A chance encounter set this whole thing in motion, and an equally chance encounter might set up its conclusion.
When Lester first met Lorne Malvo in the Bemidji hospital, back when Lester was a nebbishy, emasculated victim and Lorne simply a bored hitman, neither had any idea what would happen as a result of their meeting. Well, maybe Lorne did — he seems to know pretty much everything, and is constantly two or three steps ahead of anyone who would wish him harm — but Lester? I think even with the guilt and the fear, Lester wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because of his tacit involvement with the murder of Sam Hess, Lester has managed to re-fit his life to match his wildest dreams: the family he hates is gone; he is respected; he is successful; he has a new, young, pretty wife who adores him unconditionally.
And he would have continued to have all of those things if he could have just taken Lorne’s advice in the Las Vegas hotel, to just “walk away.” Why does he push it? What does he possibly hope to gain? Does he really think he can bend Lorne to his will, and to what end? Perhaps it was simply that Lorne tried to ignore him, telling his Kansas City friends that he had never seen Lester in his life, and that embarrassment made Lester made angry enough to throw his new-found authority around. He’s Salesman of the Year, darnit! But that means nothing to Lorne, who puts on new identities like Lester puts on jackets, so instead of simply letting the man who knows all of his secrets be, Lester forces the issue by following him into the elevator. “Is this what you want?” Lorne asks. “Yes,” Lester replies, having no idea what that really means. Lorne didn’t ruin Lester’s life — he gave him a new one, but Lester can’t handle being so rudely tossed aside.
And so when Lorne’s congenial dentist demeanor begins to melt, seriously freaking out his friends and fiancee (all a ruse on Lorne’s part, obviously), Lester’s tough-guy facade crumbles too, and we suddenly see the panicky, fervently insecure Lester we’ve always known. Lorne re-asserts his dominance by pulling a pistol out of nowhere and killing everyone except Lester, another shocking moment in a show full of them. “That’s on you,” he intones to Lester, complaining that he was close to tracking down a mafia turncoat and collecting a huge bounty, and now six months of work is down the drain. Blood lining the walls, he asks Lester for help with the bodies, but Lester swings his trophy into Lorne’s skull and flees. Naturally, it’s feebly done, as Lorne still retains enough of his faculties to call after him, silhouetted like a horror villain: “See you soon.”
Lester wakes up his wife and flees the hotel with her, never explaining why; he fears finding Lorne around every corner, inside every elevator on every floor. But even as they succeed in making it back to Bemidji, Lester can’t escape what happened in the elevator, and he can’t stay ahead of Lorne forever. Word of the triple homicide reaches Molly, as Lester has been named as a potential witness and it falls to her to interview him once again. Soon images from the hotel’s security camera will provide incontrovertible proof, but for now all Molly has to go on is conjecture, and her own long-simmering suspicions of Lester. She arrives at the (new) Nygaard home just as the couple is attempting to leave again, this time for Acapulco — Linda seemingly content to go on this sudden vacation while not inquiring about just what is wrong with her husband — but Molly’s questioning leads nowhere. Linda even plays along with Lester’s obviously false timeline, though she has no idea why.
Lester believes he can easily handle Molly, as he successfully stonewalled her a year ago — it’s all he can do to get her out of the house in a timely fashion, so he can go back to seeing visions of Lorne in the shadow of every tree, and arming himself with his incarcerated brother’s guns. And Molly doesn’t put up much of a fight, giving no trace of the dormant animosity between them. For now, even to her, this is just a coincidence. It’s only when she gets a call from the FBI, where officers Pepper and Budge have learned of her frequent inquiries into the Fargo Syndicate case, that all three detectives come to discover they have a shot at redemption. Meanwhile, Lorne Malvo has arrived in Bemidji, like the Angel of Death with a quota to fill.
Gus is the first to see him, but only as a specter, a phantom, driving by while Gus is on his mail route. He’s not even sure it’s Lorne, but there’s definitely something not right about it. Malvo goes to Lester’s old house, walking up to the door with a knife in his hand, but is greeted by the young family that now owns it: no dice on Lester’s current location, but an aggravated Lorne can’t let the encounter pass without ruining someone’s day: “You do know people were murdered in this house, right?” he tells the father and his children. He talks of blood, and ghosts, and moaning in the night, then he turns and walks away, having sewn another seed of chaos just for the fun of it. Malvo is the uncontrollable id.
He takes his searching to Lou’s Diner, where he next creeps out Molly’s father. Their conversation drips with tension, as Lou — a former officer, himself — knows something is wrong about Lorne, and Lorne knows that Lou knows, so we wait interminably for something awful to happen. Lorne sees a photo of Molly and Gus (who he recognizes), and learns that Lou is Gus’s father-in-law. “They look happy,” he says quietly; “no one ever uses the sad pictures.” Lou counters, apropos of nothing, with a story about multiple murders in Sioux Falls, hinting that Lorne is the kind of man — maybe THE man — who would perpetrate that. And the entire time, we keep cutting back to Molly driving to the diner, in what begins to feel like the world’s longest search for a parking space, convinced that she will arrive too late to save her father — yet Lorne suddenly leaves, thanking Lou for the pie. “I haven’t had a piece of pie like that since the Garden of Eden.” It’s worse than we thought — Malvo is the Devil himself.
We still find plenty of black humor this week, particularly in how Molly comes in the back door just as Lorne is leaving through the front, one-upped only by Pepper & Budge walking right by Lorne themselves. The knuckleheads are so eager to hear Molly’s story they still fail to see what’s right in front of them, but when Molly presents them with her findings back at the Bemidji station, they’re completely blown away. Even Chief Oswalt blustering in, apologizing for Molly wasting the FBI’s time, can’t ruin the moment: fortunately, Bill doesn’t know that these are simply bumbling file room men, and when Pepper and Budge — eager to assert their own dominance in this small town — use their “big detective” voices, compliment Molly’s work, and effectively shut down the ignorant chief, even Molly is embarrassed. She slips out of the room without even an “I told you so,” which she certainly has earned, but the sight of a stammering Bill futilely trying to dismiss her airtight logic will have to be enough.
(Is it enough for me? Not yet, even though Bill is a decent man; too many lives have been lost for the series not to end with his abject humiliation. He’ll need to step up big in next week’s finale.)
Yet it wouldn’t be an episode of Fargo without Lester taking one more step into the darkness, and this week he commits his most heinous act yet, sending his loving wife into his office for their passports, and to what Lester knows is her certain doom. He’s too frightened to go in himself, so he uses her as his coal mine canary, even manipulating her into wearing his old safety orange jacket, with the hood up. Inevitably, and horrifyingly, Lorne is waiting inside, killing her with a single shot to the head. R.I.P. Linda, another dumb character (like Don) who deserved a better fate, but WTF LESTER. He had a wife that was the polar opposite of the hen-pecking Pearl, who was part of the impetus for this entire thing, but sees her dead anyway. Lester is worse than even Walter White, whose ambition and greed was at least rooted in a desire to provide for his own family; Lester is a craven, and cares only about saving his own skin.
What to expect next week? Lester’s grand comeuppance, dead or alive? Redemption for Bill and the FBI agents, and ultimate vindication for Molly? Who else will be sacrificed, and how much will it hurt? And most importantly, can Lorne Malvo really be brought low, or will he escape once more into the white, like Anton Chigurh or another almost-supernatural force? Noah Hawley has done a brilliant job with this Swiss clock of a tale; it all fits together, and not a piece has been wasted or misused, like the famous riddle of this episode’s title (though not like Pepper’s solution to it). I have no doubt the conclusion will be satisfying, but even if it isn’t, it shouldn’t take away the brilliance that has led us to this point. It has grown in stature and deepened with meaning every passing week, and I can’t wait to see how it wraps up.
Shot Sight Gag of the Week
This wasn’t brilliant cinematography or anything, I just thought it was hilarious.
“Is it…like a clown car back there?”