Synopsis of 1×10: The forces of blue collar good and otherworldly evil come to a head in Bemidji, MN as everyone from the FBI to Lorne Malvo guns after one man: Lester Nygaard.
Fargo as a show has long outgrown the film that inspired it. Not in quality, necessarily (it is hard to top a classic 90s crime caper that stands as one of my most favorite films of all), but the Fargo of FX has long left behind feeling beholden to its film roots. Short of a premise (essentially “cold crime”) and one long-missing briefcase full of money, a change of name could render the series nigh unrecognizable from its origin.
This is most evident in the devious Midwestern sociopathy of Lester Nygaard, portrayed with stilted bliss by Martin Freeman. Lester is an obvious parallel to William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, the hapless used car salesman of the film that inspired the hapless insurance salesman of the series. What elevates Lester to more nefarious heights is not only an extended runtime allowing for deeper exploration of middle class masculinity, but also a surgical removal of that most human of emotions: guilt.
Jerry was a middle class white man not achieving as he felt he should so he orchestrated a planned kidnapping of his wife to get some ransom money out of his father-in-law. This is obviously nefarious but hardly the height of criminal capability. Lester was a middle class white man not achieving as he felt he should so he murdered his wife with a hammer, got the police chief killed, lied to the police, framed his brother for the murders, and felt he was so untouchable that he stood up to the world’s most untouchable hitman, resulting in the death of an elevator full of innocents. Although Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo may seem to be an untouchable evil force akin with Satan himself, Fargo’s real evil is Lester Nygaard, your fumbling neighbor capable of absolute horrors when pushed to the brink.
“Morton’s Fork” picks up right where the last episode left off, with Lester’s doting, adorable wife shot dead by Lorne Malvo in his relentless pursuit of Lester mistaking her for him because she was wearing his puffy orange jacket (a jacket he dressed her in to test his theory that someone was waiting to kill him in Lester’s most detestable move to date). From there, Lester’s plans his alibi by sitting down in Lou’s restaurant for a grilled cheese and a ginger ale, bringing up to Lou over and over again that his wife is “just around the corner.”
What follows is scene after scene questioning whether Lester is truly as smart as he thinks he is. He flounders under pressure in the police interrogation room, but he gets out without any formal accusations. He cannot fathom Molly’s parable of a man who lost a glove so he dropped the second so that someone might find both, but it takes him mere seconds to solve Detective Pepper’s fox-rabbit-cabbage logic puzzle (it is the humble opinion of this writer that Lester could not understand the parable because it involved a basic human concept called “empathy”). Lester manages to outsmart Lorne with a bear trap and some well-placed shirts, but decides to ignore posted warnings about thin ice and dies a frigid watery death instead of submitting to police custody. Lester is not the first character undone by his own hubris, but it’s the perfect end for a terrible man.
It’s portrayal of the white male antihero is one of the things I have always admired about Fargo. Whereas a show like Breaking Bad ended up buying into Walter White a little bit too much, particularly in the series finale, which served as an honorific to Walter White: Terrible Human. Fargo has never supported Lester Nygaard, or any of his reprehensible acts. We are always supposed to root for Lester going down, for justice being served on this bad little man. His trespasses, his preening, his “revenge” on the world what done him wrong are not to be admired, they are to be condemned, for they interrupt that which is most important: the normal.
The ultimate victory on Fargo is status quo. When the dust has settled, what matters is family, togetherness, and watching Deal or No Deal with the people you truly care about. The ultimate victory isn’t fame, success, or revenge, but providing safety for others. True heroes sit on the porch with a shotgun to ensure no harm befalls the ones they love. They sit out the big manhunt because they’re with child and that’s a dangerous recipe. Plus, they get to be chief.
“Morton’s Fork” draws Fargo to a satisfying close. At times it seems both overly tidy and partially formed, but what we got was a lyrical, philosophical fable with plenty of characters and moments that left both a fan of the film and a fan of great television satisfied and excited for Season Two.