Biblical-style restitution descends on Northern Minnesota, along with plenty of snow and something you won’t believe.
This episode has less talk and more plot, as a lot of what’s been set up over the past couple of weeks finally starts getting knocked down. And the show features one of the more successful action scenes set during a blizzard that I’ve ever seen. Four North Stars.
Minnesota bona fides
In a persistent bit of ongoing symbolism, Lester’s basement has a poster hanging on the wall at the base of the stairs with one red fish swimming in the opposite direction of a school of yellow fish, emblazoned with the legend, “What if you’re right and they’re wrong?” The red fish is now smeared with Lester’s blood from where he bashed his head into it the night he killed Pearl, and it turns out that his skull also made a hole clear through the sheetrock behind it. Except unfinished basements like Lester’s aren’t usually drywalled.
The aforementioned blizzard scene captures the dreamlike quality that can sometimes exist when it’s really coming down out there — when the curbs disappear and the only reason you know there are houses around is because you saw them before it was snowing. It’s a bit exaggerated, but it works. I would have liked to see more done with the strange way sound travels in a real white-out, when you can hear voices a block away as though they were next door.
The big storm in this episode was compared to other blizzards like ’93 and ’96, which may have been fictional. I don’t know about northern Minnesota, but here in the metro the Halloween blizzard of 1991 stands out as a high water mark. In part because it was only Halloween. 2006 is recent enough that we’d remember what came out of the sky in this episode. And not only because of its volume.
Even a couple of radio hosts talk like they’re in “Fargo” as they go on about the oncoming snowstorm in a dialogue that includes the phrase “what have you.” Even most local broadcasters don’t sound quite that local.
There’s a nice moment of Minnesota reticence where Stavros tells the employee he’s put in charge of his son, “Tell him I love him.” The wintry response: “Yeah, I’m … I’m not gonna say that.”
Nobody does awkward silences like Minnesotans, and when Gus and Molly visit Stavros’s store they pull off a doozy.
Apropos of nothing, we actually get a scene set in Fargo tonight. The mob boss who dispatched the thugs to Bemidji to look into Sam Hess’s murder is attended at the dinner table by a posse of unsavory underlings. One of these gentlemen sports the goofiest New Zealand accent I’ve ever heard. An actual Kiwi hearing that might react the way we Minnesotans react to the accents on “Fargo.”
Looks like home
Gus and Molly drive slowly through downtown Duluth, which is clearly still downtown Calgary. They cross a low bridge over a wide river that doesn’t look like anything in the City on the Hill. More likely it’s the Bow River. A shot of a sign clearly identifying a building as Calgary’s Ford Tower as they roll by is the biggest giveaway.
It’s the morning of the day Malvo has appointed to get the blackmail cash from Stavros, and he’s taken a precaution or two. For one thing, his accomplice/partner Don Chumph has now been demoted to patsy. Malvo knocks him unconscious, duct-tapes him to a piece of exercise equipment with a gun in his hands, and then starts shooting out into the neighborhood from the windows he’s papered over. The plan is that if Stavros does decide to call the cops, they’ll be too busy with the situation at Don’s house to help him. Sure enough, on his way out, Malvo listens impassively on his new police scanner to the tale of Don’s bloody demise. A demise which, for us the viewers, is accompanied with some operatic music and even more operatic blood-splatter.
Unfortunately for Malvo, that’s the only part of his day that goes right for him. All that should be required now is for he and Stavros to meet at the parking ramp of Malvo’s choosing, but there are two reasons that’s not going to happen. While waiting at the drop, Stavros has an epiphany: since God is angry with him for breaking the promise he made right before discovering Steve Buscemi’s hidden cash in the snow these nineteen years past, he decides that all he needs to do is return it from whence he found it, rather than giving it to some blackmailer. And that’s what he does, complete with an ice scraper to mark the spot. So he will not be paying a blackmail ransom today.
Malvo’s more urgent problem is that the two thugs from Fargo — now identified as Numbers and Wrench — catch up to him at last, crashing into his car and then announcing their presence with a hail of bullets. Aided by the blizzard that at its peak makes it impossible to see more than ten feet, Malvo first gives them the slip and turns the tables on them. It’s a tense sequence in which the characters stalk each other blindly, like a submarine movie without submarines. By the time it’s over, Numbers is dead and Malvo knows that his enemies are from Fargo. But he will still not be accepting a blackmail ransom today.
Further complicating matters is that Gus and Molly, who until a few minutes ago were sharing a pleasant brunch at a nearby diner, go wading out into the fracas. Molly bravely leads the way while Gus muddles along in her wake (he confessed to Molly just minutes ago that he never even wanted to be a cop, which explains a great deal). When she disappears into the blizzard, all Gus hears is her ordering someone to freeze, a couple of gunshots, and then footsteps crunching toward him in the snow. He fires blindly in their direction and takes down … Molly, which does not bode well for either his professional or romantic prospects.
Stravros has made the call for his son to be driven back to Duluth from the cabin, and Dmitri’s guardian is heading back through the unsafe driving conditions. But conditions get even worse when the snow stops and another form of precipitation starts hitting the windshield: fish. Whole, live, unfrozen fish. These things happen…?
Stavros is cheerfully on his way back when he comes upon the fish-festooned wreck with his son now dead inside. So maybe his plan to return the money to God wasn’t such a great one after all. On the other hand, he succeeded where Steve Buscemi failed in the movie, in that he was able to bully the ramp attendant into letting him out without paying.
No, I haven’t forgotten Lester, who on top of being a wife-killer is turning out to be kind of a nasty piece of work. In the hospital, with his room under police guard, he gets a visit from his brother Chazz, who has no trouble believing the official theory that Lester is mixed up in something bad. He disowns Lester, saying there’s something “missing” about him and that he’s “wrong in the world.” Lester, believe it or not, rises to the occasion. What he does is secretly swap places with his bandage covered roommate, and after being wheeled down the hall, he escapes the hospital with a stolen set of car keys. He returns to his house, where the sight of the disturbed washing machine gives him a start, but he’s already moved the hammer that killed Pearl into the hole in the sheetrock behind the fish poster. He grabs that, a few boudoir photos of Pearl from a storage box, and a pair of her granny panties from the laundry basket, and heads over to Chazz’s house. There he stashes the hammer and the other incriminating items into Chazz’s gun safe. Which is some cold, cold stuff. Seeing a family photo of his brother, his sister-in-law, and his nephew seems to gives Lester pause … but it just gives him the idea to sneak one of Chazz’s revolvers into Gordo’s school backpack, just for good measure. Lester manages to sneak back out of the house without being spotted by anyone but Gordo (who, it’s been established, isn’t all there anyway), and makes it back to the hospital before anybody even knew he was gone.
With the storm over and the sky now bright blue outside his window, Lester sits on his hospital bed and finally allows himself a satisfied smile about what he was able to pull off. Which, whether he knows it or not, was to prove Chazz right. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to look at Bilbo Baggins the same way after that move.
Next week: The poop that Lester secretly positioned in front of Chazz’s fan looks very likely to hit it.