Apr 30, 2014

Fargo: “A Muddy Road”

By Josh Oakley

The town of Bemidji has grown haunted. Blood pours from the showers. Mongoloid brothers shoot each other with arrows as men hide in the trees around them. Lester sits in his house, items still strewn about, images and conversations playing in his head. The score throbs, embracing the discomfort of the past and dread of the future. The town of Bemidji has grown haunted, but the ghosts have only begun their invasion. “A Muddy Road”, a significant step up from last week’s fairly limp effort, gives a purposeful weight to the mistakes that have already claimed lives and those that have only begun to flourish. These poor decisions are littered about, from the heinous murders committed for and by Lester Nygaard to Gus Grimly’s simple act of letting a guilty man go free.

The parable of the muddy road questions the rigidity of belief systems, whether or not a person’s code should be absolute or flexible. The show doesn’t seem to have a concrete answer to this query. Molly’s dedication to her work, and her insistence on Lester’s guilt, is righteous. She disobeys her superior, but we have the vital knowledge that she’s right to do so. Even if this weren’t vivid fact, the clues are adding up, and Bill’s narrow-mindedness is growing tired. Bill has created a story, a set narrative, and refuses to adjust. Molly may also be guilty of confirmation bias, but at the very least she’s doing actual police work that Marge Gunderson would agree with 100%. Molly isn’t allowing preconceived notions to drive her actions, instead relying on trails of information to lead her towards or away from Lester.

Lorne Malvo is a man who clearly lives by a deep and abiding code just like a number of his TV ancestors. In the closing of “A Muddy Road”, he recites the story of Moses slaying an Egyptian. Beyond recalling the Coen brothers’ brand of Biblical justice, this raises the question of exactly whom Lorne kills for. Who are his Hebrew brethren, beaten by men like Stavros Milos? A wise move for Fargo in this scene: at first it seems as if Lorne’s voiceover is omniscient, happening outside of the world of the show. Then we see him, walking away from one of the many scenes of his many crimes, carrying a Bible in his hand. This is a man who subscribes to a belief both religious and not; somebody who may take tenants of Christianity but infuses them with whatever force drives his heart.

Molly, on the other hand, is clearly driven by goodness, an important adversity to the evil of the world. Here, she deals with various shades of loneliness. She visits an old friend and hears horrifying stories of love. Even though she visits Lester to prove his connection to Lorne, there is truth to her fear of dying alone. And, in the most important sequence for the show so far, she jumps on an opportunity to play girlfriend and mother, if just for one meal. The scene in the diner, with Grimly, his daughter and Molly, is beautiful, an oasis of purity in a landscape of cold evil. What many shows of this ilk, the dark, brooding types that attempt to examine the underbelly of this thing or that, forget is this goodness. In a vacuum of evil, the cruelty no longer matters. When all is corrupted, there is nothing left to corrupt.

Here is something real in the face of the abstract. Molly’s longing for some connection beyond that with her kind father is a human reaction to an inhuman world. Lorne operates on some other plane, where he is able to drag a man, tie first, past security cameras without giving a damn. But he is not accounting for this goodness. He cannot, for it is something he does not know. Molly making jokes with young Greta, and to a larger extent both women’s relationships with their respective fathers, is why evil matters. It’s because murder can take away these things. Death is an absolute, one that strips men like Vern from their pregnant wives in the middle of an otherwise routine night. And Lorne is an agent of death. As he tells the incompetent blackmailer Don Chumph, “I am the consequence.”

The reason that drama exists is because people subscribe to ideals, and those ideals rub up against reality and the ideals of others. Yet something that many of this era's anti-hero centered dramas fail to do is set up such diametrically opposed opposites as Molly and Lorne. We haven’t seen them together yet, and their meeting seems like an event that will be saved for the series’ end. What Fargo has found is the alchemy of men in shadows fighting not just each other, but the women and men who stand for something more. Grimly makes clear, yet again, that his daughter comes first. Molly has no such dedication that outstrips her work, not that she may not want that. She is committed to solving this case for many reasons, including a sense of duty. But she also wants to make sense of this chaos. She lost a close friend in the initial bloodbath, and she cannot get him back. What she can get is order, retribution in a less Biblical light. Molly understands that when people like Lorne walk amongst the public, there will always be fewer nights like those in that diner, with kind people reaching out and connecting, than there were the night before.

Grade: A-

  • Another example of a character unable to define, or stick to, their personal code: Milos’ monologue of half-finished sentences that compares religion to a New Year’s resolution that’s impossible to keep.
  • Lorne’s interaction with the drug and weapons salesman is a good one: “It’s already a dog eat dog, friend. Not sure what worse a bunch of zombies could do.”
  • Glenn Howerton and Kate Walsh are both given difficult tasks here; make cartoons come off as relatively human in the context of this world. They both excel, but Walsh’s scene is an easy lowlight of an otherwise impeccable episode.
  • So, Sioux Falls. Clearly that’s coming up again. For those that may have missed it, Lt. Schmidt tells Grimly that this situation is that one all over again. Then Lou, Molly’s father, tells Grimly that he worked with Schmidt on a joint-task force in, you guessed it, Sioux Falls. My money is on somebody, likely Lorne, having been involved in whatever that event is, but either way it’s a nice attempt to tie Duluth and Bemidji together.
  • As it goes with most shows like this, I could spend hours simply focused on how incredible most of these performances are, but this week I’ll single out two (well, two beyond Howerton and Walsh. This is what happens when you give a guy free range on a personal blog. I am the consequence). Allison Tolman’s work on shading Molly in is paying off here as she fully positions herself as the probable lead of the show. Her ability to seem longing without appearing at all weak is impressive, and it’s amazing how Molly always seems to have the upper hand even when she clearly does not. Joey King is also great as the daughter Grimly, keeping as far away from precocious as possible while maintaining a maturity beyond her years.

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