The sixth episode of the Fargo television series, and thus the second half of its ten episode run, begins with the image of fish swimming in an aquarium. One fish is scooped out of the water, taken to the kitchen of a restaurant, cleaned, cooked, and served to one of a group of men having dinner at a table. If I hadn’t seen the fish’s guts get scooped out of its belly, I’d be expecting the diner to find a human finger or some other troubling object inside it when he bit into it, that seems like something that would happen on this show. But no, the man who it was served to is the important element here, not the fish itself.
The man is the head of the gun-running crime syndicate based out of Fargo, North Dakota. And during this dinner he announces that he wants the person responsible for the murder of their Bemidji, Minnesota-based associate Sam Hess, which was committed in the first episode of the series, to be executed for their transgression.
There’s no finger in the fish, but the man eating it wants a head in a bag. It’s sort of a pointless scene, because we’ve previously seen that the syndicate representatives who are looking into Hess’s murder already intended to kill his killer. This simply reiterates that the character Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton doing some of the best work of his career) has a cloud of trouble moving in on him that he’s not aware of.
Malvo is busy in Duluth, blackmailing Stavros Milos, the supermarket king of Minnesota (Oliver Platt), for the amount of one million dollars. The scenes with Milos in this episode recall a line from another recent television crimes series, True Detective. “Time is a flat circle.”
That’s because back in 1987, in the feature film Fargo that inspired this series, the kidnapper character played by Steve Buscemi was delivered a ransom of one million dollars at a parking garage. Here, Malvo has Milos take his one million dollars to a parking garage for the exchange. The Gustafson Parking Garage. Gustafson was the name of a character in the movie.
Following the exchange, Buscemi’s character removed $80,000 of the money to split with his partner and buried the rest in the snow to retrieve later. He didn’t survive long enough to retrieve it. Instead, Milos found that money at a desperate time in his life and used it to build his supermarket empire. Deeply religious, Milos believed the money was a gift from God. Malvo exploited his religion to convince him to give up the million, wreaking havoc on his life with versions of Biblical plagues. Because of this, Milos comes to think he’s being punished by God and that rather than hand the money over to his blackmailer, God wants him to go bury it in the snow for someone else to find.
So Milos leaves the parking garage before the exchange can happen, and again has a similar experience to one Buscemi had in the film – an argument with the parking garage attendant over whether or not he should pay. History repeats itself.
Characters are converging in Duluth at the same time as a whiteout blizzard blows in. Lorne Malvo has been many steps ahead of everyone else and in control of every situation up to this point, and this episode again shows him pulling off some master manipulation with the horrific way in which he covers his blackmailing tracks, but as the end nears he gets the closest he’s ever been to being out of control. He certainly never planned to have people firing automatic weapons at him.
While armed characters stumble around in the blizzard, many shots are fired, and there’s an accident that would have me screaming “No!” Darth Vader style if only I didn’t have the feeling that the consequences aren’t as dire as it appears.
Oddly, as things are getting hectic for Malvo, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the man in Bemidji who inadvertently caused the deaths of Sam Hess and the town’s Chief of Police after meeting Malvo, and also murdered his own wife in the middle of it all, seems to be having the best streak of luck in his miserable life, thanks to the fact that he just happens to have a roommate with a bandaged face in a poorly run hospital. Lester’s scenes were the weak point of this episode for me, because it all seemed way too convenient.
In the episode’s final moments, the show goes even further into “Biblical event” territory, as there’s a plague-like (or Magnolia-like) occurrence in Milos’s presence that seems impossible for Malvo to have been behind. Things are getting strange in Minnesota, almost too strange for me, but Fargo has has me caught in its net like that hapless fish.