Four episodes into its maiden voyage, Fargo may not quite be meeting the lofty expectations I set for it in my review of the excellent pilot, but it's still a leading contender for best new TV series of the year. I'm not really disappointed in the show, but I do get the feeling that it could be a little better than it is. For me, that's due to an on-off pattern in the four episodes we've seen so far. If you look at Fargo through the lens of TV.com's patented 4-Episode Test™, the first and third episodes, "The Crocodile's Dilemma" and "A Muddy Road," stood out as something special, while the second and fourth episodes, "The Rooster Prince" and this week's "Eating the Blame," were merely good. Fargo is an outstanding achievement thus far, but we're all still settling into the series, and the inconsistency (which in this case isn't a dealbreaker since we're comparing great and good) makes it hard to know what to expect going into each episode.
This is professional-level world-record-breaking extreme-to-the-max nitpicking here, but the idea of the 4-Episode Test™ isn't just to figure out whether a show is good or bad in its current state, it's an attempt to measure how good a show could be in the foreseeable future. And right now, I still don't know how to judge Fargo, because two episodes have been amazing and two have been good. Did the series pass its 4-Episode Test™? Hell yeah, with flying colors. But I'm struggling to determine whether it belongs in the highly gifted magnet school for hyper-advanced television shows, or whether it can just take honors classes at the local educational establishment.
Here's what we do know about Fargo so far: It has one of television's best casts, it's shot beautifully by directors who each helm two episodes before passing the camera to the next guy, the dialogue is out of sight (except when it comes to Mr. Wrench, where it's exclusively in sight), and its sense of humor is more twisted than the AV cables behind my TV. It's the intriguing story of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a man who's been involved in two murders—one direct, one indirect. Hunting him down in the nicest, most polite way possible is Deputy Molly Solverson (a breakout role for Allison Tolman), who might be the only competent cop north of Minneapolis; that makes it especially frustrating to see her hampered by higher-ups who are afraid to shake trees for fear that an apple might hit 'em in the head. That's Fargo simplified. But Fargo is anything but simple.
Where Fargo falters ever so slightly—just a smidgen, really—is in its desire to stuff itself to the point where it needs larger snowpants. Lester was pushed onto his murderous path by the ever-peculiar Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), who told Lester to stick up for himself and then voluntarily killed a man on Lester's behalf for no gain of his own. I'm still trying to understand why Lorne killed Sam Hess in the first place; if I was a hired killer I doubt I'd use my skills for charity. But hey, Lorne is most likely a sociopath, so with him, anything goes.
Through Lorne's murder of Hess, we were introduced to Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, a pair of men hired to catch whoever killed the big bully who had ties to the mob. So far they've mistaken two different men for the murderer—the second being Lester—and they're completely unaware that Lorne even exists. In the most auxiliary part of Fargo, we've had the chance to tag along with Lorne as he goes about his "day job," and his latest gig involves investigating whoever might be blackmailing Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt). This week, Lorne realized that Don Chumph (outstanding character name, played by Glenn Howerton) was behind the scheme, and apparently he got to the guy, because the effeminate and eternally bronzed physical trainer for Milos's wife is now helping Lorne take it on. Oh gosh, I haven't even mentioned Gus Grimley (Colin Hanks) yet, the cop from Duluth who managed to pull Lorne over and let him go before he learned that Lorne was a suspect in the Bemidji triple homicide. Oh, and there might be some romance brewin' between Gus and Molly.
That's a LOT of plot and a huge paragraph to tell it. Normally that would sink a show, but here I think it's more like a dragging anchor that'll eventually get pulled up as we spend more time in this universe. Until then, I could use some of Milos's adderall to get the focus I need to keep up with Fargo. I'm fully invested in Lester's attempts to escape the murder of his wife, and I love watching him squirm as the dragnet cinches around him; that's what Fargo is to me. Lorne's blackmailing plot, not so much. For the last few episodes, it's merely taken him away from Lester, and watching the two of them interact was one of the joys of the pilot. ("You let a man beat you in front of his sons to teach them a lesson?") I'm sure in about a month we'll all have a laugh over this ("Hey, remember that time when Tim was too dumb to keep track of everything that was happening on Fargo?") because despite the stories feeling tangled right now, by season's end I'm sure we'll have a rich tapestry. Fargo is fantastic, but we might have to do an 10-Episode Test (patent pending) to decide whether it's one the all-time greats.
– What I'm hoping happens with Lester and his interactions with Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers (at the end of this episode, he was stuck in a jail cell with them) is that Lester is forced to rat out Lorne. That will once again tie Lester and Lorne together, and the sooner we come to a showdown between Lorne and the two hitmen, the better.
– How long until Milos gives up the cash? He seems like a stubborn man who might hold out through all the signs of Lorne's Rapture. And maybe I missed something, but why hasn't he had more meetings with Lorne since the blackmailer upped the price?
– Bill (Bob Odenkirk): Lovable small-town cop with old-fashioned values, or boneheaded dinosaur?
– As some of you have noted in the comments, the case of money found by young Milos in the opening was a clever tie-in to the film and a smart way to establish timelines. Steve Buscemi's character left the case behind in the movie, and Milos presumably found it some 18 years ago (Fargo was released in 1996), buried in a snow pile by the side of the road. Sorry I left it out initially; it's been almost 20 years since I've seen the movie.
– Lester is dealing with two persistent reminders of his dirty deed: his still-bloody apartment and the buckshot embedded in his hand. But it's the hand wound that's an ingenious "ticking clock," as it's beginning to get infected. He'll have to see a doctor soon, and that will mean explaining how the shrapnel ended up in his hand.
AIRED ON 12/14/2015
Season 2 : Episode 10