Lester crosses Malvo's path once again, while a new investigation leads Molly to familiar questions.
There are antiheroes you can’t help but root for – Tony Soprano, Walter White – and then there is Lester Nygaard.
After Fargo‘s ninth episode, “A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage,” it has become exceedingly difficult to hope Lester gets away with his crimes. He may be a success story on the outside – the one-time pushover finds his inner strength and becomes Salesman of the Year — but he’s also the kind of guy who would set up his brother for murder and knowingly send his wife to her execution. Where Tony and Walter did very bad things in the name of some greater good, Lester’s actions boil down to one thing: self-preservation. And a swaggering coward is still a coward.
The season’s penultimate episode played out like a mini action movie: there’s the undercover hit man, the gruesome triple homicide, the witness looking over his shoulder at every turn, the dogged cop getting one step closer to solving the case.
Malvo’s long con in Kansas City is a master class in covert operations. For six months he assimilated into a dentist’s office to cozy up to a doc whose brother was in witness protection. Was Malvo actually a dentist in a previous life? He seems to know his way around a cavity (great, gross opening sequence in this episode, by the way).
White-haired Malvo goes by “Mick Mike” these days, has a penchant for 1960s décor, and is engaged to a hot blonde woman named Jemma. His catch phrase: “Aces,” typically accompanied by some variation on finger guns. At a house party, his target, Burt (the reliably excellent Stephen Root), admits that he just loves how Mike/Malvo has spiced things up since he arrived at their office. “I’m a rascal,” Malvo admits, which is hilarious.
Burt decides it’s time Mike/Malvo meets his brother; they’d get along like gangbusters, he says. One problem: He’s in witness protection hiding out from these mob guys out of Chicago, but screw it – they make plans to visit the informant, who’s hiding out in Vegas, the following weekend. “Aces,” says the finger-gunning Malvo.
Later, Malvo is sitting in a very retro room, complete with pink lanterns and mood lighting. On old equipment he’s listening to a tape.
“You did this to me,” says an unidentified man on the recording. “I had a wife, a family. I was happy. And then you started…”
“Started what?” asks Malvo on the recording. “All we did was talk.”
Now stop,” says the man. “Now you said things. Jumbled me up. Told me I needed… and now they’re dead. Why did I listen to you? Why?” The man begins to cry. “Tell my wife I love her,” he says, and then we hear the sound of gunfire.
It’s a short scene, but it’s important. It proves once again that Lester wasn’t Malvo’s first “apprentice.” Though it’s unlikely he went around converting schmucks into killers to bolster the ranks of his hit man operation, he obviously gets a kick out of planting the seed of some misguided predator mentality into the seemingly weak and downtrodden. It would be really intriguing to find out why exactly Malvo has chosen to mentor these unlikely protégés, but maybe there isn’t more to it. Maybe this really is his twisted idea of a hobby, his collection of recorded conversations with desperate men his souvenirs.
In Vegas, the dentists and their dates are sharing drinks in a hotel bar, making plans for the next day, which is when Burt will finally introduce Mike/Malvo to his brother. It’s a reverse shot from last week’s episode as we see Lester, sitting at the bar, observing the conversation.
Lester approaches the group, taps Malvo on the shoulder. “What are the odds?” he says. Malvo looks bewildered and tries to brush him off: “I’m sorry, sir — you must have me confused with someone else.”
“Nope. Minnesota, last year. The emergency room?” How about murdering Sam Hess and the chief of police? Lester is getting slightly aggravated that he needs to apparently spell things out for the man who changed his life. “I didn’t recognize you at first either because you have a whole new, uh… but hey, so do I!” He shows off his fancy Bill Blass suit and Salesman of the Year trophy. “Gave it to me on a stage and everything,” he boasts.
Malvo just nods. His party is confused. Burt wants an introduction, but Malvo insists he’s never met this wackadoo. Lester finally caves, saying he’s right, he must be mistaken. Malvo readies his party to leave, and as they gather their things, he turns to Lester and says in a deep, threatening voice, “Walk away.”
Lester is flustered. Jemma comes up and congratulates him on his award. Lester watches them walk away, trying to figure out what just happened. He’s irritated, and he’s not going to let this go. Just as Malvo’s group is about to head upstairs, Lester sticks his arm in the elevator door and pushes himself in.
“No,” says Lester, his newfound confidence rising. Malvo is smirking and raises an eyebrow at him. “You don’t get to… and I’m sorry to interrupt but it’s not right,” he says to the other three, who are wondering what is wrong with this man. “When something’s not right… well, the old Lester, now he would’ve just let it slide. But not this guy. I’ve worked too hard, I’ve come too far.”
“Lester, stop,” Malvo warns.
“Oh, so now you do know me,” says Lester.
Malvo is annoyed. “Is this what you want?” he asks. It’s clear Lester doesn’t realize how loaded that question is.
“I…” Lester struggles to find an answer.
Burt tries to tell “Mick Mike” to play it cool. Malvo repeats his question. Lester considers. Jemma looks nervous.
“Yes or no?” asks Malvo. Lester straightens up. “Yes.”
Malvo methodically takes out a gun and shoots all three bystanders in the head. No mercy, very slowly. Lester is breathing heavily, unable to believe what just happened. “Oh my,” he says, blood spattered across his face.
“That’s on you,” says Malvo, calm, like this kind of thing happens every day (in his world, it does). The doors open; Malvo peeks around the corner and sees an open, empty hallway. Malvo is once again in killer mode. He pushes a button and stares down Lester, explaining that he just wasted six months working on Burt – not to mention all of those “sewer mouths,” and all for naught. He laments losing his $100,000 bounty, but the look on Burt’s face when he pulled the gun was pretty classic, huh?
Lester is appalled. The elevator doors open to a lower level, a basement maybe. Malvo instructs Lester to grab the fat guy’s feet so they can throw him in the Dumpster, but as Lester turns to comply, he hits Malvo over the back of the head with his trophy instead. Malvo is stunned – not just that he got whacked in the head, but that one of his minions, a good one at that, has turned tail. Lester runs down the long corridor away from Malvo. “See you later, Lester,” the master calls after his newfound enemy. “See you soon.”
Lester, rightfully panicking, begins throwing clothing into his suitcase, hangers and all. The commotion wakes up Linda, who goes along with her suddenly frantic husband and prepares to leave. It’s a long, paranoid walk down the hallway to the elevators, echoing the anxiety and anticipation of that scene right before Malvo kidnapped the soon-to-be naked fella in St. Paul. Until this ends, Lester will live in a permanent state of dread.
They make it back to Minnesota, where Lester expects to see Malvo in his rearview mirror, in the woods behind his house (because Lester and Linda have moved into a new home outside of town), inside of his house. Lester tries to brush off their rushed departure from Vegas as wanting to “strike while the iron’s hot” and hit up all of the new contacts he made. He says he’ll make it up to Linda by taking her on a trip anywhere she wants to go. How about Acapulco? How about tonight? Lester just needs to stop by the office, buy the tickets, and get their passports before they can run away together. “Heck, we might never come back,” he says. And he means it.
Inside, Lester digs out a gun from a box labeled “Chazz’s hunting gear” and stuffs it into the back of his pants. He grabs his bright orange puffer jacket and is about to walk out the door – they can catch the 11 o’clock flight out of Minneapolis, but they should be on the road by 6 – when Molly arrives on their doorstep.
Of course she scared the bejesus out of him, because any stray movement could be Malvo. She introduces herself, as if Lester has forgotten the only person who suspects he was involved in the murder of his wife and the chief. Molly has arrived with more bad news: She got a call from Las Vegas Police that Lester may have been a witness to three murders. She needs to question him.
Linda comes over, wondering if everything is OK. Molly says it’s a routine inquiry; Lester tries to push it off til the afternoon. Fine, but Molly is super pregnant and needs to pee every five minutes so… she’s invited inside and gets her interview. Nice work there, Molly (and baby).
Lester gives his account of what happened after Linda went up to the hotel room: he chatted with the bartender, one drink, back to his room. So what happened in the elevator? “Nothing,” Lester says a little too quickly. “I mean, it went up.”
Everyone was alive in the elevator when he got off, he insists. You know, Friday night in Vegas. He and Linda had never been there before, he says. She likes the fountains and that you can gamble at the airport.
Speaking of the airport, Molly wonders why they changed their flight at the last minute. Linda jumps in to save her husband. “That was me,” she says, touching his hand. “That was my idea. I just, I got home sick you know? I was ready to go home.”
Lester easily slips back into lying mode. The room was paid for through Sunday, but Linda was adamant about leaving. “I tend to get my way,” Linda says. Bet she’ll get her way after this incident.
Whether or not Molly is satisfied with their answers, she’s finished her query. But she warns Lester not to go anywhere – Vegas PD is going to send over some security footage and she may have more questions. Linda begins to protest and almost spills that they were going to go on a trip. Lester puts an arm around her shoulder. “Absolutely, we’ll be right here if you need us,” he says.
Molly heads to her car, where she’s being paged on her radio – a couple of FBI fellas came by to talk to her. Agents Budge and Pepper intercepted her note when the agent who took her call about the Fargo crime syndicate slaughter was trying to file it. Still stuck in the filing room, they’re hungry for action – and they better be hungry, because dispatch sent them to Lou’s, where Molly is heading to meet two men who will finally believe her theories.
But before Molly and the FBI agents arrive, Malvo pulls up to Lou’s for one very intense conversation over coffee and pie. Malvo is in Bemidji searching for Lester, of course, and after a failed attempt at finding him at the old address (where he undoubtedly gave the new residents nightmares about the murders that took place there), he stops by the diner hoping for a new way to locate him.
Malvo fingers Lou Solverson as a former cop right away. He says he spent some time with the Tampa DA himself, not as a lawyer, but “something like that.” Malvo says he’s passing through, hoping to surprise his old pal Lester, but didn’t realize he moved. Lou is reluctant to give out personal information. It’s at this point Malvo looks above the counter and notices a picture of Molly and Gus from their wedding day. “They look happy,” Malvo says, recognizing Gus as the Duluth officer who knew his true identity, perhaps adding another man to his Bemidji to-kill list. It doesn’t help that, along his mail route, Gus spotted Malvo driving into town and thought he recognized him. Are these two now on a collision course again?
Lou gets a strange feeling about this guy. “How long did you work for the Tampa DA?” he asks. Malvo admits he didn’t work there, just “spent some time” there. He calls himself a traveler, shakes off the questioning with the “just hoping to reconnect with an old pal” bit again.
And for some reason, this conversation reminds Lou of that infamous Sioux Falls case everyone keeps bringing up. Lou says he’d tell this stranger the details, “but you’d think I was making them up.” Malvo looks intrigued, but maybe it’s just hitting a little too close to home for him. Is Lou suspecting him of being the culprit?
Molly is close to arriving at the diner as Malvo asks one more time for a way to find Lester. Lou offers to pass along Malvo’s number if he leaves it, he’ll make sure Lester gets it. But Malvo says he’s just passing through and thanks him for the pie and decaf. “Haven’t had a piece of pie like that since the garden of Eden,” says Malvo, as if he considers himself the embodiment of evil. Perhaps he is.
Malvo exits out the front door just as Molly enters from the back. Lou comments about how sometimes you “just meet a weird one.” Yeah, a weird, twisted killer who is your daughter’s No. 1 suspect.
And it turns out Budge and Pepper just missed Malvo, too — again. Malvo drives off as they sit down with Molly. They like that she wouldn’t let go of the crime syndicate case. But Molly doesn’t understand why they’ve come to interview her – another FBI fella already said her evidence was circumstantial. The agents write that guy off as a “worker bee” and a “drone,” whereas they have a vested interest in the case. They explain their involvement and why they need to know who she thinks did it. Molly orders coffees to go and takes them to the Bemidji station.
There, she shows off her dry erase board connecting all the dots in the Bemidji murders. Budge and Pepper are seriously impressed. And then to ruin it all, Bill walks in. He sees what Molly is presenting and flips out. “Oh no, no, I’m so sorry,” he says. “These guys aren’t interested in…” He wants to meet with them in his office, privately.
But Budge and Pepper are too smart. They ask if he’s seen the evidence Molly has put together. Yeah, Bill says it’s been giving him nightmares.
Pepper calls him out. “You don’t care about the fact that this Malvo character was seen with Lester at the hospital?” he asks. “Or that he ended up in Duluth in direct conflict with these other two?” he adds, pointing to the pictures of Numbers and Wrench. Bill tries to explain and can’t.
The agents commend Molly in front of her clueless boss and say they’re going to stay in town to take another run at Lester in the morning. Bill doesn’t understand. The evidence doesn’t add up… at least in the story he made up in his mind.
But if Lester has anything to say about it, he’s not going to be in town for the FBI agents to question him. It’s time to head to the airport, and he hurries Linda into the car. While driving to the office – Lester’s fancy new insurance office with his name on the sign – Linda admits she’s always had crush on him. She compares herself to Cinderella; after her parents immigrated to Minnesota, she was put to work right away cleaning rooms at their motel. He likes the idea of being the knight in shining armor.
But that’s all he cares about – bolstering his own ego. When he drives by the office, he becomes suspicious: Why is the desk lamp on? He keeps driving and pulls into a parking spot across the way, suspecting Malvo is inside, waiting for him. And then Lester proves his true colors.
Lester says he tweaked his back lifting the luggage and asks Linda if she wouldn’t mind running in and grabbing the passports and cash out of the safe. He can’t be sending her in there to die, right? It’s such a disgusting thing to process, it’s hard to believe at first. But then he confirms it, handing her his trademark orange parka “because it’s cold out there” and he was in such a hurry to leave he didn’t let her grab her own coat. He even tells her to put the hood up — so Malvo will think it’s him. He’d hate for her pretty face to freeze, after all.
From the safety of his car, Lester watches as Linda walks to her death. She turns the lights on. And he watches Malvo stand up, just as he expected, and shoot his wife in the head. Feathers fly out of the hood. Lester gasps, but does he care? No. Because he is still alive.
Malvo bends down, examines the body. He must see that he didn’t shoot the right person. He stands up and looks out the window. Lester is sitting in the only car in the area; he must be seen. Malvo walks out the door and looks around. He sees the car now, for sure. He lights a cigarette, lingers. And then he walks away. Lester breathes deeply. He thinks he’s going to get away with murder — again.
So how does the end? Does Lester follow through on his plans to fly out to Acapulco? Can he grab his passport and board the flight before anyone finds Linda’s body? At this point, Lester getting away with his crimes and (literally) walking away into the sunset would feel like a letdown – unless Malvo tracks him down in Mexico, which we know is certainly possible.
If Lester stays in Minnesota, is there any possible way for him to get away with the murder of a second wife? Not with Molly and the FBI now on his trail, surely.
So who’s going to come out of this season triumphant – the persistent cop, the “nice guy” murderer, or the contract killer? And more importantly, who will be the casualties before all is said and done?