For seven episodes now, FX’s Fargo has been a hallmark of quirky comedic drama, with enough pitch black thrills and kills to legitimately rival the Coen brothers’ film for simpleton storytelling. Tonight’s episode “Who Shaves the Barber?” took things to their natural escalatory extremes, and delivered in two ways that I am impulsively considering the series’ best bits so far. They’re hard to summarize, as one is a character arc while the other is a proper scene, so move your pop and let's get to it.
Aw geez, I guess I should warn anyone who hasn’t seen the episode that there are spoilers down below.
Key, Peele and a Visually Fantastic Twist on Mass MurderI know I’m not the only person out there who has been going mad in anticipation for comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to guest star, and they finally appeared tonight as Webb Pepper (Peele) and Bill Budge (Key), a pair of soft-spoken and bumbling FBI agents. The duo are sitting in a car not-quite-arguing about food quality when Lorne Malvo walks past them, donning an automatic weapon and heading into the office building that they’re supposed to be watching. Malvo is on a mission to kill the man who sent Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers to kill him.
Director Scott Winant – who directed “Crawl Space,” my favorite Breaking Bad episode – chooses not to follow Malvo into the building, instead tracking his deadly and bullet-ridden trek along the exterior, from window to window, office to office, up stairwells and elevators, until Malvo reaches his goal. It’s an exquisite step back from the in-your-face violence this show is quick to bring out, and, along with a series of action movie exclamations, adds some levity to the horrific screams of everyone in Malvo’s way. Of course, viewers do get to relish in some unlucky sod crashing through one of the windows and falling to the ground below, but the single take itself is mostly bloodless. That’s almost necessary for the episode to immediately drift back to the clueless Pepper and Budge, whose next big challenge is not talking over each other when introducing themselves to the local police.
This scene may have felt over-the-top for viewers, perhaps seeing the comedians only as stunt casting, but those are probably the people who can’t grasp the irony behind putting a “This is a True Story” tag in front of something so truly absurd. I fully welcome bizarre tonal shifts like this, so long as they serve the story; and if two low intensity cops going after Malvo doesn’t serve Fargo’s story, then what have I been watching for all these weeks? It was a great introduction to these characters and proved once again that Malvo just don’t give a fu-u-u-ck.
Lester Hits His Moral Rock BottomDon’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that Lester Nygaard reached a brackish depth in the very first episode, when he foolishly and half-heartedly tasked Malvo with murdering his bully, before later killing his wife. But that just put old Lester in a completely different cesspool of morality, and we’ve been watching him clumsily swim backwards through it until this point. Backed into a corner, though, Lester fully snaps and becomes nearly as monstrous as Malvo himself, albeit with less corpses to show for it.
We saw where Lester’s dark path was headed in last week’s episode as he escaped from the hospital and broke into his snide-nosed brother Chaz’s house. Tonight opened with Chaz’s son unwittingly heading to school with a pistol in his backpack – a scene that I feared would get too harrowing too soon – but it was all a ploy to get Chief Bill Oswalt and his deputies into Chaz’s house, where they found pictures of Kitty Nygaard – “boudoir pictures” – and a pair of her underwear. Taking advantage of Bill's empathy, Lester just sat back and bullshat his way through their conversation; soon after, he walked through the police station, ignoring the gutteral screams of his imprisoned brother. And by God, Lester had a legitimate smile on his face.
That was just the opening scene! Later, Lester anxiously accepts the work duty of alerting the widower Gina Hess that her husband Sam’s life insurance policy had lapsed, only to lie to her and bang her doggystyle while staring at a cheesy photograph of her and Sam, climaxing as he fantasized about his last encounter with his lifelong bully. He’s almost fully psychotic now, which some may argue is happening too quickly, but we haven’t seen the last of Lester’s depravity. In any case, he reached an apex for his go-to sin of lying, and it made for some gleefully cackle-worthy TV viewing.
Let’s all hope for similarly memorable sequences in next week’s “The Heap,” which airs on Tuesday, June 3.