FARGO REVIEW: Episode 7, “Who Shaves the Barber”

Lester (Martin Freeman), the character no one likes, somehow fascinates us with his ability to wriggle out of bind after bind. PHOTO: FX Networks

Lester (Martin Freeman), the character no one likes, somehow fascinates us with his ability to wriggle out of bind after bind. PHOTO: FX Networks

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:

Molly lives. Malvo lives. But as many answers as we get after last week’s barn-barner, “Fargo” uses Episode 7, “Who Shaves the Barber,” to reset the table. The episode re-establishes the inevitable Molly vs. Malvo confrontation, showcases some marvelous acting by Allison Tolman, and gives us some amazing scenes in an otherwise anticlimactic 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.”

There’s a reason one of the top search terms to find my blog this past week was “fish rain,” and that reason was the stunning conclusion of last week’s episode in which fish rain from the sky, all biblical-like. In this week’s episode, the local TV news tells us that the fish rain was caused by a tornado (!) that picked up the fish from a lake (!), somehow merged with the massive snow storm (!) and rained down on a January/February northern Minnesota locale. Three strikes and you’re out. All of these facts are impossible. There are few tornadoes in northern Minnesota, and they never come in the winter because there is zero hot air anywhere, except from the mouths of politicians. Lakes are covered in ice from December through May. I could go on, but the worst offense is Mrs. Nygaard’s reaction: “Isn’t that the darndest thing?” This is at minimum an “Oh, jeez” or “what is this world coming to” situation. Losing your keys and finding them in the yard is a darndest thing. I call FISH RAIN COP-OUT on this one, “Fargo” writers.  Interesting.

Lester’s brother Chaz does some nifty winter driving in his huff to get back to the house, correcting a skid on his icy driveway between two cop cars. Oh, ya! 

The audio drone and soundtrack when the cops were finding Lester’s planted evidence was fantastic. At some point, Chaz’s wife appears to spit on him from off-camera. That spit looked a little like some kind of gel. Is she OK? Pretty Good.

The scene with Lester (Martin Freeman) and Bill (Bob Odenkirk) was another showcase, because we can see Lester make up the new cover story as he goes, becoming more and more adept at lying. Lester lets Bill fill in the details of his fake story, and then says “Like you said” to ingratiate himself to his listener. Very passive-aggressive Minnesota-style deception right there. Meantime, Bill sops it up with real emotion, showing that he’s not a bad guy, just outclassed as a cop and overwhelmed as a small town good old boy. Never underestimate the power of knowing the guy from school in a small town; Bill is willing to suspend all disbelief based on that simple rule. Then the scene where Lester walks past his wrongly imprisoned brother and noticeably sighs with relief. Oh, ya!

Molly’s hospital scenes with Gus and her dad are wonderful this week. There’s an adorable exchange over Gus admitting that he was the one who shot her by mistake. Gus: “I shot you.” Molly: “That don’t make sense.” Later, Gus telling Molly what she lost in surgery: “A spleen. (pause) I’ll get you a new one.” Molly is so nice to him, and everyone in this episode, despite the fact that she narrowly escaped death. Even amid the emotional trauma, she continues to show great power and strength — one of the best characters I’ve seen on TV in some time. Oh, ya!

Gus offers to get her a POP! Accurate Minnesota language there. Oh, ya!

The scene between Molly and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) is another winner. She politely interrogates and empathizes the man who tried to kill her, who she herself shot, before getting shot by someone else. She’s not bitter or angry; she just wants to understand. And Harvard’s eyes alone carry great weight in this scene. Oh, ya!

Molly’s dad joins her in the hospital. Doesn’t want to talk; just turns on TV. The Gophers are on. Looks like they’re playing Minnesota State-Mankato — nice touch. Oh, ya!

DennisAnderson2011Fox 21 in Duluth gets its moment! The news is watermarked with the Fox 21 logo, Duluth’s actual Fox affiliate. I know a FX show needs to cross-brand with the Fox label, but Fox 21 is the ratings laggard in the Duluth market. They get points for the local tie-in, but if they REALLY wanted to show what the news in Duluth looked like in 2006 they would have signed WDIO Channel 10’s Denny Anderson to do all the news segments. (Anderson was for decades the only mustachioed evening news anchor in America to dominate his market). He’s retired now, so he’s available. In fact, there’s still time for this, right? Re-write and re-cut. Could be worse.

Enjoyed the little vignette where Lester finally decides to clean the blood out of his house. Shows him literally “washing his hands” of the incident, but also liked how he was trying to explain the scene to the cleaners on the phone. “There’s a lotta blood. {click}” Pretty good.

This 2012 photo shows that I was wearing the partridge plaid Stormy Kromer *before* "Fargo" put it on head of a weaselly character no one likes.

This 2012 photo shows that I was wearing the partridge plaid Stormy Kromer *before* “Fargo” put it on head of a weaselly character no one likes.

Where is Lester’s Stormy Kromer? The one that looks just like mine? He wouldn’t have just left that behind. That’s a nice hat. Interesting.

Meantime, Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), having survived the assassination attempt, as quick as you please has decided to bring hellfire upon the entire organization that sought his termination. The most artistic, darkly hilarious and disturbing scene in the whole episode is one in which we don’t see the killings, but merely hear them as Malvo walks through a Fargo office building with an assault rifle, murdering professional murderers. Bonus: Key and Peele are in this show! Playing two FBI agents staking out the Fargo mob’s office building, they argue about a sandwich while Malvo wreaks chaos inside. When that scene ends with one of the toadies tossed out the third story window, K&P bicker over whether they should pull the car over to the other side of the street to “make it look like we just got here.” A truly memorable sequence. Oh, ya!

Lester scores with the Widow Hess (Kate Walsh). This is probably the *other* image that will stand out to most viewers. (new rating for this one) Whatever floats your boat.

The final scene with Molly feeling the weight of what’s happened, the burden of knowing that the department is wrong again, and her own post traumatic stress is another wonderful performance by Tolman. Side note: PTSD triggered by snow would be a big problem for a Minnesota cop. Oh, ya!

Some great theories out there, including several bandied about in the comments section of last week’s episode review by folks like MattNOVA, Solveg and Ramona. Is Malvo an ex-government agent? Is he supernatural? Is the whole thing actually a take on Nordic mythology, not biblical prophesy? A good show inspires good conspiracy theories, and this one is full of possibilities. Oh, ya! 

This episode: Pretty good. Yes, a reset. Yes, a few more Minnesota continuity issues than usual. But still a good show making progress in a compelling story.


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.


Episode 9

Episode 8
Episode 7

Episode 6
Episode 5
Episode 4
Episode 3
Episode 2
Episode 1

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  1. MattNOVA says

    I couldn’t agree more about the rain of fish. If they leave it at that explanation, I’m going to be really annoyed. Not only is the fishnado impossible in its own right as a weather phenomenon, but it’s just *way* too big a coincidence that the impossible weather phenomenon happens to kill Stavros’s firstborn son when Stavros is specifically worried about some impossible weather phenomenon killing his firstborn son. Of course, just because that’s the explanation the TV news is running with doesn’t mean it’s the real explanation. I’m still hoping we’ll get a more satisfying one before all is said and done. (The most obvious alternative explanation, of course, is that there are supernatural forces at work. But I still maintain that’d feel like a cheat to me, especially since so much of Malvo’s activity is so mundane. Does Loki really need to travel to Reno to find out who’s in Fargo, and where to find them? Does a minion of Satan really have to worry about the cops?)

    I also noted the proper soft drink terminology — not the first time I’ve heard it in the show, by the way. After 20+ years of going along to get along in the Mid-Atlantic, where it’s “soda,” Fargo has me going out of my way to say pop again. 🙂

  2. I didn’t like the scene where Malvo went on his spree and they didn’t show it. It felt like a cheap way to save a buck. Show us some action for once!

  3. Jay Peters says

    As a Minnesotan far away from it, I too have been watching and checking for ‘accuracy’. I think what really strikes me is the way that people discuss and many times “explain” something. After some stumbling and bumbling ala Lester and Grimley (“yeah, well, ya know…I ah, well….)it comes out eventually short and to the point. As far as credibility of events (the fish), let’s not get too carried away. After all, most events in the show are pretty far fetched. If they weren’t it would not be nearly as entertaining. I don’t think anyone needs to explain or justify anything. The blizzard? We’ve all experienced some bad ones and white-outs but not through a gauze covered lens. I am disappointed in Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo. Not nearly scary enough…he’s meant to be, but Billy Bob doesn’t really strike fear in my heart. I think a bad casting choice. He seems bored. Anyway, I’ll keep watching. I’ve talked a few people I know here in Malaysia into watching it…”Do people really talk like that?” “Is it always cold and snowy?”. “Did this really happen?’ I just tell them “you betcha”.

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