‘Fargo’ the TV Series Perfectly Reveals Its Connection to ‘Fargo’ the Movie in “Eating the Blame”

By  · Published on May 7th, 2014

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Just when I’m thinking that the Supermarket King storyline is worthless, this week it ties the Fargo series to its movie namesake. There was a tease in last week’s episode with the ice scraper in the office of Stavros (Oliver Platt), and now “Eating the Blame” opens with a flashback to 1987, which is the year in which the Fargo movie takes place. Funny, I just finally re-watched the movie the other day and was left wondering if someone would ever find the cash that Steve Buscemi’s character buries. Here’s the answer: Stavros found it miraculously in a moment of despair and used it to become grocery store royalty.

I wonder if that will be the only link we get. It’s not important if it is or isn’t. What is important, at least this week, is the idea that miracles and plagues can be mistaken for each other. The finding of the money was a sure sign that “God is real” to Stavros, and it’s hard to argue that for 19 years it had to have seemed truly heaven sent. But he’s also likely had two decades of contemplating whether the briefcase belonged to someone and whether he’d be in trouble for taking it. The answer appeared to come in the form of the extortion note, completely accidental on the part of blackmailer Don (Glenn Howerton).

And that it is accompanied by Biblical plagues of water turning to blood and locusts (really crickets, in a really great scene) makes it all the more evident to Stavros that the treasure was like a temptation rather than a miracle and it’s time for him to pay for the sin of indulging. Again he says, “God is real.” The ironic notion that His existence is only either proven in gifts or damnation is the best circle back of the series so far.

Meanwhile, Gus (Colin Hanks) seems to have miraculous lucky while responding to a call Stavros had made about his dog’s murder. As he drives up to the house, he spots Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) just hanging out on the edge of the property. What are the chances of randomly catching a wanted criminal you previously let go under those specific circumstances? It turns out that Minnesota is a small place (did you know Duluth and Bimidji are almost three hours apart?). But arresting Malvo becomes a plague for Gus when the former’s alias as an innocent pastor convinces both Lt. Schmidt (Peter Breitmayer) and Sheriff Oswalt (Bob Oedenkirk), both of whom I suspect of being corrupt in some manner, as well as sort of stupid.

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Thornton/Malvo’s transformation is brilliantly wily, and those big glasses he finds to help in his disguise reminded me of his character in A Simple Plan, which is another movie set in Minnesota and a movie that I’ve recently discovered some people think is a Coen brothers movie. And it involves a found treasure of cash. Malvo’s cover isn’t played dim enough to be a definite homage (nor is the size of the lenses), which is fine because that might have made me wish he’d go full retarded by doing Karl from Sling Blade instead. Not that we need more winks to more movies on this show, which thankfully has veered a bit away from becoming all out pastiche.

Back to the good luck turning to bad luck, in a Biblical or non-Biblical fashion, Lester (Martin Freeman) is kidnapped by Numbers and Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard), because they think he murdered Hess to get his wife and money. Miraculously, he finds a taser in the trunk where he’s thrown, but in tasing Mr. Numbers he only makes him angrier for later punishments. He also thinks it fortuitous that he immediately comes across a cop on the road, whom he punches in order to be locked up safe. But then his two nemeses also get themselves arrested, and then he’s locked in with them.

The title of this week’s episode comes from another Zen koan, just as last week’s did. “Eating the Blame” involves a hastily made vegetable soup in which there’s an accidental ingredient of a snake head. When asked about the head by his master, the cook quickly eats it. Most tellings leave out the idea that this cook is eating the blame that could fall upon other characters, such as the farmer who harvested the vegetables or a specific preparer of the soup or the server, for their not noticing the contaminant.

Does that sound like anyone on Fargo? Gus continues to eat the blame for Malvo being free, though he’s mostly been doing so deservedly since he let him go first. More so I see Schmidt and Oswalt as eating the blame by so swiftly getting rid of the snake in the soup, i.e. Malvo in the interrogation room, even though Gus gets reprimanded for the arrest anyway.

With this episode, I grew more impatient with the action in Bimidji and the Lester, Numbers and Wrench characters. The plotting there worked, but at the same time things continue to be drawn out as far as something really happening to or with any of them. I presume that will turn around next week. After all, this week provided responses to my questions and concerns in the previous column, namely with how Malvo gets away with being so careless and why we should care about the Stavros storyline, which had been rather dull at that point.

The end of the next episode (“The Six Ungraspables,” named for more Buddhist wisdom) will mark the halfway point for the ten-part mini-series, so hopefully there will be something even more spectacular than the cricket-caused supermarket stampede in “Eating the Blame.” Is it awful that I’m so anxiously awaiting another character to die already?

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.