Fargo Recap: Thornton in My Side

Photo: Chris Large/FX
Episode Title
A Muddy Road
Editor’s Rating

Billy Bob Thornton fans who wanted more of Lorne Malvo’s fiendish antics last week should have had fun watching “A Muddy Road.” We know most of the players now, and the wheels are turning for their fates to intertwine or become further enmeshed. Puppetmaster Lorne has set his God-playing sights, for now, on regional supermarket monarch Stavros Milos (played by Oliver Platt). Lorne can’t stand this pig’s shallow grandeur, epitomized by the disharmonious artwork — a rudimentary self-portrait, vulgar stained-glass re-creation of St. Lawrence, and quasi–Pop art wall-hanging of an ice scraper — uglifying his home. So, Lorne figures, why not expense a run to the local butcher shop, make away with gallons of porcine blood, and mainline it into Stavros’s plumbing so he’s literally showered in Wilbur goo? Only after slicing his beloved dog Caroline King’s (genius) jugular and sneaking amphetamines into Stavros’s bottle of acetaminophen (we presume Milos has some migraine issues).

If Stavros wants to know whom he can thank for this latest streak of bad fortune, it both is and isn’t his wife’s idiot personal trainer, Don Chumph (the idiot-to-not-idiot ratio on this show is getting harder to keep straight). The lame-brained Squat Gym employee did attempt to blackmail his client’s spouse, but only for enough money to open a Turkish bath. He did not, however, rain Biblical hellfire. That was his new boss, Lorne, who saw through Don’s desperate ruse and inserted himself into the mix. This will not bode well for Don. After all, his surname does start with Chump. But along with some other relative Fargo innocents (Chief Bill, perhaps?), he seems ill equipped to survive Lorne’s Darwinian games.

But there are a couple of fellas not ready to lie down. One would be Gus Grimly, who comes mostly clean about his brush with Lorne to Duluth PD Lieutenant Schmidt (Peter Breitmayer). Schmidt, as Lou Solverson later notes, is “kind of a prick.” With daughter Greta in tow, Gus marches over to Bemidji PD and makes a full confession of what happened that icy night to an all-too-rapt Molly Solverson (good thing she was right there a-filing). She meets Greta, sizes Gus up as a sensitive dad, and moves past his cowardice. She’s also disinterested in the past, particularly when Gus reveals that Lorne was driving Lester’s stolen car that fateful evening, the very one Lester later asserted was in the shop. Gus, Molly, and Greta all share some diner grub at old Lou’s place, where it’s evident there’s a germ of romantic chemistry between the two officers, but more important, a common interest in vindication, no matter what their higher-ranking supervisors implore.

Anytime those two spend in pursuit of Lorne is good news for Lester, who in his own way has decided not to be some predetermined victim, an evolutionary gnat. Haunted by echoes of his crimes, he heads back to work at Bo Munk Insurance, looking to shed one skin and return to another, pleasantly duller past tense of Lester Nygaard. Only that ship, to reference how Molly describes her love life as “being married to the sea,” has sailed. Les hardly pops a squat when Misters Numbers and Wrench pay a visit, certain that he and Sam Hess’s widow, Gina, corroborated on Sam’s murder for the insurance money. It’s a reasonable guess, given how they’d just spied on Lester’s legit —  if awkward — visit to the Hess estate, where Gina plied him with whiskey and showed off her lap-dancing skills. Then again, Lucky Penny Lenny was a decent suspect, too, but just off the target. Those kinds of near-miss deductions must be commonplace in Bemidji, given Chief Bill’s knack for having cases half-right.

Lester, however, will not end up beneath the ice alongside Lenny. At least not without a fight. Like a hesitant disciple ready to bow at his master’s call, he arrives in younger brother Chazz’s basement, and the two finally bond over spent rifle shells and fantasy bloodletting. Only what Chazz doesn’t get is that, for Lester, this is basic training. Lester no longer sees the world in black-and-white, or through some kind of abstract filter that doesn’t allow for his essentialness. As his initial mentor, Lorne, once suggested, he sees things cavalierly now. It’s an outlook that, ironically, is a direct result of the tragicomic turns he willed life to take. By episode’s end, one wonders if Phil, the degenerate whom Lorne dragged to his trunk (and whose screen saver mirrored the philosophical fish poster in Lester’s basement) in an opening flashback, might relate. Too bad he couldn’t outlast the cold to say.

Apart from all that:

• Nice Pussycat Dolls remix at Squat.

• Lorne’s like True Detective’s Errol Childress — he wants the final confrontation.

• Meanwhile, Lester’s embarrassing return felt rather Don Draper–ian.

• Interested to see where this Sioux Falls business leads, how it ties in, and whether it brings Lou back into the fold.

• Even with Sam gone, Lester still gets bullied by his kids. Time is a flat circle!

• Oh, Moe.

• Really funny stuff from Minnesotan theater actress Anna Sundberg as Molly’s friend Patty.

• I love how literally everyone takes everything in this show. It just makes everything take that much longer.

• “So, which one makes the biggest hole?” is the new “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

• Now that Lou’s a gorilla, everyone’s proud of him.