TV Review: Fargo – Season 1 Episode 3 “A Muddy Road” (USA, 2014)

FARGO "A Muddy Road" -- Episode 103 -- Airs Tuesday, April 29, 10:00 pm e/p) -- Pictured: (L-R) Adam Goldberg as Mr. Numbers, Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, Russell Harvard as Mr. Wrench. -- CR: Chris Large/FX

With the episode titled ‘A Muddy Road’ this is bound to lead us down an even more twisted and precarious path as we delve deeper into the mysterious and crooked goings-on in Minnesota as one by one our characters become more inter-twined within this dark evil web.

We start by taking a trip back to the distant past, our dead semi-naked man Phil is working in his office cubicle when Lorne Malvo shows up and kidnaps him. In the span of just under 3 minutes we’re back to where we started in the very first episode with poor Phil fleeing the trunk of Malvo’s crashed car only to die in the woods a human ice cube. The first five minutes of this episode are a gorgeous testament to the cinematography work by Dana Gonzales and direction from Randall Einhorn, with long slow panning shots of city-scapes and office windows and the dull blandness of office life blending almost seamlessly in with the white expanse of the Minnesota (or more accurately Calgary, Alberta pretending to be Minnesota) snow and fields and Officer Solversen contemplating as she drives to the city of St Paul to learn more about Phil which effortlessly brings us back to our current point in time like one great big giant time loop.

Lester Nygaard is at home sinking ever more deeply in to his post-traumatic stress as he muses over the deaths of his wife and the police chief. In a feeble attempt to distract himself he returns to work, but is promptly sent off to go sort out the paperwork for Gina Hess’ husband’s insurance. But Nygaard isn’t the only one at the house, Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench are spying from the garden and see him getting a little friendly with Mrs Hess, serving only to remind Nygaard how much of a despicable mess he’s in. The two hit-men then pay him a visit at his insurance office but are coincidentally interrupted by Solversen who arrives under the guise of purchasing insurance but is really there to sneakily catch Nygaard’s reaction when he sees a surveillance photo of Malvo that had been taken during the kidnapping. This leads Solversen to suspect even more that Nygaard has some involvement with all the deaths.

Meanwhile over in Duluth, Malvo has busted Don Chumph the personal trainer for Stavros Milos’ wife, as the blackmailer, but instead of killing him, decides to take over the blackmailing operation. We soon see an even more wicked and malevolent side to him as he unleashes his torment upon Milos (Oliver Platt), by killing his dog, replacing his medication with anxiety inducing pills and then jigging the plumbing in Milos’ house so he ends up showering in pigs blood.

Elsewhere in Duluth, Officer Grimly, after more contemplation and self-doubt decides to come clean about letting Malvo go. In an attempt to clean up his mess he then goes to Bemidji to inform their precinct and meets Solversen. Together they then begin discussing the connections between Nygaard and their unidentified-to-them kidnapper (aka Malvo).

This episode manages to smoothly connect all of our initially inherent individuals and start bringing them together. Not only in story but also in character development. Our villains are a little more blacker, our victims are more damaged and falling apart, whilst our heroic police officers are piece by piece putting the puzzle together.

Malvo is so frighteningly brazen and bold in his approach, this is a criminal who acts like he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from his heinous acts. We are still yet to understand why Malvo does what he does, it’s only in a momentary scene where Stavros angrily shouts “this is some sick bastard, somebody without a heart” after the death of his dog that we see a flicker in Malvo’s demeanour. Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal has been phenomenal and repeatedly leaves me wanting to see more but it also gets me thinking how far can this malicious character rise to before he has to take the inevitable fall?

One scene that I wasn’t entirely sure about its inclusion is when Solversen meets up with one of her old high school friends (whose name isn’t mentioned) for lunch. The friend is clearly on the dim side, and seems intent on discussing her several various relationships all of which seem disastrous. I’m not sure whether this was done to further implicate that almost all of the women in Minnesota are either shallow trophy wives (like Mrs Hess or Mrs Milos) or just stupid and that Solversen is a rare gem in the bunch or whether this will have some further tie-in later down the track. On that note I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate Allison Tolman here. I really respect that with this series Tolman’s performance has been outstanding on several levels. Her ability to change emotional expressions, such as from wounded to determined is exceptional; particularly in moments of minimal dialogue. It’s also great to have a female lead who is intelligent and achieves her results through investigation and persistence rather than sheer physical badass-ery. For an actor who is starring in an ensemble cast with some really big male guns (Thornton, Freeman, Platt, Goldman et al) Tolman has not only held her own but also begun to really break through.

The closing scene whilst Malvo recites a religious passage about the baby Moses and the ten plagues segues us into the next episode (if you’ve read the synopsis) quite nicely, and also once again reminds us of who all the key players in the story are. Surprisingly we have only incrementally furthered the plot and the timeline for this series with this episode, but it’s amazing how in one we can see so much change in our characters. ‘A Muddy Road’ focused more on that development than on the story so it will be curious to see as we near the half-way mark which direction we go in for the storyline.


Fargo airs on SBS 1 on Thursday at 9:30pm and is also available On Demand via the SBS website.


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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.