Fargo recap, episode 4: Billy Bob Thornton’s Emmy turn

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

Quick recap:

The killer gets collared and gets a name, and Lester is dragged out onto the ice. But both manage to get away; one of them for longer than the other.

Real good?

Lots of nice character moments this time around, as the various dragnets slowly close in on Lester and Billy Bob Thornton’s hit man character. They’re the only two people who know what really happened, and the stress is starting to tell on those trying to figure it out. As for the running time, this episode clocked in at an hour and 13 minutes, so it looks like this show’s just always going to stay within its time slot the way February snowbanks stay out of the parking lanes. Four North Stars.

Minnesota bona fides

While in police custody, Billy Bob Thornton claims to be from Baudette, a small border town that nonetheless boasts an international airport. He also says it’s near Leech Lake, which is almost 3 hours south of there — so that should have been a giveaway. Or else the writers just wanted the rest of the country to hear the name “Leech Lake.”

It’s a long way from Baudette (A) to Leech Lake (B).

The show is also starting to betray a tendency for characters to display dominance by going to the bathroom in front of each other, as with Billy Bob Thornton’s silent, defiant BM a couple of weeks ago. In this episode, Duluth Officer Gus Grimly is asked to explain his actions while his lieutenant and the Bemidji police chief use the urinals in front of him. Effective for establishing the pecking order, perhaps, but talking while peeing is not very Minnesotan.

Despite my nitpicks with the episode’s sense of place, I can’t argue with its sense of time; supermarket king Stavros Milos is still carrying around a flip phone, because it’s 2006 and iPhones are a year and a half in the future.

Bary Flatman as Wally Semenchko, Gordon S. Miller as Dmitri Milos, Oliver Platt as Stavros Milos (Chris Large/FX)

Talking Minnesota

The Fargo accents are becoming either less noticeable or I’m getting used to them, so there’s one good way to highlight them again: Make Billy Bob Thornton do it. He turns his interrogation by the police into an Emmy reel, masquerading as a mild-mannered minister whose speech patterns are the verbal equivalent of a lutefisk hot dish. He even pulls off an “uff-da.”

Gus Grimly carries most of the rest of the weight of sounding like Minnesota, busting out an “anyhoo” and saying “the cancer,” which is not Minnesota as much as it is old. But something I haven’t mentioned before now, and feel like I should, is the way the show captures how Minnesotans pronounce the question mark. Because, bear with me, we do pronounce it, and we do it in one of two ways: “now” or “then.” As in, “Who’s this then?” or “What now?” Most parts of the country keep their punctuation silent, but not here. Fargo gets that.

Just don’t ask me what’s up with the voice-over for the previouslies saying, “Erstwhile, on Fargo.” That’s not Minnesota, that’s just Coen brothers.

Looks like home

Boots and pants. Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard (Chris Large/FX)

An officer is shown reading a paper called the Duluth Plains Standard, either because the rights for the Duluth News Tribune were unobtainable or the DNT didn’t want to be associated with a fake banner headline that simply reads “Storm Fears Worsen.”

Also, I doubt the parking lot at the Bemidji police station would go unplowed, as shown during an establishing shot.

On the other hand, I continue to appreciate seeing characters have to wear winter boots with pants that don’t go with winter boots.

That is one of the many burdens we must silently bear.

Full recap

Ever wonder what happened to that case of ransom money that Steve Buscemi buried in the snow, marked with an ice scraper, near the end of the movie Fargo? Well, wonder no more. I always assumed somebody found it in the spring, but a flashback to 1987 reveals that a young, penniless Stavros Milos, stranded with his family on that same frozen road, found it after offering a desperate bargain to the Almighty. “God is real,” Stavros told his wife in amazement. So we can also wonder no more why Stavros now has a framed ice scraper in his home, or what he thinks he’s being blackmailed over.

After last week’s blood-shower, he’s called in a plumber who has nothing to offer but some unsolicited reflections about the Plagues of Egypt. What Stavros doesn’t know is that the plumber is the original blackmailer in disguise, now busted down to Billy Bob Thornton’s accomplice. On the other hand, Billy Bob’s version of the blackmail scheme is a major upgrade, so maybe it’s a lateral move.

However, the plan hits a snag when Officer Gus Grimly, heading out to investigate the killing of Stavros’s dog, spots the killer lurking outside the house and arrests him as quickly as his bumbling will allow. Not that the hit man is remotely intimidated. Gus gets on the phone to report this break in the case to Molly, who is about to head on “over Duluth” to help question him until Chief Bill insists on going instead. Molly has been doing some digging of her own and has learned that the killer signed into the local motel as Lorne Malvo, a quirkily evil name if there ever was one.

But once he’s inside the Duluth cop shop, Malvo immediately starts selling his fake identity as a minister, complete with his own Fargo accent. Gus’s lieutenant and Bill both buy it and let Malvo go, partly because Malvo is so convincing and partly because Gus is an idiot with no credibility. As Malvo walks out of the station, Gus calls him by his real name to see his reaction, but since he didn’t say it in front of his superiors, all he gets is a Zen koan about shades of green and a smug smile of farewell.

Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo, Colin Hanks as Gus Grimly (Chris Large/FX)

Gus does get to return to Bemidji for another detective-date with Molly, who meets him in her civvies with her hair down, so maybe there’s some mutual interest there. Now Lester is their only lead, and of course Molly’s been ordered off that case. So she’ll have to either let it go or disobey Bill, and I think I can predict which way she’s going to go.

Speaking of Lester, he very nearly dies. And not from that festering hand wound, either, though that looks fit to turn his meat hook into a meatball. The two thugs from Fargo, who appear to be having relationship problems of their own, stuff Lester into the trunk of their car and make ready to drop him through the ice just like they did with their initial suspect a couple of episodes ago. They want to beat a confession out of Lester first, but Lester stole a Taser last time he was in Chazz’s basement and he uses it to get away. But since he doesn’t have his car, the only way to get back into town is to punch a cop, so eventually Lester is safe but in the drunk tank. Solid plan, except that the two thugs fall to public recriminations and fighting over their failure, and get themselves thrown in there with him. So the visitors look like they’ll be scoring one on the home team after all.

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard (Chris Large/FX)

And that’s the case in Duluth, too, as Malvo makes his next move as though getting arrested was just a quick errand he had to run. Stavros Milos, already at wit’s end due to the stimulants he’s been unwittingly popping instead of his actual medication, faces his next biblical plague, courtesy of his new secret (to him) blackmailer: swarms of locusts introduced into his flagship grocery store. A perfectly timed call ordering Stavros to let his million dollars go reminds Stavros of what he realized 19 years ago when he found the seed money for his grocery empire: “God is real.” In which case it’ll be interesting to see what He eventually does about Lorne Malvo.

Next week: Um, hard to tell, but apparently the critics really like it.

  • Starquest

    Billy Bob’s performance was awesome. I think his character is still a little detached in a number of ways, but it was great. Also, silly amount of commercials during this show.

  • Minnesnowta

    Malvo said something like his brother had a place near Bemidji, on Leech Lake. As a lifer spending summers at Leech, I thought it was a close enough reference.