Fargo "The Heap" Review: The (Incredible) Year of the Nygaard
In its first seven episodes, Fargo was on the clock. For every step Lester took, Molly took two. The shotgun pellet in Lester's hand festered as his infection grew worse and worse, creating a pus-filled time bomb that threatened to explode and send damning evidence all over the room. With each passing episode, the distance between individual characters decreased until people were nearly back-to-back—in some cases quite literally, as was the case during the incredible blizzard shootout in "Buridan's Ass."
And now, once again, Fargo has surprised us. A little past the halfway point of "The Heap," the clock skipped forward a year, for what seemed like no real reason at all. Gus was sipping coffee from a thermos and working a speed trap, and then the camera panned and he was one year older, living his dream of being a mailman and coming home to a pregnant Molly!
For one thing, this time jump proves that showering a woman with flowers can not only make her fall for you, it can also make her forget that spleen you shot out of her. (Or maybe she got a new one during the year we didn't see? I want answers, Noah Hawley!) But from a storytelling perspective, it critically alters the structure of the series.
Fargo is essentially teaching a master class in how to really take advantage of the miniseries/limited event/anthology format (or whatever we're currently calling this hot TV trend). The show is admirably condensing a three- or four-season series into 10 episodes, and this time jump, to me, represents the break between what would normally be a penultimate season and final season. For example, if we imagine Fargo as a traditionally paced series, I'd guess that the end of a hypothetical Season 3 would show us Gus and Molly together a year into the future, as well as where Lester is now, and the fourth and final season would start with Episode 9 (which we'll see next week).
Watching Fargo kind of feels like binge-watching a carefully crafted Cliff's Notes version of an outstanding longer series, or like injecting Fargo concentrate directly into our veins. Hawley has clearly put a lot of effort into focusing on the good parts of his story and rejecting the type of filler that often emerges from a writers' room that's forced to spend five full episodes getting Plot Point A to Plot Point B.
And that's exactly how this type of TV project should operate—not as a short season, but a short, complete show. It's called a miniseries, after all. Just picture the back-and-forth relationship stuff with Gus and Molly that we might've had to suffer through if this story was slated for a five-season run? Instead, we've seen all the necessary bits of their (adorable) relationship, and now we can move on to the next chapter.
So let's talk about what happened in "The Heap" and where things are left off. Gus and Molly are together and happy, but she's still smarting over the Lester/Chazz/Pearl/Sam Hess case, because she knows they got the wrong guy. Obviously her pregnancy forced a bit of a slowdown in her ongoing investigation, a circumstance that simultaneously provided a believable reason for why the trail has gone cold and raised Molly's personal stakes. A year has passed, but Molly is still making calls to the FBI in an attempt to get more details on the Fargo massacre, and she's still hitting the same dead end. Agents Budge and Pepper are still slaving away in the file room, and even though I've been wondering how they'll ultimately fit into this mess, I'm guessing that Molly will somehow get through to them, and they'll become instrumental in delivering the necessary files and/or information she'll need to wrap this thing up.
While Molly is stuck in a state of stasis, Lester's been shot out of a cannon, into a whole new life. I originally thought the Nygaards' old washing machine would be Lester's Telltale Heart, a thumping clunker beneath his kitchen floor that reminded him of his wife's death and drove him mad, but it was something much simpler than that: an inanimate metaphor for Lester, an object that was just getting by and doing an an ugly job of it, to boot. It was a lemon that couldn't be fixed. But this new washing machine, it's a beaut! It washes with confidence and swagger. It's an alpha washing machine that knows how to get what it wants. Just like Lester 2.0, the man who got away with murder.
New Lester is the 2007 Insurance Salesman of the Year! He bagged a hot Asian wife, and in "The Heap," we saw him send her to bed so he could troll the hotel bar for an easy lay. He's a continuation of the Lester who emerged in "Buridan's Ass," the Lester who sat in his hospital bed with a smirk on his face, knowing that he'd just framed his brother.
And this is awfully high praise I'm about to dish out, so prepare yourself. I don't think I've seen an actor make the kind of transformation that Martin Freeman has made since Bryan Cranston so artfully evolved Breaking Bad's Walter White. Lester carries himself completely different now. His shoulders are higher, his neck is extended, he looks straight ahead instead of up, his hair has fresh-out-of-the-salon movie-star volume—he's more of a presence. "The Heap" contained a pair of scenes where Lester was commanding a room and we didn't even know what he was saying (one was in the Bo Munk Insurance office, when Molly stopped by, and the other was at a dinner table in Vegas), but Lester's body language was all we needed to see to understand that he'd become a different man. I'm hoping that Freeman earns some recognition come Emmy time, because he is exceptional.
Lester is on top of the world—or at least he thought he was. In the final scene of "The Heap," he coincidentally encountered a ghost from his past when he saw Lorne Malvo sitting at a booth not too far from his hottie-hunting perch at the bar. We saw a look of registered contemplation cross his face, but it didn't give us enough of an indication of how he was feeling, so we don't know what his next move was going to be. We're perfectly suspended in the moment as Lester faces his biggest test: Has all this newfound bravado given him the guts to confront Malvo about what happened? Does he want to show the man who put him on a path of self-actualization how far he's come? Does he want to punch Malvo in the nose and take that final ascending step up the food chain by toppling the biggest predator of them all? Is he going to skitter away with his tail between his legs and undo all the progress he's made? Everything we've seen so far has built toward this moment, and we're about to find out what kind of man Lester truly is.
– FX made a really big deal about the time jump, asking press who screened "The Heap" early to zip our lips about the sudden launch into the future until after the episode aired. Tthat sort of practice should generally go without saying, but in this case, I'm not sure such precautions were necessary. For me, the white-out slaughter, or even Lester killing his wife, were much bigger plot points than the time jump, and FX didn't issue nearly as many spoiler guidelines with those.
– Kitty Nygaard on what was truly important about Chazz's arrest: "You don't cheat on Ms. Hubbard County!"
– Bill continues to say the most hilarious outlandish shit. In this episode, he didn't want to take a meeting because he wanted to digest his omelet first, and he wanted to keep a case closed because the department had already had drinks to celebrate its resolution.
– Gina Hess: "I was picking your pubes out of my teeth 12 hours ago." Right in front of her boys, too.
– That scene with Molly telling Bill that she thought they got the wrong guy and that she wanted back on the Hess case was super good. Freeman is receiving a lot of well-deserved praise for his perforamnce, but Alison Tolman is equally worthy. That quivering lip! Awww! Like a puppy that's been shamed for pooping on the rug.
– I know I went on up above about the way that Fargo is condensing its story and leaving out unnecessary filler, but the show does know when it's important to slow down to get a point across. In "The Heap," it did so with Tahir's wonderful story about how he met Bill and his wife, his American host family, after getting robbed at the airport. "Don't question the universe, that's my motto. Sometimes things just work out," Bill said. And that bit of wisdom is going to be important moving forward. It also helps explain how Molly being shot by Gus led to her eventually being happy with Gus. Plus that hug between Bill and Tahir was adorable.
– Wouldn't it be funny if the guy Lester thought was Malvo in Vegas was just Billy Bob Thornton?
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