The eighth episode of Fargo starts with happy music and shots of robotic arms and other mechanisms beavering away in an industrial factory. We aren’t too sure what is being made, until a deliveryman installs a new washing machine for Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). The major theme of this episode is moving on, or moving forward, for all of the main characters in Fargo.
Something changes in Lester when he sees the new washing machine. The camera spins in a loop around his face, as if it is shot from within the machine. Positive music with cheery whistling plays as Lester happily watches the new machine run through a cycle. The old machine, which we remember droned on and on and contributed to Lester’s domestic misery, was a motif for his wife Pearl. “She’s a real lemon” says the delivery guy, but he could have been talking about the wife Lester murdered in his basement at the end of the first episode. Like the insides of his new shiny machine, Lester’s life is being turned around now that he has been freed of any criminal charges.
Lester next meets with his brother’s wife, Kitty (Rachel Blanchard) who is in financial trouble. We remember Lester has framed his own brother Chaz for the murder of his wife and the local sheriff. Kitty generously says that Lester deserves to be happy, and even though he has caused their misery Lester has no intention of clearing his brother or saving Chaz’s family. He next proceeds to throw out all of his wife Pearl’s belongings, and when we next see him later in the episode, the cheery “new man” musical theme plays again. Lester is even hit on by a female co-worker, and she is turned on by his aggressive display against Sam Hess’s widow and two teenage sons, who have come to the insurance office where he works for a confrontation. Last episode Lester used the widow of his old high-school bully for sex, when he knew that her insurance claim on her husband’s life would be denied, even though he promised to help get the money for her. “I think we might have a problem here,” Lester tells the angry woman, holding the insurance claim after defending himself with a stapler when set upon by her brood. Instead of being a victim, Lester now does the bullying himself.
When we first see Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in this episode, he is again killing someone, as he does. We see Malvo strangle a policeman in a hospital toilet, and this is another bit of business borrowed from the Coen brother’s filmic back catalogue. This is a bit like in No Country For Old Men, when a similar mass murderer in Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) uses handcuffs to kill a cop from behind. Both times the victim leaves black scuffmarks from his shoes on the floor (or porcelain urinal this time), showing signs of a dramatic and terrible struggle for life.
Malvo has killed the guard of the deaf assassin, who is still handcuffed to his hospital bed and recovering from his gunshot wounds from the shootout during the blizzard (back in episode 6). Malvo is shocked to find a deaf hitman, and taunts the man, who can do nothing but listen. “The other fella, your partner, he could hear just fine. We had a kinda chat just before I cut his throat…” The deaf man, Mr Wrench (Russell Harvard) is visibly angry. Malvo continues his game: “You’re unemployed now by the way. In case you don’t read the papers”. This refers to Malvo’s massacre of 22 gangsters in Fargo’s last episode – including Wrench’s bosses. The man uselessly punches his fist at Malvo – because his arms are still bound to the steel framed bed by handcuffs. Malvo next tells an analogy, as he does, about a bear that chewed through flesh and bone to cut its leg free from a trap in Alaskan wilds. Though it was successful in freeing itself, it died an hour later from its wounds, “but it was on its own terms, you know?” This seems to be the point of Malvo’s visit. He tells Wrench “you got close. Closer than anybody else” and leaves him the key to his handcuffs. In his strange personal sense of morality, Malvo frees his fellow hitman out of professional respect. However, before leaving he also tells the man “if you still feel raw about things when you heal up come see me”. If everything is a game for the trickster Malvo, does he instead let the deaf assassin live because he wants the thrill of having people on his tail? In his bear analogy, is Wrench the bear that deserves to choose how he ends his days, rather than rotting in a hunter’s trap (jail), or is Malvo himself the bear – deliberately freeing a killer who has reason to hunt him down, and in a way plotting his own demise, on his “own terms”. I guess we will see in time.
Back at work after recovering from her own gunshot wound, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) presents her logical and comprehensive case against Lester Nygaard to her boss Bill (Bob Odenkirk). This has been a long-running source of frustration for both police officers, as Bill officially took the younger officer off the Lester case early in the series, though she has been following leads on the side ever since. Molly is finally defeated by Bill’s relentlessness, and is forced to abandon her detective work. “It’s just not meant to be”, he tells her as she starts to cry. Because the other police, and the widow of the former sheriff believe that they got their man (in the form of Chaz Nygaard) Bill is desperate for closure and for Molly not to open what he would term ‘old wounds’. Ignorance is bliss for Bill in this case. He tries to cheer her up by telling her that they got her a cake for her return with “an assault rifle on top made of frosting – I don’t know how they do that!” The ridiculousness of the moment can’t help relieve Molly’s feelings about the case and the injustice of it all. Later on she sees Lester sharing a joke with co-workers after work hours and scowls at him through his shop window.
Since being hospitalised, Molly has been receiving flowers from her “gentleman” in Duluth, Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). They continue their courtship by talking on the phone while Gus is out on patrol. Molly basically asks him out, to a logging festival (a nice regional touch). Then the camera cranes away to leave their conversation, signalling a transition indicating that a year of story time has passed. Gus has become a postal worker, which he always wanted to do, and Molly is living with Gus and his daughter in Duluth. Like Margie (Frances McDormand) in the original Fargo film, she is also heavily pregnant. Also exactly like Margie, Molly says the closing line of the original film when, in bed with her partner and reflecting on the horrors of her work, she states, “we’re doing good, you know, we’ve got exactly what we need”. We see that Molly hasn’t given up her own personal detective-work against Lester, and has been discussing her beliefs with the FBI. She still works under Bill’s watch, and can’t go through the usual channels to bring Lester to justice, even though her evidence seems very convincing. The two FBI agents from last week, who were demoted for missing Malvo’s massacre in Fargo’s last episode, are shown to be taking some interest in chasing Malvo, even though they are confined to a storage basement. These characters will become much more important in the two remaining episodes, it would seem.
A year on Bemidji sheriff Bill has also moved on in that time, and has taken in an African foster son. Recalling the strange circumstances about how they found each other, Bill questions “what are the odds” that they could randomly find one another in the wrong city. Now Bill has changed his personal philosophical tune after a year’s time. “Don’t question the universe, that’s my motto. Sometimes, things just work out” he now says, after earlier telling Molly to forget about investigating Lester because going down that path “wasn’t meant to be”. Which for such an incompetent small-town police chief with little integrity, means he wanted the neat outcome that Lester gift-wrapped and presented to him, absolving his high school pal from any crime and shifting the blame to his less-fondly remembered brother instead.
Next the show checks in with Lester, and it seems that things have just worked out for him also. We see him being honoured at an insurance industry awards night, receiving a salesman of the year honour. We remember in the first episode of Fargo, Lester was an uncharismatic salesman who turned away customers. Now he has a trendy haircut and a new wife (the co-worker from before). With his newfound confidence Lester has also become something of an adulterer it seems, as he plays eye games with a young woman in a bar during the final scene after telling his wife to go to bed. He seems to be about to pick up the young lady when he notices a man in a suit ask a waitress for some drinks. The man is telling jokes to a few young girls and another guy, and they are lapping it up. Surprisingly, this is mass murderer Lorne Malvo, with a new white/grey haircut. Lester’s mood changes all of a sudden, as his past has seemingly come back to haunt him. Instead of the cheery “new Lester” theme, more familiar foreboding music returns, before a final dramatic flourish of string music ends the episode, accompanying a tracking shot into the back of Malvo’s head. Since the first episode Lester and Malvo haven’t really crossed paths, and it will be very interesting to see how their next encounter plays out, with only two episodes remaining in this fine show.