You just know something’s not quite right when an episode opens by slowly panning down the empty halls of a nondescript office at floor level.
It’s an urban office; the view from the windowed walls tell us that much. There are cubicles; it’s sterile and, one might imagine, soul-crushing to work at this place. Down a long hallway, the camera focuses on a generic fish tank screensaver, the kind where the fish seemingly swim around at their own free will, which seemed totally high-tech back in 2006.
The man sitting in front of the computer makes the situation feel more desperate. He’s distraught, concerned about something…something that might be coming down the hall after him. He checks the walkway for a second time and…there stands Lorne Malvo. Yeah, this guy is screwed.
The guy says “sh–” at least 500 times, frantically trying to figure out a way out, but Malvo has cornered his prey. “Tell them I’ll pay it all back!” the man pleads. Malvo grabs the guy by the necktie and drags him down the hall. This hit man is quite cavalier in his crimes and violence, isn’t he? He allows people — victims and witnesses alike — to see his face. He’s caught on the office’s security cameras. He left fingerprints on a murder weapon at Lester Nygaard’s house. To Lorne Malvo, is life just a game of Catch Me If You Can?
He drags the guy to the office garage and holds up a nasty-looking knife, which he uses to remove the man’s clothing. Malvo stuffs the man in the trunk — aha! This is the guy who winds up frozen in the woods outside of Bemidji. This is Deputy Molly Solverson’s “naked fella.”
We see his perspective during the car crash. We see him fleeing in the snow and stopping to catch a breath — which turns out to be one of his last. Is he thinking about those pictures of the little kids at his cubicle? How he shouldn’t have gotten involved with loan sharks/the mob/whatever bad guys put a hit on him?
Molly is on the case — well, now that she’s been taken off of the double-homicide at the Nygaard’s house. She drives to St. Paul to interview the witnesses in the office abduction. “Phil was just typing away,” one woman says. “Nice guy, too. Super…such a pity. Gambling problem, I heard,” she adds. “I heard drugs,” says another. “I heard he like slept with a 13-year-old girl,” chimes in a man, who is then chastised for “spreading rumors.” “It was gambling for sure,” the first woman insists. Ah, cubicle life.
The security officer at the office takes Molly to see footage of the crime. And there is Malvo, dragging Phil out of the elevator. The security guard wonders if this is the guy who killed all those people in Bemidji. Molly wonders that, too.
Speaking of Malvo, he’s busy playing all the players in the Stavros Milos blackmail case. He pays a visit to Don Chumph’s gym, where he confronts the trainer: “You got bronzer on your blackmail note.” Don takes Malvo to a closet to speak in private. (“You couldn’t find a smaller room for us to talk in?”) Don looks like he’s about to pee himself as Malvo interrogates his blackmailer. “I got two questions and one comment,” Malvo says. “First question: Why $43,613?” Don wanted to start a Turkish bath. (Because sure, why not?)
“Second question: What do you know?” Turns out, not much. All Don knows is what Helena told him: That Milos lies about his money, which is vague and not very helpful. “So you’re blackmailing a guy for something but you don’t know what it is,” Malvo tries to clarify. Then the hit man offers his comment: “You’re an idiot.” The good news, he says, is that he’s taking over the blackmail scheme.
“You work for the guy,” Don says, trying to put together the pieces and failing miserably.
“Exactly. And now you work for me. The first thing we need is a new blackmail letter.” (Anyone else seeing the allusions to Brad Pitt’s trying-to-scheme gym rat in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading?)