Last week was an affirmation of time-tested Coen Brothers' value regarding their cinematic exploits. The choices we make, be they easy or hard, have ramifications. The easiest of choices tend to be the ones that sting the worst. Gus Grimley made the right choice in coming clean about letting the dragon free from his clutches (Lorne Malvo) and, it seems, karma has decided to pay him back kindly. It isn't exactly good police work that leads him there but, rather, dumb luck. Malvo is in cuffs thanks to a call to animal control and Gus looks like the hero. Well, sorta.
There is a thing about scripted dramatics on television that, well, is highly designed. It has to be. Interlocking cogs that have teeth that perfectly fit together to propel the narrative forward. Showrunners, ultimately, serve as watchmakers in delivering the goods when it comes to melodrama, action and so forth. Things that happened within the framework of the episode needed to happen to continue the plot moving forward. It isn't so much that we're spinning our wheels but Noah Hawley (who created and has written most of the episodes) needed to put some puzzle pieces down for us, the audience, to see. That feeling of seeing how things connect and putting real meat on the skeletal frame of the story is an almost rewarding feeling. Breaking Bad, maybe better than any other show before it, did an outstanding job of keeping you in the dark for just long enough to make the revelatory glimpses and nuances have real impact. Hawley is doing that here though I could have used a bit more Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) in this week's installment.
That connected feeling extends to the supermarket king of Minnesota, Stavros. We open on 1987 and a station wagon limping along a ice-laden highway. The couple are arguing about why on Earth they had to come to the tundra to start over. His wife remarks that at least back where all their debt was it was warm. He gets out of the stalled car to clear his head and sees something in the snow. A red handle protruding from the blanket of white like a beacon of hope. He digs out a case full of money. Sound familiar? This is one of the first instances of the show really making a true connection back to the events of the original Coen Brothers' film. "God is real!" he exclaims over and over again. Flash-forward to the present and Stavros is having his faith tested by the Devil we all know and love, Lorne Malvo. It really made the idea of these "Biblical plagues" that he's using to make the blackmail really matter hit that much harder. What some might see as divine intervention others might see as a quick way out. The shortcut, the easy choice, usually leads to worse consequences and his penance is Malvo.
Lester actually gets some plot progression to this episode as he's now had a run-in with two assassins from the city, Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. This is the first instance since the pilot that Lester's story really had some definition to it. He really took control of his own destiny and that lends to the feeling that, as designed as it all really is, the characters just feel like they're being nudged at times not directly manipulated. That goes a long way to making the story feel organic and work on a much deeper level. Lester, clever boy that he is, grabbed a taser in last week's episode and that all comes to fruition this week. He is seemingly rewarded for his choice by managing to wriggle out of what is, most assuredly, a death sentence for him. What I love about the character is despite the fact he is our "protagonist" he isn't all that likable. You almost want to cheer him on for managing to stay alive as long as he has but that doesn't make him good or inherently worth rooting for. That is what makes the moment at the end of the episode so worthwhile. He alludes the two men from Minneapolis but not for long.
The whole Molly being sidelined thing bothered me but it was a necessary evil as is always the case with scripted drama of this type. Usually leaving one of your best players on the bench isn't the best news but, thankfully, Billy Bob Thornton and Colin Hanks picked up the slack. Malvo's subsequent bust by Officer Grimley is a chance for this demon in human clothing to show off. His disdain for the officers interrogating him is so apparent that he nearly doesn't commit to playing the character he falls into if he should ever get caught. His story checks out though and, well, what seemed to be a huge victory turns out to be a crushing defeat. The soul-crushing wrench in Grimley's guts is so visible on-screen and Hanks is to be commended for really bringing it this episode. Malvo has never looked more like a true apex predator than he did here. I didn't know if we'd have a scene quite as tense as we did in the pilot but, man, did we get one.
Not everything worked, though. Glenn Howerton, as has been his usual for the show, seems to still be elusive to me. I'm not sure what he's doing but it isn't all that great. The connection back to the original film maybe wasn't the most necessary thing to do but I get why they did it. I have faith the Hawley knows what he's doing in regards to making all the pieces fit in a way that entertains but, still, was it necessary to do that? I don't know. The lack of Molly throughout was definitely felt but it was also nice to see Chief Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) continue to double-down on his mistaken notion about the case. I seriously can't get enough of Minnesota police chief Bob Odenkirk. I want more of it. Give me a show of that.