May 7, 2014

Fargo: “Eating the Blame”

By Josh Oakley

Why connect Fargo the television show to Fargo the film? The moment that this occurs, when a pre-grocery story royalty Stavros Milos discovers the money Carl (Steve Buscemi) buried in 1987, is electrifying. Up to that point there were only thematic and tonal connections between the universes, but here is definitive proof that Molly Solverson and Marge Gunderson exist in the same world. Besides that thrill, though, how does this benefit the show? We may be far from the end, but so far this series seems concerned with more than brief shocks like those provided by fan-service. I have a theory, but we’ll get there.

“Eating the Blame” is an hour full of blood and God, concerned with the stickiness of past mistakes and the righteous justice that comes along with those trespasses. After the glimpse of Milos’ past, we see him in present day, still reeling from his shower from last week. Don Chumph, in maintenance mode, doesn’t claim to see any tampering with the plumbing. He connects the dots that Lorne drew last week, the water-to-blood imagery recalling the story of Moses. This horrifies Milos into a fit of anger. You see, right before he found that suitcase of cash, he laid on his stomach and prayed to God for some escape from his pathetic situation. Milos is a man of faith in name only, but he takes that to heart. So when the blood is quickly followed by a swarm of insects in his store, the surreal nature of events settles in. 

After both the money and the plagues, he exclaims, “God is real.” The discrepancy between these two deliveries is perfectly intoned by the actors, and the effect is scarring. God being real, in the Old Testament sense, carries as much fear as it does glory. Your prayers will be answered, but your sins will be punished. If God is real, in other words, that means hell is too. Of course, the audience is aware that no literal deity was responsible for either act. Evil men left both the money and the bugs. The difference between these two men is vital, however. Carl was a bit of an idiot, and after the simplicity of wealth. Lorne clearly has something else on his mind. As I wrote in last week’s review, he’s operating on some system of justice that has yet to be determined. He seems as interested in driving others mad as he is in any sort of monetary reward. Perhaps he allowed himself to be arrested simply to get the police off of his trail. But if this were true, then why toy with Gus Grimly the way he does? “You’re making a mistake. That’s what you’re going to say a couple hours from now,” Lorne warns the officer in the back of his car. And he does so with a knowing grin.

No, I believe that Lorne has higher motives than escaping with as much money as possible. He is, as his riddle suggests, a predator. And the two knowing officers will need to rely on that instinctual nature that we've had since we were monkeys in order to catch him. It’s often impossible to tell exactly who is most in control on Fargo. At the end of “Blame”, it clearly seems to be Lorne, but Molly appears to be making headway each week. Lorne’s performance as Frank Peterson is a masterstroke, both in the world of the show and as a comedic device. What makes these scenes remarkable, more than just a way to eek a few laughs out while driving the story forward is all in Billy Bob Thornton’s performance. Even when Lorne goes on about bingo, there’s a menace present in his mask. It’s subtle enough to fool the blowhard men in charge, but it plays in concert with his threatening persona.

In that side of the story, Grimly’s past mistakes are still being paid for in part by his failings causing the police to let Lorne go. And all of the hypocritical behavior of the faithful Milos brings down the wrath of God on his head. The most physical manifestations of direct blame, however, are saved for Lester Nygaard. The wound on his hand, given prominence in the scene where Mr. Numbers threatens him over the phone, is also briefly recalled when he’s cuffed later in the episode. This is a literal representation of what Lester has done; the dominoes that he set up and knocked over alongside Lorne. He may play clever, with his taser and quick-thinking plan to leave with the police officer, but he winds up in a position close to the one he began that journey in. Him and the hitmen, stuffed inside a small box, the latter in a clear position of power over the former. Those hitmen are in rough shape themselves in certain ways, but they manage to end up with that higher ground time after time. So far, in the world of Fargo, evil remain in the vantage point, peering down at the pawns in whatever game they’re all playing.

What all these characters have done is apparent throughout “Eating the Blame”. Only Lorne is actually able to do what the title suggests, swallowing his guilt in front of the right people. But he also keeps that fear alive in the heart of Gus Grimly. All of this movement of evil keeps the episode from being the show’s best, as part of the hour is an obvious conduit between action and consequence. This is also tied to my theory mentioned at the beginning of this review. The film Fargo ends on a moment of small, but earned solace in a cruel world. Marge and Norm think about the child they are about to have. Her perspective may be shaded by the events she’s witnessed over the rest of the movie, but this is still a light in the dark. So maybe this connection between worlds also serves as something as a promise. Things may be treacherously dark right now, but there’s always the chance that things get better, that some ounce of goodness can be preserved: in the film, a child and a marriage; in the show, a child and a budding romance. Before any sort of resolution may be reached though, all of the blood must be washed away. Lester has yet to call the company to clean his floor covered in Verne’s remains, and guilty men are traveling everywhere. The blame is all around, pouring out of faucets, covering the ground and walking out of the police station covered in every shade of green.

Grade: B+

  • “Erstwhile, on Fargo
  • That shot of Lorne standing near Milos’ house, from Chumph’s perspective, is chilling. Lorne even looks a bit like Slender Man, which should give me plenty of nightmares.
  • So, do Mormons really like being watched while they eat?
  • Speaking of that scene, I loved the touch of not having subtitles for Mr. Wrench’s signing when Mr. Numbers is looking away; if there’s nobody to “hear” him, did he say anything at all?
  • All of Lorne’s material as Frank Peterson was brilliant (especially “Go Bears!” and the Alaska joke that he had a good laugh about), but my favorite line here was probably: “The lord tests you in all kinds of ways, but oh partner that’s a heart stopper.”
  • Meaningless theory corner: Lou Solverson is the very same Lou who had questionable policework at best, according to Marge, in the film. I don't know if that would make sense, and it doesn't really matter at all, but I like picking at stuff like this on occasion and am glad the show opened the door for it.

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