‘Fargo’ recap, episode 3: Tightening the screws

Allison Tollman as Molly Solverson, Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard (Chris Large/FX)
Quick recap:

Molly’s closing in on Lester, and she isn’t the only one. Officer Grimly comes clean, while Billy Bob Thornton plays dirty with his blackmailed client.

Real good?

Another solid episode that does what it needs to do in terms of plot and character, with a few dark philosophical asides about the sometimes random horror of human existence. The show is maintaining its steady and deliberate but inexorable pace, and that’s a good thing. Until my DVR packs up with eleven minutes of the episode left, that is. Minnesotans like to be punctual, so maybe Fargo should stop treating its time slot like a vague suggestion. 3 North Stars.

Minnesota bona fides

A lot of what goes down this week has to do with friction between Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans. Lester has an uncomfortable scene with Sam Hess’s widow, who reveals that she met Sam while working at a strip club in Vegas. Later Lester is intimidated by the two thugs from Fargo who get all up in his space. In neither case does he have any idea how to act in the face of such behavior. Which seems about right. Minnesotan modes of interaction can sometimes be as rigid and proscribed, in their way, as those of Victorian England. It can be flummoxing when someone goes off-script. The sooner Lester realizes there’s no more script for him, the better.

Talking Minnesota

The stereotypical “Fargo” accents are in evidence even in the heart of the Twin Cities, much more so than in real life. Deputy Molly interviews the “oh gosh” coworkers of the season’s first victim in St. Paul, then has lunch with an old school friend, now a St. Paul resident, who still talks as though she’s recently gargled the entirety of Lake Wobegon. That actress (ironically, the Twin Cities’ own Anna Sundberg) apparently didn’t get the memo that they were going to make the accents a little less distracting by the third episode.

Not that I was sure we were even in St. Paul for a while there. Someone in the city uses the phrase “over in Bemidji” rather than “up in Bemidji,” which had me wondering if we were actually in Fargo. And then, back in Bemidji, Molly uses the phrase “over in St. Paul” rather than “down in St. Paul.” Minnesotans tend to have a sense of direction, and the only geographical “over” should have been in reference to the relationship between Bemidji and Duluth.

I did like the way Chief Bill explodes over Molly’s insubordination in true Minnesotan fashion: “I gotta tell ya, I’m super ticked.” Which is roughly the Minnesota equivalent of a curse-studded, office-trashing, apoplectic tantrum.

The real downtown St. Paul in winter. (Jennifer Simonson/MPR News)
Looks like home

Tonight’s episode opens in a generic cube farm in a generic skyscraper in a generic downtown. The deliberate lack of skyline shots makes it impossible to determine the location by sight, but we later learn it’s supposed to be St. Paul. A wide view of the city without the distinctive “1st” sign would have shattered that illusion in a hurry.

Further north, the relatively remote McMansions occupied by the richer characters like Oliver Platt’s supermarket king and Kate Walsh’s unbereaved widow rang true, the way they sit on their large, tree-ringed lots. Except for the former’s swinging doggie door, which must bleed obscene amounts of heat in the winter. Is he sure that note blackmailing him for forty grand and change wasn’t just his gas bill?

The real Paul Bunyan and Babe statues in Bemidji. (Tom Robertson, MPR News)

The fake Bemidji sign is back for an encore; nice to see they’re still getting some use out of that. It would be even nicer if they could scrape up some capital for a second unit to head to the real Bemidji and score some footage of the Paul Bunyan and Babe statue.

Full recap

We start with a flashback, when Billy Bob Thornton’s hit man character walks into that St. Paul cube farm, drags a deadbeat accountant out by his necktie, strips him to his shoes and skivvies with a knife that looks like the claw of a T. Rex, and doesn’t see his victim again until that collision with the deer springs him from the trunk of the stolen car outside Bemidji, where of course the fellow runs into the trees and freezes to death. So now that mystery is solved, not that it was much of a mystery.

Since then, as we know, the killer has taken on the blackmailing case of supermarket bigwig Stavros Milos. He rooted out the perp (the personal trainer-slash-boyfriend of Milos’s soon-to-be-ex-wife) almost instantly, but instead of sending him packing as instructed and reporting a successful resolution to Milos, the hit man decides to take over the blackmailing for himself. This without even knowing what the secret is, but knowing there’s something. He raises the stakes by demanding a cool, round million dollars and turns the heat up on Milos by killing his dog, secretly swapping his prescription meds with Adderall, and finally dumping a good ten gallons of butcher-shop runoff into Milos’s water heater, effectively and spectacularly ruining the guy’s evening shower. If this is what he does to people he’s working for, I hate to imagine how he treats his enemies.

Adam Goldberg as Mr. Numbers, Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, Russell Harvard as Mr. Wrench. (Chris Large/FX)

Lester returns to work and almost immediately regrets it, because his boss sends him off with the paperwork for Sam Hess’s widow to sign. Making this unenviable house call, Lester finds himself on the receiving end of some aggressive flirting from Hess’s wife, whose naked eagerness to get paid threatens to become literal. This saucy scene is observed by Hess’s boys, and more significantly by the two thugs from Fargo who were lurking in the pines. Those two later show up at Lester’s office to brace him about Sam’s death. But before they can get too far into it, Molly comes along, marking the first time in history that Lester is happy to see her, as her arrival is the thugs’ cue to leave. Molly has recently trekked down to St. Paul, but has returned with disturbing memories of an awkward lunch with an old friend from back home and a nice security-cam shot of Billy Bob Thornton abducting the man she found frozen amid the trees days before. While pretending to be shopping for insurance, she “accidentally” lets Lester get a look at that photo to gauge his reaction. And when he does, well, let’s just say Molly’s gauge doesn’t go that high. Lester doesn’t break, but he just about cracks, bustling Molly off yet again.

When Molly reports this to Chief Bill, he’s as receptive as always, which is to say none, and repeats that she’s off the case. Looks like she’s at another dead end. But fortunately for her, potentially in more ways than one, Officer Gus Grimly over in Duluth has realized that the car he stopped and let go a few nights ago was registered to one of the Bemidji “victims,” namely Lester. Gus has confessed this lapse to his Lieutenant, who ordered him to confess to the Bemidji PD, and Gus’s daughter has advised him to go do so in person. Thus it is that at the Bemidji cop shop, Gus meets and shares his story with Molly, who shows him her photo of Billy Bob Thornton and gets a positive ID that it’s the same guy he pulled over. So that’s a break in the case, at least until Chief Bill finds out, which he no doubt will, given his razor-sharp investigative acumen. Molly is pretty unimpressed with Gus’s seeming cowardice that fateful night, until she meets Gus’s daughter Greta and realizes that Gus feared leaving Greta an orphan. Whereupon she takes them out for burgers at the diner owned by her dad the ex-cop. It could get sweet in a hurry, but Gus and Molly are totally not dating. Yet.

Finally, Lester pays his brother Chaz a visit in his weapon-encrusted man-cave, in the market for some stopping power of his own. So the episode closes with a slow-motion view of Lester firing a machine gun that’s as big as he is, while Billy Bob Thornton’s voice-over recites a verse from Exodus about the discovery of baby Moses on the river. If the suggestion is supposed to be that Lester will one day lead himself out of bondage, put me down as skeptical.

Next week: Billy Bob goes native.

  • Drigg

    Any clue what Thornton was trying to accomplish with the adderall? It just seemed to make the guy really hot and sweaty.

    • gkm

      Induced paranoia.

  • Keith Johnson

    Keep us the good work! You answer so many questions I have after each episode. I, too, had an odd feeling about the term “over” rather than up or down.

  • Ali Lozoff

    I find the accents kind of fall apart as soon as they hit the Twin Cities. They sound like a mix of New England and… not sure… the British Isles? It is a bit distracting from what is otherwise a show I want to get sucked into. I am loving how much Molly’s character is developing though; I was unsure she could carry the show at first (and I LOVED the actor who played the Chief and was bummed to lose him first episode) but I’m really coming around to her.