Review: ‘Fargo’ – ‘The Heap’

A review of tonight's “Fargo” coming up just as soon as I buy a timeshare in a boat…

“That's just how it is sometimes! You go to bed unsatisfied!” -Bill

When that moment arrived late in “The Heap” where Gus and Molly were making their plans to go to the logging festival together and the series' ominous main theme music kicked in, I worried that the worst was about to happen – that Malvo might appear out of the white to put a bullet into Gus or, worse, Molly.

But what actually happened was in some ways worse than what I was imagining. Yes, the jump to one year after the murders of Vern, Pearl, Don and everyone else at least doesn't add further bodies to the tally, and it puts us in a reality where Molly and Gus are happily married and expecting a new baby – making Molly into more of a Marge Gunderson analogue than ever before when we get a look at her with the uniform shirt buttoned over that enormous belly – while Bill has accidentally reunited with his adopted Sudanese son Tahir(*), etc. But it's also a reality where Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard have gotten away with every single one of their crimes – they in fact have snazzy new haircuts, a younger and more pliable wife in Lester's case, and a new mark (played by the great Stephen Root) in Malvo's – while Chaz has presumably been in prison and Molly has had to live with the knowledge that the true guilty parties are walking around enjoying life, because no one will listen to her.

(*) They find each other, of course, in a Phoenix Farms supermarket, because God is real.

It's a fascinating move, not only for how convincingly all the characters move into this new reality – and how expertly Martin Freeman shows the slick new Lester slipping back into his timid old mannerisms the moment he recognizes Malvo sitting further down the bar – but for how much more weight it gives the story and its events. This isn't some case that Molly cracked over the course of a couple of weeks, but something she's had to live with and fret over, even as it also introduced her to her husband and stepdaughter. You can see the way it's eaten at her, and prevented her from fully enjoying her otherwise great new life, just as we can see how FBI agents Pepper and Budge(**) have shifted from comic relief to characters who have taken on greater dramatic depth simply from having to endure a year of doing nothing in the file room because of their huge screw-up with Malvo and the Fargo massacre.

(**) Those are two very Key & Peele-sounding names, are they not? Fienberg interviewed Jordan Peele about being on a show with so many colorful names after introducing the world to D'Pez Poopsie and Fartrell Cluggins.

The story in the original film takes place over only a few days, which is a perfect fit for the nature of both the story and the medium. TV functions differently, though, and I like that Noah Hawley keeps pushing this new “Fargo” simultaneously closer to and further away from its inspiration. We may only have two weeks to go to watch this particular tale, but this one narrative move has really transformed the meaning of a lot of it, while never feeling like a retread of the many other dramas in the last few years that have had big time jumps.

Some other thoughts:

* Before we leap ahead in time, Malvo gets to perpetrate some more violence, murdering the cop guarding Mr. Wrench not so he can then kill his other would-be assassin, but so he can reward the guy for getting as close as anyone ever has to killing him. I'm assuming we'll be seeing more of Wrench before the story's out.

* On the flip side, characters I'm guessing the show is done with, though I'm prepared to be proven wrong: Stavros Milos, who hasn't appeared since God smote his son, and the widow Hess. Speaking of which… 

* Hawley and Martin Freeman are walking a fascinating knife edge with Lester, where I'm simultaneously elated and appalled by so many of his actions. I cheered him stapling the Hess boys into submission, even as I groaned at how impressed Linda was by the whole spectacle.

* Bill and Tahir's story of reuniting was a lovely thing not only for Molly's smile at the end of it, but for the reminder that while Bill is both stupid and stubborn, he's a fundamentally decent guy – which has been part of the problem with the whole Nygaard/Malvo case. He can't conceive of a world where a fellow nice guy like Lester could have so thoroughly snapped, and so he ignores all evidence to the contrary the moment an alternate theory and suspect are presented to him.

* Lorne Malvo and Rust Cohle are both prone to philosophizing, and both have spent time in Alaska. Will Malvo offer an opinion on the stars in the sky before all is said and done?

* If any of you are going to Austin this weekend for the ATX Television Festival, I'll be moderating two different “Fargo”-related panels: one about the process of adapting or rebooting famous works into TV shows, featuring Hawley, Jason Katims and “Bates Motel” producer Kerry Ehrin; plus a “Fargo”-specific screening and panel featuring Hawley, Warren Littlefield, Tolman and Keith Carradine. And if you're not going but have things you're curious about from Hawley and company, I've been known to take suggestions.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at