“Were the Spiders Really Necessary?” FARGO Episode 3- ‘The Muddy Road’
There be lots of spoilers here, don’tcha know?
Three episodes in and Fargo the TV show is finally starting to take shape. Moments and exchanges from last week’s episode that felt tedious or non sequitur gain relevance and meaning, even if the whole affair still feels a bit like sequences from a long movie stretched to episode length. Each episode is more like a twenty minute section of a long movie than an episode in and of itself. There’s rarely a task introduced in an episode that is solidly resolved by the end. It’s a Game of Thrones-type approach to storytelling, one that plays more for long-term satisfaction than week-to-week gratification.
Fargo seems to be sticking with its branching narrative of criss-crossing characters approach, rather than a bunch of headstrong folks ramming against each other. At least, not yet anyway. Lorne Malvo in particular still feels completely removed, as his blackmail plot (which did indeed get more interesting this week) has nothing to do with the deaths of either Bob Hess or Mrs. Nygaard. What makes it all the worse is that Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman have a strange, dynamite chemistry that is not being capitalized upon because Malvo has to threaten Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It seems that the pilot for Fargo was setting up for a show that we’re not getting. Things don’t move with the same tenacity or carry the same weight that they did in that first episode. The framework of the pilot has been torn down and is being slowly rebuilt. It’s not quite done restructuring. Fargo’s new frame will never be the same as it looked like it was going to be, but perhaps it can still be a great structure all the same.
Checking in with Lester
Lester Nygaard is a man with a visual metaphor on his hand, one that only gets worse and more corrupted as his guilt grows. Not that he needs it. Everything around him reminds him of the terrible deeds of the Night of the Bloody Fish Poster. It haunts him to the point that the soundtrack unnecessarily plays audio clips of his wife, a point already hammered home by him looking at the shattered remains of everything in his house, and drilled to the point of comical by the whispy remembered tones of his wife’s nagging from beyond the veil.
With each passing episode, it seems more and more that Lester is going to confess for his crimes, finally broken by either Molly Solverson or two hitmen breaking his legs, and the final confrontation is going to be against Malvo. It only makes sense. Lester, a man of so little talent and drive that it’s his motivation for murdering a person, has mustered up one spectacularly clever move of throwing himself into a wall and little else. He’s constantly on the verge of having his cover blown, and now has two men known for killing dudes on his ass about Hess’s untimely demise. He can’t even prevent himself from being aggressively flirted with by the widow Hess in front of her own children. I’ll give the unfortunate Nygaard two more episodes before he’s spilling his guts to at least one interested party. Probably about the time the shotgun wound on his hand has succumbed his entire hand or has gotten even grosser.
The Lorne Malvo Show
Off on his own show, Lorne made some nice plot advancements this week. It helps that he’s dealing with fundamentally very stupid people, and that he’s always ten steps ahead of everyone around him. Malvo is a man who believes everyone around him to be an idiot. And most of the time he’s right.
In the opening moments of “The Muddy Road,” he drags a man kicking and screaming out of his office in broad daylight, pulling him by his tie as he calls for help. And no one does anything about it. And when questioned by the proper authorities they begin wild speculation about their former co-worker’s bad habits. He has the hubris to conduct extreme crime in broad daylight because he believes everyone will either be too stupid to react or will back down quickly if he shoots them a mean look. And, again, most of the time he’s right.
The only real thing to mull over this week is the killing of the dog. There’s an old rule in scriptwriting that tells you to avoid killing dogs at all costs. It gets a real negative reaction out of an audience. After this trope became public knowledge, movies and TV shows that do kill dogs feel like teenage rebellion. It tastes of going against the rules just to go against the rules, as it does here tonight. There was a larger narrative purpose for it (at least it wasn’t Malvo giving a monologue and torturing someone by killing his dog in front of him), but there are other ways to accomplish the same thing without using that specific tactic. It feels unnecessary, and for a show where my confidence is already starting to slip it doesn’t bode well. It’s a minor moment, but like Game of Thrones’ now infamous rape scene from a few weeks ago, something this jarring is going to infect everything else around it. And it only does so negatively.
I don’t know if Fargo was trying to be cool or make some bold statement that it’s here to play by no one’s rules, but, in my experience, those who are rebellious for rebellion’s stake are cute for a time, but become really sad after the illusion wears off.
Gross Spider Talk Over Milkshakes
I’m probably going to spend most of this section talking about this spider nonsense. There was some nice plot development this week as both of our cop stories came together (if only temporarily), as well as continued wonderful work from Allison Tollman and Colin Hanks, but there wasn’t much meat to chew on besides a gross story about spider sex.
The main issue at play here is that it doesn’t really have much relevance to the proceedings. Not that I want to see that, obviously, but it really just comes out of nowhere. It’s said by a character that we’ve never met before, and it’s not as if spiders are our principle antagonists here or anything. It seems to exist to dampen whatever optimism is left still alive inside of Officer Solverson, which is strange, because I think the current events happening all around her serve that purpose just as well.
As much as I hate to bring up the Coen Brothers’ original Fargo, it has hardly had more relevance, because Molly’s character arc is moving largely in the same way as Officer Marge Gunderson’s in Fargo (1996), and the arc would feel just as familiar if this show was called Cold Bullshit: An FX Miniseries Event. Throughout the film, Marge goes from average, every day, pregnant, work a day crime solver to someone whose Midwestern rose colored view of the world is disillusioned, and the life she lives is left as bleak and white as the landscape that surrounds her. Molly Solverson of Fargo (2014) is moving in largely the same direction, but doesn’t need spider stories to get her there.
Her father is an injured man constantly pressuring her to quit her job. Her friend and mentor has been murdered. She’s dealing with a seemingly normal guy who probably murdered his own wife and got the aforementioned friend and mentor murdered. Officer Solverson needs no help to become disillusioned.
Perhaps it was a metaphor? For the spiders that come out of normal people, often when you least expect them? It just feels a little out of place. It certainly sooooounds like something you’d hear in a movie, some out of context thing that has mild metaphorical relevance, but it doesn’t feel as strong. It doesn’t help that it was really, really gross.
I don’t mean to spend so much time on the spiders, but Fargo deemed it relevant enough to bring it up twice, and it just doesn’t stick the way I think showrunner Noah Hawley wants it to. Which sort of makes it an unintentional metaphor for the show itself in its current incarnation. The spider story reaches for profundity but it never lands the way Fargo thinks that it does, much like last week’s dispatching through the ice of a character we didn’t care about. The spider story is something that might come together later but right now has no base on which to stand. It raises more questions than it answers, and, ultimately, leaves the viewer with one eyebrow raised and a strange sense of incompleteness.
Final Verdict: 6.5/10 Online Dates, for a shaky episode that moves things along nicely.
What about you? Did the spider story resonate with you?
Come back each and every week for reviews of FX’s Fargo, as well as my weekly coverage of Game of Thrones.
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