Fargo: Episode Four – ‘Eating the Blame’

Channel 4
Cast: Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman
11 May 2014
Runtime: 47 minutes

I have never been the Coens’ biggest fan. Fargo, the movie, and The Big Lebowski did not work for me for a variety of reasons. Stories not indicative of a profound human struggle are never quite up my street – though slice-of-life storylines are good up to a point, to my mind, the cleverly crafted characters often go to waste like that. Therefore, when FX’s new series Fargo appeared, I kept waiting for the disappointment to roll up. Four episodes in, I’m still waiting. Fargo has inevitably drawn me in, and it seems intent on becoming the best show currently on television.

Episode four opens up with a good nod to the original movie, with a flashback of retail magnate Stavros Milos’ (Oliver Platt) past. The briefcase that Stavros finds in the snow is the same that Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie buried near a barbed fence. The timelines are slotted together perfectly – we could all hear hardcore Coen fans giving a unified gasp.

Fast forward. Milos is now hopped-up on the amphetamines we saw Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) substitute for his back pills in the last episode. With quite the biblical touch, Malvo takes the blackmail to another level. His sleek, elegant approach to crime can bring shivers to anyone’s spine. It’s all the more surprising when bubbling cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) almost accidentally takes the hard-boiled serial murderer into custody. This, of course, opened the floor to Thornton’s amazing abilities. Within seconds, we saw him transform from a man, who drags an accountant out of his office by his tie without batting an eyelid, into a Methodist minster with a pronounced Minnesota accent and fluttering eyelids. “It’s like I told this young fella,” Malvo hammers on, “this is a boondoggle, plain and simple.” If there is a more Emmy-worthy performance this year, I am yet to see it.

On the other side of town, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman of Sherlock fame) is kidnapped by the duo Numbers and Wrench, whom I refer to as The Merry Murderers. Chasing up Lester for Sam Hess’ murder (which is only partially his fault), they haul him in the boot of a car and try to dump him into an icy lake. In a very Coen-esque style, Nygaard escapes from the sticky situation with a clumsiness and darkness that is incredibly funny, only to be awarded for his efforts with a misfortunate twist at the end. The final shot of one of the killers, Numbers, who gives a cheeky, one-sided smile, is hauntingly ironic and hilarious.

Every tiny detail about Fargo has been polished to perfection, such as the incompetence of the Minnesota police in dealing with a true, pure evil, such as Lorne Malvo, and Lester Nygaard, awkwardly trying to crawl back into his life after murdering his wife. It’s the big storylines that Coen movies usually lack. Even with annoying, flat characters, such as droopy-eyed Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), the show trudges on bravely, and manages a steady hold on the viewer’s attention. It is definitely the current must-watch on television.

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