the preemptive throat clearing that you do before you call a special girl (very familiar to a younger version of myself) and, with some help from Molly on the other end of the line, manages to arrange for their first date. Oh, ya!
The internet should rightly go “squeeeeeeee” over the cuteness of all this, but amid our happiness for the budding couple the camera pans away from Gus into the woods (No, don’t kill Gus!) and keeps going and going and (nooooo!) wait a minute, they’re not going to kill anyone but they are going to SHIFT TIME ONE YEAR INTO THE FUTURE. And we have our big narrative shift for the last couple episodes. Criticism has varied on this choice, but it felt a little like they “jumped the walleye” on this one … just a bit. I’m going to declare “Interesting.”
Going forward a year does allow us to see what’s transpired. Gus is a mailman now, as he always dreamed of becoming. He and Molly are married and she’s pregnant. Gus even calls her “Mom” which is the weird thing that Minnesota husbands do sometimes. She’s still stuck on the case, though. Quietly, she knows something is still wrong, especially as she connects Malvo with the mass killing of the Fargo syndicate.
The FBI guys who messed up that day (Key and Peele) are still banished to the regional office file room where their boss assigned them a year before, but they, too, know that redemption can only come from catching that guy, who Molly and the viewers know is named Lorne Malvo. That properly sets up the next couple episodes. Pretty good.
Meantime, we get a strange, touching and symbolic aside with Chief Bill telling the story to Molly of how he and his wife lost and found their foster child from Africa, culminating in another great Bill line that seems tied to the “Fargo” ethos: “Don’t question the universe; that’s my motto.” The show does not allow us to dislike Bill too much. He’s the voice of the community and local culture, in a way. Outmatched, but never malicious. Oh, ya!
Meantime, we end the episode on Lester, who is married to his secretary now and was just named Insurance Salesman of the Year in Las Vegas. He sends his wife up to bed in the hotel with plans of bird-dogging at the bar (he actually brings his award into the bar with him). But then he sees Malvo — with white hair and a whole new look — across the way. He is shocked back to reality, and the episode ends with a long, long look at Malvo’s mannerism, which are chilling in consideration of what we know he’s done. Oh, ya!
You can’t escape the reckoning. The universe might not correct itself right away, but we know that it must, eventually. I was a little cool to this episode at first for giving us the time jump (an overused trope in shows of late) but am warming to its way of delivering a lethal mix of plot and theme. Pretty good.
Aaron J. Brown is a northern Minnesota author and radio producer. He wrote “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,” an earnest, humorous look at the people, history and culture of the unique rural-industrial landscape of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He is the producer, writer and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio, an ultra-local traveling comedy and music variety show. A columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, his work also appears regularly in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and the Daily Yonder.