Pardon the late posting of this review as I've been dealing with uncooperative appliances and sinuses that hate the fact I live in a place that has winds blowing at 40+ mph and looks a lot like the surface of Mars thanks to all the dust.
Fargo has been all about bad choices. That is easy to do as in scripted narrative as, well, it keeps things moving forward. The first wrong move leads to others and the plot thickens. Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), swept up in the whirlwind of murder that has suddenly set unto Bemidji, continues to tumble further down the rabbit hole that Lorne Malvo gleefully pushed him into. Malvo, being the delightfully unhinged and devilishly comedic force of nature he is, persists in pushing things further until, hopefully, it all explodes. He is relishing these awful choices and it is all well and good to see that week to week. It does, however, feed the notion that this is (as one of the chief criticisms of the show seems to be trending towards) yet another white male anti-hero drama in the vein of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and so forth. That is good company to keep, no doubt, but the formula is starting to show. That is what made this episode so vital. We still have the awful but easy choices being made by characters of all sorts but it was the decision to do the right thing-- the hard choice -- that made this third episode of Fargo something special.
The pilot episode involved an intense scene between Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) and Lorne (Billy Bob Thornton) where a routine traffic stop turned into a clear crossroad for the Duluth police officer. "Some roads you just don't go down..." the onyx-eyed Malvo casually stated to Gus. He let him drive off and got back into his car looking stunned and rather poorly. The following weeks have shown glimpses of the effects of this encounter on Officer Grimly's psyche. He even had a conversation with his daughter alluding to there being more than just one "right" choice when faced with a perilous situation in last week's installment. There are, truly, a whole universe of potentially "right" choices and when it came time he did as the clearly dangerous fellow in the car advised. He didn't go down that road. It has, however, been eating him up and the time has come to own up to it.
He drives to Bemidji to directly speak with the Chief about it as his daughter insists that, "It's better to deliver news like that in person." He arrives at the station and encounters Molly Solverson for the first time. Already he seems flustered and it doesn't get any better as they go back to her desk to talk about it. He, stumbling over himself to explain it, spills the details. Colin Hanks' is a mess over it and, as he's telling the tale, realizes just how ridiculous he sounds. "He threatened me. He's a scary guy that one....had scary eyes." Molly (Alison Tolman) seems not only perturbed but flat out disappointed with Officer Grimly until his daughter zips in asking for money from the vending machine. Her eyes drift over to the young girl of twelve then back to her Dad. Her demeanor, by this point, has softened considerably and she invites them out to dinner.
That moment where a character in this show, which is for the most part really cynical about human interaction, does the right thing was humongous. He knows he shouldn't have let Lorne just drive off as he did but, frankly, that situation was one in which he didn't know if he could make it out alive if he proceeded. He's a cop, sure, but a Father first. Molly understood the situation right away and what could have been a rather cold moment became something far better. Someone made the hard choice instead of the easy one. The easy choices are what Lester, what Lorne and nearly everyone else has been doing. Those are the ones that writers love to give us as it drives the story forward but those hard choices? Those are the ones that make shows great. The Sopranos did that extremely well. It wasn't about right or wrong but easy or hard choices more often than not. Grimly's willingness to own up to letting a killer drive off like that showed that this is a show that my time is worth spending on.
The following scene involves a diner, double milkshakes and just ordinary conversation. It felt organic and worked so well that it made me fall in love with the show all over again. Of course the end of the episode involves scripture and blood but, honestly, this was a big step forward for the show from being just a pale imitator of the Coen Brothers' former glory to a show truly worth watching.
Lester continues to deal with the aftermath of the Devil coming to town and meets the out-of-town hitmen, Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) this episode as well. Molly is still hot on the trail but now some of the earlier questions are starting to be answered. The story continues to barrel forward with an extortion plot being added into the mix. Thornton is engaging as ever but it was really Molly and Gus that made this episode stellar. It also helps that this was the funniest of the three. Great moments involving Lorne as well as the Hess boys (which feel like clones of Bill Murray's kids from Rushmore).
FINAL WORD: The third installment of Fargo features more chaos provided by Noah Hawley's Mephistopheles, Lorne Malvo, but really lives and dies based on the first meeting between Gus Grimly and Molly Solverson. The dark cynical bent of the show is wonderful but maybe, even more than that, seeing characters within this seemingly endless spiral of death and destruction making what are, ultimately, hard choices and trying to do the right thing, makes this show all the more special. I am fully invested now as you should be too.
Additional Note: Kudos are in order to Kate Walsh (she plays the widow of Sam Hess from the first few episodes) for making what should have been a very one-note character actually worthwhile. The acting in this show, top to bottom, is just phenomenal.