Fargo Season 1, Episode 3 “A Muddy Road”
Written by Noah Hawley
Directed by Randall Einhorn
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
What happens when you ignore a problem? It festers; like the shotgun pellet wound in Lester’s hand, it begins to slowly infect everything around it – and the more you try to ignore it, the faster it happens. Eventually, it ends up like that unfortunate spider bite Molly’s high school friend mentioned: that infection spills out, crawling and invading every little crevice and dark corner of your life. Like the Buddhist parable the episode is titled after, “A Muddy Road” focuses on two characters avoiding the biggest mistakes of their adult lives – and how two different perspectives on dealing with them reveals their true nature.
Those two characters are Lester and Gus, two men living with the consequences of their choices – and more specifically, choices they made in the presence of Evil during “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”. The distinction between their actions is drawn out again with the help of Molly Solverson, the agent of Good fighting against the darkness crawling over Bemidji (an idea visually represented in the opening titles, which feature white landscapes casting shadows, or the headlights of a car shining through the darkness). Of the many characters on the show, Molly and Lorne’s influences on people are the strongest: none more than on Lester and Gus, who find themselves with opportunities to own up to their growing list of mistakes and regrets in regards to their experiences with the man working for (and blackmailing) the supermarket king of Minnesota.
Lester and Gus couldn’t be two different people, however: where Gus ran away from evil (some might even call him a coward), Lester embraced it, murdering his wife after being ’empowered’ (more like coerced) by Lorne’s words and behavior. Both of them made mistakes; and throughout both “The Rooster Prince” and “A Muddy Road”, they’re given opportunities for redemption, through Molly Solverson. Her influence weighs heaviest (for most characters – Stavos might disagree) in “A Muddy Road”, which sees her fool Lester into revealing he knows Lorne (in an ingenious fashion, played devilishly by Allison Tolman), and providing a cathartic place for Gus to admit he fucked up when he didn’t put his life on the line to stop Lorne’s impending violent streak (which continues this week with King, Stavros’ unfortunate pitbull).
For all intents and purposes, she is the savior of Bemidji, a woman steadfast enough in her beliefs, and pushy enough with her demeanor, to fight back against Lorne, the two hitmen who pay Lester a visit at his office, Lester, and whatever other corrupted forces may come her way. Her gun isn’t made of wood, after all – and she certainly can be a convincing type, given how quickly she coerces Gus and Greta to join her for dinner at her father’s restaurant. She’s a smart woman, effective at her job, and uncompromising in the face of idiot cops and other disillusioned, privileged white men – notice how she doesn’t forgive Gus for letting Lorne go, but doesn’t chide him for his decision to protect his daughter, rather than those he was sworn to protect.
It gets back to the idea of forgiveness at the heart of Fargo: forgive yourself, and things aren’t so bad (or end up like Moses, living in the bottom of a well until some farmer offers you one of your children, as told in the story read by Lorne over the episode’s closing images). Hold onto all that shit, and things get dark: Lester’s infected hand isn’t getting better, and the psychological torture Lorne’s serving Stavros is reaching new levels of intense (*), while Molly inches closer and closer to the man who dragged Phil the accountant down the hallway by his tie, and the man whose car he was driving 24 hours later when he appeared in the unfortunate, increasingly-blood soaked town of Bemidji, a town as uneven and crooked as the new police chief’s mustache.
Through the first three episodes, the narrative of Fargo isn’t necessarily anything good: forces of good and evil, corruption of the soul by embracing the latter, angry white men doing angry white men things, yada yada yada. But like True Detective earlier this year, Fargo is supplementing familiar material with layers: distinct visual palettes, rampant symbolism, and powerful performances (led by Tolman and Thornton, of course) are all what make Fargo such a fascinating watch, especially for a philosophy nerd like myself. How we deal with consequences often defines who we are: and whether it’s Molly, Malvo, Lester, Gus, Stavros, or any other character in the world of Fargo (right down to Kate Walsh’s stripper-turned-mother-of-mongoloids details), all the characters in Bemidji are still coming to terms with the choices they’ve made.
– (*) swine are often the animal symbolically associated with gluttony. Given that, Lorne putting pig’s blood in Stavros’ water tank is a wonderfully dark visual symbol of a man washing in the fruits of his own greed.
– Let’s talk about the painting of that red ice scraper in Stavros’ office… after next week’s episode.
– Lorne, to Don: “Me. I’m the consequence.”
– there’s a distinct image of the words “hope” and dream” on a refridgerator, over a quote about finding happiness. Does it suggest that the answer lies above us (as in, with God), or that the pursuit of dreams and hope is ultimately what keeps us from enjoying happiness? I’d argue its the latter, but it’s a fascinating image from director Randall Einhorn (who is normally behind the cameras of Wilfred) either way.
– so Ben Schmidt (Gus’s boss) and Molly’s father Lou worked together in Sioux Falls, which Ben says Bemidji is “all over again”. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this soon.
– one of Sam Hess’s idiot kids shoots the other with an arrow: “Not again” says the widow Hess, while straddling an uncomfortable Lester.
– Mike Yanagita = Molly’s friend?