‘Fargo’ Review: “The Muddy Road” Is Not So Muddy In Foreshadowing Which Characters Will Live or Die

By  · Published on April 30th, 2014

‘Fargo’ Review: “The Muddy Road” Is Not So Muddy In Foreshadowing Which Characters Will Live or Die

FX Networks

I can’t help but think Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) is a very careless criminal. The third episode of of the TV series Fargo, titled “The Muddy Road,” begins with the character kidnapping a man from his office during work hours in broad daylight for all to see. He’s also captured doing so on surveillance cameras. He may not show his face completely, but this is a guy with a pretty distinct look, and witnesses and closed-circuit video are easily going to be enough to put him in a tight spot.

You’d think. Is he just that lucky? In the pilot episode he visits the man he’ll later murder in order to get a look at him, but everyone else there gets a good look at him, too. At the end of the same episode, he runs a stop sign in a stolen car after having murdered a couple people, including a police chief. Sure, he’s intimidating enough to get off on a warning without showing identification, but he’s eyeballed pretty good.

And now, this week we also see him slip into the home of the Supermarket King (Oliver Platt), after having killed a dog in plain view outside, and just slowly and confidently continue his scheme even while the man of the house is audibly walking nearer and nearer to where Malvo is standing. There’s some nice tension there for the audience in the shot where you can see Platt walking down the hallway towards the kitchen, where Thornton is situated without concern, but we know by now that Malvo isn’t going to be caught.

Maybe at all. If we’re to align Malvo with Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, then he survives through and beyond the 10-episode series. Perhaps he’ll walk away with a limp in the end of the finale, but he’s just not the kind of character who is arrested or killed in stories like this. I think it’s because he comes into the story already who he is. The people who pay for their crimes are those who take a turn for the worse. Therefore, Lester (Martin Freeman) will either wind up dead on a motel room floor or at least handcuffed in the back of a cop car.

While Malvo is a man of action, Lester is a man of reaction, and it’s in how he reacts that will continue to get him into trouble. Typically with characters like him it’s about snowballing lies escalating with each question posed to him. In this episode, he extends the reactionary behavior to give Deputy Molly (Allison Tollman) the clearest indication that he knows Malvo after she purposefully drops a still from the surveillance footage in front of him. I can even see his character now being eliminated super quickly. Otherwise we’ll just keep watching him make stupid mistakes and Molly making more discoveries and deductions and we’ll wonder how on Earth these two things aren’t converging already.

A lot of “The Muddy Road” has to do with mistakes characters have made and whether or not they’ll get over them. Not all are as bad as murdering someone, as we see with Gina Hess (Kate Walsh), who tells Lester the story of how she made the mistake of marrying the wrong client of the Vegas strip club she worked with, and that brought her off to “the Yukon,” where she wound up stuck with a dead husband and two “mongoloid” sons. And those guys are all about mistakes, the latest involving an arrow in the buttocks. Again.

Also we see it with Molly’s friend in St. Paul who made the “mistake” of ever leaving St. Paul. How could they not show us the flashback to that horrifying situation, by the way? We’ve already had one misfortunate sex scene on this show (Hess’s death), and actually seeing the spider babies hatching would have been a real talking point for a show that not enough people are talking about. Oh well.

I also think we’re seeing newly appointed Chief Bill (Bob Odenkirk) realize his mistake in not listening to Molly, too, but he’s too proud to turn himself around and admit the error. Or he’s hiding something, whether its tied to Lester’s wife or tied to Fargo, as in the often alluded to mob or whatever that’s there. Odenkirk seems to be playing even less redeemable a character here than he did on Breaking Bad. I have a suspicion that he’ll be killed at some point, which will be an easy way of getting Molly into that chief position she deserves.

Then there’s Officer Grimly (Colin Hanks), who made the mistake of letting Malvo go in the pilot episode. But it was an understandable choice given that he had a bad feeling, and now he should be pretty certain that he would have been killed that night, his daughter Greta (Joey King) then orphaned, had he made another choice. Either way was a mistake of some kind. At least he’s confessing to the bad police work and attempting to set it right. Maybe he’ll find romance with Molly in doing so – it’d be cute, though I didn’t really feel any chemistry, if that was intended. Grimly could still potentially be a dramatically effective death in the end, with Greta winding up in the care of Molly.

As for whether anyone lives or dies in the Supermarket King blackmail storyline, I don’t really know or care at this point. Okay, surely Don (Glenn Howerton) will get shot, maybe in a closet, and yes there’s already been a canine casualty. It’s kind of fun watching the cocky Stavros get tortured, and it’s neat seeing a shower of blood that’s not a hallucination in a horror film. But there needs to be something more there to make it a worthy balance to the main plot of the murders in Bemidji. I’m not that interested in those characters.

And if Stavros just winds up being charbroiled to death, like his favorite saint, Lawrence, it’ll be too obvious – though the first scene in his office with the meat in the background would be a nice omen in retrospect. I’d like for the show to take care of that quick, if so. Let Malvo get onto the the next, potentially more interesting assignment.

I appreciate that this episode wasn’t as silly as “The Rooster Prince,” although my favorite moment this week had to be the scene that was ridiculously inappropriate on so many levels. That would be the one where the guy who killed his wife after sorta having his nemesis killed gets a brief sorta lapdance from that man’s widow, in front of her sons, as well as in sight of two barely hiding hitmen who end up assuming this all means Lester and Gina are lovers who plotted Hess’s death together. I’d like a diorama of that whole bit.

Overall, “The Muddy Road” (for the meaning of the title, by the way, see last week’s column) was another good episode that still seemed to be lacking something great in the shadow of the much tighter pilot. In the end, though, all I could really think about afterward was that I desperately wanted a milkshake with bourbon in it.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.