‘Fargo’ recap, episode 5: The blizzard draws nigh

Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson (Chris Large/FX)

Quick Recap

Lester and Malvo get chatty, while Molly and Gus get closer. To the solution of the case, that is.

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Real good?

While the pursuit of the mystery takes a few steps forward, most of tonight's progress is in the field of unraveling the mysteries of life. There are long stretches of philosophical filibustering, almost as if the show is trying to see how much of that kind of thing it can get away with. Personally, I feel that if it gets to the point where a character literally announces that he's telling a parable, there's probably enough dispensable stuff to get the episode down to an hour. 2½ North Stars.

Minnesota bona fides

In the opening scene, Lester's just trying to secure a good deal on some "irregular" socks, and ends up getting upsold a twelve-gauge shotgun. It's another example of Lester's feeble will, and it explains how the shotgun that killed Chief Vern ended up in Lester's house in the first place, but it also reflects something about Minnesotans: A lot of us hate to negotiate. Some local car dealers even make it a selling point these days.

Also, Molly may be enough of a maverick to search Lester's home without a warrant, but she's still way too Minnesotan to do it without wiping her boots on the mat first.

Most Minnesotan of all, we're on our second episode of foreshadowing about an imminent blizzard, and that's what's at the forefront of Chief Bill's mind until Molly does something to change that. But I would be very surprised to learn that Bemidji only has access to two and a half snowplows.

Talking Minnesota

Molly hears about the birth of Chief Vern's baby and reacts with a heartfelt, "Holy smokes!" Moments later, she displays some classic Minnesotan indirectness, when she finds Bill and the deputies celebrating outside Ida's hospital room. Bill explains that Ida kicked them out for being too loud. "So you're being loud in the hallway now," Molly says pleasantly. To his credit, Bill takes the hint, just as pleasantly.

Gus, I am sorry to report, says "uff-da" as well as he does everything else, rhyming the first syllable with "enough." The proper pronunciation of "uff-da" indicates that you have just received something of an emotional gutpunch. The improper pronunciation of "uff-da" indicates that you have just stepped off the plane.

Looks like home

The real downtown Duluth. (Bob Kelleher/MPR News)

A skyline shot of downtown Calgary stands in for Duluth, with distinctive structures like the Saddledome and the Space Needle-like Calgary Tower either out of sight or digitally edited out. Late at night, Gus drives his police cruiser between the towering ranks of Duluth's many skyscrapers. No, I don't think so.

One winter feature of Minnesota is more noticeable than I've noticed in past episodes: visible exhalations in the cold. The snow hasn't been too deep on the ground through most of the season, suggesting that most of the filming took place during the relatively mild early or late winter. The cast must have hated shooting the scenes where it was cold enough to see their breath.

Full recap

We're starting with another flashback, namely the aforementioned scene where Lester ended up the proud owner of a shotgun, "for protection" (read: a token of Lester's lack of sales resistance). We also see, via a slo-mo scene right out of CSI, that when Malvo shot Vern in the pilot, one of the pellets went clean through the chief and lodged in Lester's helplessly upraised hand. Hence the wound that's been festering there ever since.

Now that wound, nasty as it is, is the least of Lester's worries, as he's locked in the drunk tank with the two thugs from Fargo. Lester tries to play it cool, but he cracks after a few seconds of torture and gives them what they want: the name of Sam Hess's killer, Lorne Malvo; and his likely location, Duluth. The thugs are bailed out shortly thereafter, and Lester can only hope that they'll win the eventual confrontation, because Malvo is not likely to appreciate Lester's squealing.

Adam Goldberg as Mr. Numbers, Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, Russell Harvard as Mr. Wrench (Chris Large/FX)

Molly, meanwhile, decides that it's time to come clean to Bill about how she's been working the case despite his orders to leave it alone. Lucky for her, the evidence she presents is so compelling that he finally agrees that they should have a chat with Lester. But when they go to his cell to do so, they find him laid out on the concrete bunk, audibly narrating his own fever dreams. Thus it looks like Lester's third trip to the hospital this week. Molly questions Lester while they ride in the ambulance, and along with his ravings about laundry, Lester moans some suspiciously specific denials about how he never paid Sam Hess's killer. But he's close enough to delirious that Molly wouldn't be able to use what little she gets from him anyway.

In Duluth, Malvo acquires a police scanner and a walkie-talkie from his fence, then calls Stavros Milos -- as himself -- to discuss next steps. Stavros has taken the point about the Egyptian plagues being visited upon him, and sees it as his punishment for breaking his promise to God. Just as broken himself, Stavros insists on paying the blackmail money before the dreaded firstborn-son plague strikes. Malvo records the call on the same equipment he used to record Lester's call the night of the murders (a tape with Lester's name on the label is a prominent visual in this scene), then mildly locks his accomplice Don Chumph in his own pantry overnight to make sure the idiot doesn't back out. Later, he chauffeurs Stavros to and from the supermarket to withdraw a conveniently liquid quantity of cash from the office safe, and uses their time in the car together to expound further on his law-of-the-jungle philosophy of life. In this case, he illustrates it with a disturbing story about a woman and a Rottweiler that he tells as if it's a funny joke. Stavros looks at Malvo as if he's beginning to suspect that his blackmailer and his supposed anti-blackmailer are the same person, but if he's right it's not like there's any percentage in confronting him on it while they're alone in a car in the middle of the night with a million dollars in cash.

Oliver Platt as Stavros Milos (Chris Large/FX)

Then, when Malvo drops Stavros Milos off at home, who should be standing at the foot of the driveway but Officer Gus Grimly, who despite receiving advice from his rabbi neighbor about not trying to solve all the world's problems, is refusing to let this go. There's no confrontation between cop and robber for the moment, but Malvo follows Gus back to his apartment building in Duluth. Gus, on the phone setting up a work-date with Molly (outside! At night! With his back to the street!), is totally unaware of this incursion, but after he heads inside, the very same rabbi senses something off about the SUV parked outside the building in the middle of the night and takes it upon himself to shoo Malvo away. Malvo completely misses the repudiation of his Darwinist worldview in the rabbi's speech about the neighborhood watch and how people on the block look out for each other, and Malvo's tactical retreat is accompanied by a threat that's about as veiled as the rabbi's wife when she's in the window across from Gus's apartment.

Molly returns to the hospital to see what else she can extract from Lester (though a doctor already has extracted something, namely the pellet that passed through the chief before getting stuck in Lester's mitt). Molly also learns that the late chief's widow has given birth, so Molly gets to meet baby Bernadette and receive a gentle reminder of why she's pursuing this case. Then it's down the hall to Lester's room, where he pretends to be asleep. Now that his hand as been narrowly saved and he's no longer septic, he's remembered that he should maybe clam up. Probably too late for that, though, given that Molly has already illegally searched Lester's house, including the works of the washing machine that started all the trouble. I don't think she's going to be put off by a little Midwestern reticence.

Next week: Apparently the storm hits, which may mean less talking, and more apocalyptic wackiness. There could also be a lot of talking about the apocalyptic wackiness. We shall see.