Review: ‘Fargo’ – ‘Eating the Blame’

A review of tonight's “Fargo” coming up just as soon as I know why the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color…

“That's what you're going to say a couple of hours from now: 'You're making a mistake.'” -Lorne Malvo

Noah Hawley and company have been very cagey in talking about how, if at all, the TV “Fargo” is connected to the movie “Fargo,” but “Eating the Blame” opens with a flashback that delightfully draws a direct line between one story and the other, as a young Stavros Milos finds the ransom money that Carl Showalter buried out in the snow near the end of the film. Though we saw the painting of the telltale red ice scraper on Stavors' wall last week, I just took that as another of the series' many winks at the film (and the larger Coen brothers body of work), and was floored and enormously amused to make the discovery here(*). The ice scraper is one of the more memorable visuals from the movie – and also the moment when I figured out the “true story” preface was bogus, since how would anyone have ever known that Carl did this with the money? – and it provides an elegant link between the two stories without unfairly tying either to the other. Marge Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard exist in the same universe as Molly Solverson and Lester Nygaard, but there's no requirement (or expectation) for them to ever meet.

(*) Though I see in last week's comments that a number of you figured it out, based on the painting and all the talk of where, exactly, Stravros' money came from. I figured/feared that with a smart and lively comments section, people would put 2 and 2 together. Hoping the realization then was as fun for you as seeing it play out in this one was for those of us who didn't solve the puzzle as quickly. 

The link comes via Noah Hawley, who is the god of this corner of the “Fargo” universe, and the money leads Stavros to believe deeply and loudly in the existence of the Almighty – and thus to be very susceptible to Lorne Malvo's ongoing Ten Plagues-themed torment. Though Lorne spends a good chunk of “Eating the Blame” getting out of police custody after he and Gus Grimly cross paths again, the episode begins and ends with him causing Stavros no end of mental and spiritual anguish with his various plagues, following up the blood with a plague of bugs invading his flagship supermarket. As Stavros (whose mind is also being altered by the drugs Lorne swapped in for his regular pills) panics and the customers flee the building in haste, we see Lorne standing on the roof, very much the God – or Devil – who is watching this all.

And it's because the show presents Lorne in this almost supernatural way that it's able to mostly get away with the middle section where he's under arrest and neither Gus's boss nor Molly's seems to recognize who and what he really is. Putting Lorne in Gus's path again was inevitable, for both the story and for what seems to be the Gus/Molly character arc, but the show also can't put its villain away with more than half of the season still to go. But it does seem too easy, even if we acknowledge that Bill is an idiot who doesn't trust Molly, that Gus's boss is skeptical of his judgment, etc. Lorne is a chameleon (here conveniently posing as a minister for the sake of all the theological discussion) who is somehow also a predator, but Duluth in 2006 isn't Mayberry in 1956, and it feels like there probably were ways to poke holes in Lorne's story – like, for instance, bringing in any of the people who watched him drag their co-worker out of the office, consulting with the nurse who saw Lorne talking with Lester, etc. That both bosses are so willfully obstinate doesn't give Gus or Molly time to do most of these things, but it's still the first time where the show has pushed Lorne's powers up against their limits.

And yet even with that, he's a black comic wonder, whether patiently trying to coax useful thought and action out of Don, warning Gus of what will happen within a few hours of his arrest, or surveying his vast and terrified kingdom from the supermarket roof.

Though “Fargo” the show now definitively takes place in the same universe as “Fargo” the movie, and though Lorne has certain traits in common with Anton Chigurh, on the whole he feels like a unique creation, and placing him into the same world with Carl and Jerry and the woodchipper has turned the show into something that's linked to the movie while becoming its own weird and wonderful thing.

Some other thoughts:

* This is the first time anyone on the show has uttered the name “Lorne Malvo,” and though Lorne doesn't react well when Gus says it to him, I'm skeptical that he would actually put his real name on a motel register like that. But it's the name FX's press notes use for the character (just as it does for Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, who have also not been named in dialogue), so it's what I'm going with until we're told otherwise.

* Chekhov's Blizzard: Bill alerts the other cops about a big storm coming at mid-week, and I'm guessing that will play a role in a future episode. (This was the last I saw in advance, and I should be going week to week from here to the end of the season.)

* Fienberg published his interview with Adam Goldberg yesterday, in which he talks about the approach to all the ASL conversations between Wrench and Numbers. Interestingly, they get subtitles this week when they're on their own, and their bickering does suggest, as Goldberg suggests they were told to play it, an old married couple.

* Also, Wrench's deafness becomes a problem for them for the first time when Lester is able to escape their deep freeze treatment when he tasers Numbers while Wrench has his back turned. (Though it's also possible a hearing man wouldn't have noticed either, given the noise of the ice auger.) The close quarters they wind up in after all three deliberately get themselves arrested should lead to some awkward moments next week.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at