Fargo "The Heap" Review: The (Incredible) Year of the Nygaard

By Tim Surette

Jun 04, 2014

Fargo S01E08: "The Heap"


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.


NOTES

– 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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  • Snorko Jun 09, 2014

    I'm surprised the reviewer missed mentioning the significance of some of the titles, such as "Buridan's Ass" and, here, the "Heap." The old Greek paradox considers whether a heap is still a heap, after you remove one grain of sand. Since removing one grain doesn't make a non-heap, it seems that you can remove grains until they run out, but the heap remains. Our FBI agent wonders whether you still have a file room, if you remove files one at a time...

  • TresyKilbourn Jun 07, 2014

    Skipping by Chazz's fate is a huge plot hole. He would have had a trial by now, and in the hands of any competent lawyer the frame up would have been exposed, even if not necessarily the id of the framer (though that would not have been a stretch). If he was acquitted, Molly would have been vindicated, and would not be hiding her ongoing investigation as she is shown doing. If he was convicted, Molly would be dealing with that. Instead everything indicates that nothing has happened, which is utterly implausible, and just shows that the writers don't want to deal with the flimsiness of the frame up idea. They just want us to forget it.

  • ludoTV Jun 07, 2014

    The time jump was a good thing - It helps with moving the characters to a new place, like Lester being even more of a douche... He now thinks he's on top of the world cause he won an award (and took it to the bar, show off much?) and a bunch of pros are eyeing him (his wallet but he is too deluded to see).

    Other than that, I am still underwhelmed by Fargo esp. in relation to the movie which had much better characters (esp. the 'good' vs. 'bad' ones). Molly is just not that great a character IMO, sure she may be the smartest cop around but have you seen the rest? Esp the FBI's best of the crop exiled in the basement. Geez.... More than anything, no smart woman would make a baby with that Gus waste of space of a guy, still dropping coffee on his own lap.... Seriously, why do the good guys in this show have to be so useless?

  • popgal305 Jun 07, 2014

    I chuckled when I saw that there was a mini version of the inspirational poster in Lester's basement on the bulletin board that gets knocked down in the file room.

  • rpmessner Jun 05, 2014

    Whatever happens with Malvo & Nygaard, I'm guessing it's going to involve Chekov's blackmail tape Malvo made from the 'I did a bad thing' phone call.

  • jjafargi Jun 05, 2014

    I strongly suspect that Lester, recognizing that Malvo is the last remaining link to his crime, and seeing himself as an alpha predator now, will attempt to take Malvo on. It will not go well for him!

  • garydichtenberg Jun 05, 2014

    The show is a gem. It also represents the golden age of tv drama. While movies must justify huge budgets and costly admission fees with bang and smoke, tv has reclaimed character development and the art of story telling. Fargo is a perfect representation of this. Lester's impossible rise to salesman of the year along with his sexual trophies has been too much fun. Lester emerges from the nebbish to hero with a five o'clock shadow of evil/danger. Both Malvo and Lester are motivated by survival at any cost - but what will happen when they meet in Las Vegas. Delicious.

  • BobbyBlack Jun 06, 2014

    True. A lot of these tv shows are lacking the art of storytelling, but Fargo - i swear, it's like reading a really really good book, you know, a book you just can't put down/stop reading because you want to know what's going to happen next. Sadly, these superheore, vampire shows are all about looking pretty and cheesy, corny ass action scenes like things blowing up and show off flips and somersaults, and really lame dialogue. with no depth or substance, Fargo is delicious indeed.

  • pichikin Jun 05, 2014

    You gotta give some credit to the actor who plays Bill as well. It must be hard to pull off infuriatingly-idiotic-yet-ultimately-likeable-doofus. A couple of times in an episode, I alternate between wanting to see someone knock some sense into him and then wanting to give him a pat on the head. I just can't stay mad at him. He has good intentions, he has a good heart, he's just so stupid. Oh, Bill.

    Wouldn't it be funny if the guy Lester thought was Malvo in Vegas was just Billy Bob Thornton?
    Tim, how meta of you. ;) Wouldn't that be funny indeed.

    Molly and Gus are SO adorable. My gosh, that baby will melt people with it's adorableness.

    Is it just me or was the whole losing a spleen thing a joke between Molly and Gus? To the lady cop, Molly said the bullet was a through-and-through.

  • Gonzai Jun 05, 2014

    I think it was really a through-and-through...I can't imagine a hospital letting someone who'd had a splenectomy leave a couple days later, and definitely, no way on Earth would she be cleared to work in less than a week (that's fast for being shot, period.)

  • tobsh Jun 05, 2014

    Bob Odenkirk is the man, after all!

  • jjafargi Jun 05, 2014

    Better Call Saul!

  • pichikin Jun 06, 2014

    Oh, snap!! BILL IS SAUL GOODMAN?? So that's why he's so good! I did NOT recognize him. He looks so different! Thanks for pointing that out, guys.

  • ludoTV Jun 07, 2014

    My thoughts exactly - hair & suit change help but WOW just WOW this guy

  • No1Slayerette Jun 05, 2014

    Loved Lester's 'Are you calm?', it reminded me very much of Walter White's various character defining phrases, "I am the danger' and 'Say my name'. I'll definitely be using that one in the future.

  • No1Slayerette Jun 05, 2014

    What a weird episode. Loved the first half, but I wasn't so thrilled with the time jump, and I'm hesitant about where this will lead the series for its conclusion.

    For me there's just too much left unexplained back in 2006. @JenMo73 was very observant in her discussion/ questionnaire after last week's episode that Stavros' storyline was ignored, and logically it seemed that it would continue this week, which was not the case. I'm not saying Stravos' story didn't end, but Lorne most definitely wasn't finished with him - he was on his way to meet Stavros when Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench intercepted him. Lorne not the sort of character who just forgets about something like that, which he seems to have done here.

    Then there's the slew of other secondary characters whose fates are left open ended. What happened to Chazz and Gordo? Gina Hess and her boys? Me. Wrench? What happened at Gus' trial?(although I'm assuming he was fired and then went on to life out his dream as a postman). I guess it's to each individual's taste on whether they think it's necessary that Fargo answers these questions before the series ends, but I for one would like closure for at least a few of them. And Fargo may very well give me this, but the problem I have with that is the whole point of moving the story a year forward is to, as Tim said, so we wouldn't have to suffer through some of the more possibly tedious aspects of the story, and to once again bring focus to the parts that are most important/ significant heading to the series' conclusion.

    So on one hand if Fargo ignores all those open-ended questions it left behind in 2006 it demonstrates that the series, potentially, did actually have aspects that weren't necessary to the story, but rather filler. But on the other hand if the series does decide to answer some of these questions I feel it will defeat the purpose of moving forward a year. What's the point of moving everything forward in time if there's going to be significant discussion of what happened in the past? It just makes the point that the time jump was unneccessary, and it highlights my major problem with flashbacks/ flashfowards on television in general.

    So can you see why I'm hesitant for next week's installment?

  • JenMo73 Jun 05, 2014

    I totally agree! I'm in Disneyland so I'll do a questionnaire tonight!

  • No1Slayerette Jun 06, 2014

    YAY! I eagerly anticipate it.

  • tobsh Jun 05, 2014

    I'll wager some answers and conclusions will be implied in the present (2007) story while some are left to the imagination. Gus's way to becoming a postman seems obvious, as you said. I don't see much story left for the Widow Hess and her boys; she didn't get her insurance money and that's that. Chazz either got sentenced and is now out of the picture, or he didn't/something else happened and we'll revisit him. Mr. Wrench will most likely make a reappearance, and so will Gordo.

    The end of some of those plot lines we, as Tim said, don't really need spelled out which is why I think the time-skip was well executed. I disagree on your point that having open-ended questions that are not revisited means they were filler. It simply means they were as far addressed and as much concluded as necessary.

  • aktarian Jun 05, 2014

    Or that they were there to either further a plot or connect characters. Once they did that they became irrelevant and how they ended is up to viewer to interpret.

    E.g. Gina and kids. Does it matter how that ended? Did her husband have some money stashed somewhere so she lives comfortably now? Did she have to sell the house and scale down and get a job? did she meet somebody else and married? Honestly, who cares. That plot served its purpose and ending doesn't really matter.

  • aktarian Jun 05, 2014

    Even if these questions aren't answered that doesn't make them filler. Chazz and Gordo, Gina and boys are important to show how LEster changed.Numbers and wrench connected couple of plotlines. I think Gus realised he's not ment to be a cop and after hearing resigned and lived the drea of postman. I think he was cleared anyway.

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