Molly begins to suspect Lester is involved with the murders, while the Fargo muscle arrives in Bemidji to start an investigation of their own. Malvo takes on a new client: the Supermarket King of Minnesota.
Are you warming up to the frozen desolation of the Minnesota prairie yet? No? Well Fargo episode 2, The Rooster Prince, opens with another stark, snowy landscape to help set the mood.
But something’s different this time. Here we get drums, frenetic percussion for the soundtrack as we follow a car driving along a highway. The driver has massive mutton chops and a fringed leather jacket; the passenger is bearded and bundled up in an overcoat, wearing black-framed sunglasses. What decade are we in?
It’s still 2006, and the small town of Bemidji is still rocked by the deaths of trucking boss Sam Hess, police chief Vern Thurman, and bullying wife Pearl Nygaard. The strange travelers arrive at Hess & Sons Transport, announcing themselves as sent by Fargo, aka, the crime syndicate overseeing Hess’ empire. They ask for Max Gold, whose exact position within the firm is still unknown to viewers, though he acts like a money man or lawyer. Ostensibly, he is overseeing the business since Hess is out of the picture.
The visitors: Mr. Wrench is the one who looks like he stepped out of some old Clint Eastwood film. He’s a big, intimidating man — and he happens to be deaf. He signs something to his partner, Mr. Numbers. Is he threatening Gold? Not exactly: Wrench wants to know why this town doesn’t have a library, Numbers translates. He thinks every town should have a library. Gold is taken aback. “I agree,” he says. “Tell him I agree.” This is a very interesting interrogation tactic.
Numbers gets to the point, saying they’ve arrived to find out what happened to Hess. Does Gold believe it was connected to “the business”? No…but there was a guy — not young, not old. He had a cut on his forehead and said he wanted to take a look at Sam, which he did, then left. Gold is obviously concerned these guys aren’t buying his story and desperately tries to sell himself as friend of Hess. “You’re gonna find him, right? The guy who did it?” he asks. Mr. Wrench slides a finger across his throat. In case his meaning wasn’t clear, Mr. Numbers says, “We’ll find him.”
It’s days after the murders, and the wakes for victims Pearl and Chief Thurman are being held. At the memorial for Pearl, her husband Lester — aka her murderer — is concerned with his hand. He has a flashback to the chief getting shot — in his house, by Lorne Malvo, with his shotgun. It appears a pellet lodged in his skin during the incident, or at least hit and injured him. [SIDE NOTE: Let’s talk about that shotgun. It has Lester’s prints on it. It has Malvo’s prints on it. Neither man concealed it after Malvo shot the chief. In the pilot, we see a cop taking the gun away from the Nygaard residence once the investigation begins. That’s some serious evidence that has not yet come into play….] Lester’s brother Chaz asks if he’s going to sell the house, and nonchalantly mentions how badly the cops turned the place upside down “looking for clues.” In the background, his son is playing with a toy gun — or what I hope is a toy, because we’ve seen the real weaponry Chaz keeps in his garage.
But Chaz’s words have Lester concerned. He returns to his house, the scene of the crime, and it is a mess. There are gloves and booties and even a coffee cup littering the floor — not to mention the awful bloodstain left by the chief, which still looks gruesome and raw. Lester walks to the basement — the place where he murdered his wife — and sees that bloodstain. He flashes back to the crime. Does he feel regret? Or is he retracing his steps to figure out if he did leave any clues the cops may have found?
Meanwhile, deputy officer Molly Solverson is mourning her mentor at his grave. His headstone lists him as “lawman, beloved husband and father,” which of course is the saddest thing ever because he never actually got to be a dad. Molly is giving his grave an “I’m gonna avenge your death” look.
She drives to his memorial and attempts to bond with Vern’s widow, who is going to have that baby any day now. They clumsily recall stories of death and cops injured in the line of duty. The new chief, Bill, interrupts, saying everything is in order for Ida’s due date, that everyone will pitch in to help her. Molly thinks this is a good time to ask about the case.
She has theories about Lester; Vern was on his way to interview him about the Hess murder before all hell broke loose and he ended up in a body bag, after all. Bill laughs off the idea — he remembers Lester from high school, he was weak. No way he killed Sam. The Hess murder must involve “the cutthroat world of regional trucking,” not some mild-mannered insurance salesman, Bill insists.
Molly isn’t convinced — and neither is Ida. Molly knew Ida would see the information as clues, not coincidence. At the widow’s insistence, Bill finally agrees to go see Lester. “But I do the talking,” he says.
Back at the Nygaard house, Lester walks into the bedroom, which features inspirational messages everywhere: “Everything happens for a reason” reads one; “go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you imagined,” says another. Did Lester have a say in anything in this relationship? Of course, these could be his motto now.
He walks over to the closet and lifts the sleeve of one of Pearl’s sweaters. He starts crying into it, moaning. But this raw emotion isn’t for her, is it? No, it’s for the exceptionally crappy situation he got himself into. And then the doorbell rings.
It’s the cops. Molly and Bill have some questions. Molly is like a bulldog, wanting to jump right into it. Bill greets his old friend. “How ya holding up?” he asks.
Lester pours grape juice for his guests. “Pearl says it reminds her of being a kid,” he says, then knocks on the table, forgetting. “Said,” he corrects himself. The Lester Lie Machine has been turned on.
Bill is still bent on this being a social call, asking Lester if he remembers that gum — that grape gum from their childhood. Molly’s patience is wearing thin, and she asks about Lester’s statement from the hospital. Lester says he was thorough…and that he has a concussion, so ya know, be gentle. Molly presses on, asking about details of the crime. “I heard the washer going,” Lester says, pausing. “Spin cycle,” he adds for effect. Lester says Pearl was already dead on the floor when he got home, and he never saw the guy before he got knocked out himself. Molly asks if he can recall Chief Thurman stopping by. Lester says the chief must have seen the suspect breaking in, and that’s why he was on the scene. Molly corrects him: “No, Mr. Nygaard — Chief Thurman came to talk to ya about a man you may have met in the emergency room the day previous.” Uh-oh, Lester. “You don’t say,” he eeks out.
Bill cuts in. He thinks this is getting too hard for Lester. Molly recognizes her window closing. “We’ve got a witness…says you were arguing with the man about Sam Hess,” she says.
Under the table, Lester starts flexing his injured hand. But he’s wearing a poker face. “Who?” he asks.
“Sam. Hess.” Molly is getting impatient.
Bill launches into old stories about Sam bullying Lester in high school. Molly’s head might explode with this new information. “You were talking about him, so what’s the story there?” she asks, proving her worth as a detective.
Lester uses the “the last few days have been real fuzzy” defense. “I may have said my face is a mess,” he tries, terribly. “And mess sounds like Hess…maybe the witness misunderstood.” But Bill buys it. He launches into his “drifters” theory to back Lester up.
“We don’t both share that theory,” Molly interjects.
“I’m a little scrambled right now,” Lester says. “I’ve got a concussion right now, I’m not sure if I said that.” (Ah, he’s really thinking on his feet now.) “Things are kind of fuzzy.”
Bill says he’s satisfied and turns to leave, practically dragging Molly with him. The new chief says he’s gonna look up that gum.
“Hubba Bubba,” Lester answers in an astounding moment of clarity and memory recall. Molly’s face is priceless. “Do you remember Hubba Bubba?” Bill asks her. “No,” she says, disgusted.
“She was a good woman,” Lester says as they leave. “Good wife. I just keep asking myself who could’ve done a thing like this?” I’m wondering that too, Lester. Who are you?
The next scenes allow Malvo to get back into the story. During a wonderfully macabre interaction with a mailing store clerk, he receives his new identity from his League of Professional Hitmen or whatever they call themselves. He is now Frank Peterson, minister, and his new client is Stavros Milos, the Supermarket King of Minnesota. Malvo visits Milos at his Phoenix Farms headquarters in Duluth.
Milos is a boastful man. He has a pro (semi-pro) former hockey goon as his head of security — whom Malvo refers to as The Fire Hydrant — and a painting of a crown behind his desk that reads “King.” Malvo asks about the reason why he’s there: the blackmail letter. Milos pulls it out, and it’s hilarious: It’s an old-school amateur job in cutout letters that says: “I know about the money pay me 43,613 or I tell the world.” It’s also a wonderful nod to the ransom note in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Is Malvo’s attachment to his briefcase a Dude reference, too?
Malvo wants to know what “I know about the money” means. Milos brushes him off, saying that’s none of his concern, he just wants the blackmailer found. Lorne laughs (well, he doesn’t laugh, probably ever, but he is amused) at the ridiculously specific number. Milos says maybe it’s for student loans…and then his dim-witted adult son bursts into the office to tell a joke: What’s a karate expert’s favorite beverage? Kara-tea — get it?
He exits. Malvo wants to know what to do with the blackmailer once he’s found him. Send ‘em packing, Milos says in his best imitation of a movie tough guy. He suggests starting with his wife — soon-to-be-ex-wife — who is suing him. And Malvo does — after stealing the car of some poor sap who left it running outside the grocery store.
Still in Duluth, the action turns to the police precinct where Gus Grimly — the cop who pulled over Malvo, but let him go — works. The chief is talking about the brutal murders that happened over in Bemidji, and says the new chief there wants their cooperation. Grimly pulls that ticket he didn’t finish writing out of his pocket — he got the plates on the vehicle. (Either the incident bothered him so much that he kept that ticket on him for days, or he never washes his pants.)
Grimly seems to be a good guy, but we’re getting hit a little too hard over the head with analogies in his story. Over dinner, his daughter Greta talks about an assembly at school about bullies. When confronted by someone violent, she asks her dad, “You’re the police — what would you do?”
“Well you know, sometimes there’s more than one right thing,” Gus says, trying to reconcile his own actions in his mind. She doesn’t get it. “I got you and I am responsible for you and sometimes I might be in a situation where — and this hasn’t happened and it won’t — where if I try to stop a guy from doing a bad thing I could get hurt or worse. And then who would take care of you?”
“But it’s your job,” she says.
“Well, I’ve got two jobs,” he clarifies. “And the first and most important is being your dad.”
Greta says if she saw something, she’d do something. Gus doesn’t doubt her. Then he squirts a giant pile of ketchup for a nice blood effect, foreshadowing to…
…the return of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. They’re at the strip club where Hess was killed, grilling the prostitute and proprietor, who throw a guy named Lenny under the bus. Poor, stupid Lenny insults the pair from Fargo and tries to threaten them. He’s bound and gagged, thrown in the trunk, and taken to Hess’ trucking office for Gold to ID. But Lenny’s not the mystery dude who visited Hess.
Back in Duluth, Malvo visits Milos’ ex and her trainer, Don, who gets bronzer all over the hit man (not a good way to introduce yourself). Malvo, posing as a colleague of the wife’s lawyer, learns Milos is worth way more than he let on, and that the story of starting his business with a loan from his uncle is a load of BS. Malvo also has another chance encounter with Milos’ son, and manages not to blow his cover by telling another lame joke: What kind of bone will a dog never eat? A trombone. (Chicken bone is the wrong answer.)
Scene change to Malvo’s hotel room, where he’s listening to a recording of some interview: “I did what you told me,” a man says.”I saw her in the copy room giving me attitude like she doesn’t want it but we both know she does, right?”
“So what did you do?” the unmistakable voice of Malvo asks.
“I closed the door and said if she ever told the boss I was bothering her again I was gonna come to her house and tie her up,” the unidentified man says. “I was gonna tie her up and do things to her that no kind of showering could erase. ‘Cause you were right — we have to take what we want. Deep down inside we’re gorillas, right? Wolves….”
Wait a second — the end of Unidentified Man’s testimony echoes the same speech Malvo gave Lester at the hospital. Is the hit man collecting his own blackmail? Is he collecting pawns?
While listening to the recording, Malvo fingers — rather literally — the blackmailer in the Milos case. The ransom letter, he realizes, is covered in the same faux sun-kissed orange as the bronzer Don left on his hand when they shook. But Malvo’s train of thought is interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s The Fire Hydrant, and he’s come to intimidate. Not to be outdone, Malvo proves he doesn’t give a s—t — by going to the bathroom, pulling down his pants, and taking a s—t, right in front of his guest. Fire Hydrant leaves — and leaves the door wide open for anyone walking by to see.
The view isn’t any better for Lester, who is still haunted by the bloodstains at his house. He goes to the basement, tries to move the broken washing machine, and removes the back panel to reveal…the murder weapon. (He sneakily hid it there as the cops arrived.) Lester is becoming a more adept criminal than I originally would have pegged him for. He decides to temporarily move into his brother’s house and announces that he will sell his home. His sister-in-law is happy to hear he’s ready for a fresh start, but in congratulating him, accidentally bumps his injured hand.
So Lester heads to the pharmacy, where he’s searching for something to prevent infection. (Just how bad is that wound getting?) Out pops Molly, who is in full-on detective mode, and possibly full-on stalker mode at this point, too. She’s trying to piece together the details of the crime and won’t back down on her hunch that Lester is somehow involved; Lester gets flustered and says he’s feeling harassed, fleeing the pharmacy without even picking up his ointment.
In the parking lot, Lester perpetuates his lie, saying Molly should be out there looking for the real killer, and that he hasn’t seen Sam since high school. Molly reminds him that a friend of hers was killed, too. Then she looks puzzled.
“I’m not sure this is your car, Mr. Nygaard,” she says. There is a “Honk if you heart knitting” sticker in the window and a menagerie of stuffed animals in the back seat.
“It’s my wife’s; mine’s in the shop,” he answers.
Molly keeps going, saying it’s hard to believe that it’s all a coincidence that he knows Sam, that it’s a quiet town, and that suddenly there are four victims in 24 hours. There’s a witness saying Lester was talking about Sam the day he died, and they had differences in the past. “Help me understand what happened,” she says in a rare moment of softness.
But Lester is incensed — and scared. “Just ask Bill, your boss,” he says. “He said he was satisfied. Look at me — my wife is dead and you’re harassing me. He’ll tell you this is a break-in. I can’t help you.” And just to show this murderer hasn’t lost his politeness: “Watch your feet now,” he adds, driving away.
So it’s no surprise that Molly is going to get reprimanded. She’s having coffee at her dad’s restaurant, going over the clues with her ex-cop father. They have a daughter-dad moment, where it’s obvious he’s worried about her. He talks about the trouble cops see: “murder, violence, general scofflaws.” But then, “there’s the stuff you’re looking at now…which is, if I’m right, savagery pure and simple. Slaughter, hatred, devils with dead eyes and sharks with smiles.” And how right he is.
Bill walks in and asks Molly for a word. The new chief seems as scared of power as he is thrilled by it. He already told her to back off Lester, he reminds her, but Nygaard called and said she was harassing him. And because she can’t fall in line, Bill pulls her off the case. He makes her “head of inquiry on the frozen fella, the naked one” as a consolation prize. She looks defeated, but she’s not ready to quit.
Fargo’s goons aren’t going to quit on their case, either. As Eden Ahbez’s ethereal “Full Moon” plays in the background, Numbers and Wrench pull up to a desolate, frozen lake. They get out, pop the trunk, and Lenny jumps out, trying to escape. Wrench pistol whips their suspect — who, remember, is the wrong guy — and he falls to the ground. Wrench gets out a giant drill, and Numbers drags Lenny behind him as they walk out to the middle of the lake. The sun is shining; the sky is blue. Wrench starts the drill. Numbers binds Lenny’s hands. They drag him to the hole in the ice.
“No. Wait,” Lenny pleads. The Fargo muscle hold him upside down and drop him into the icy waters below. “And in the evening/when the sky is on fire/heaven and earth become my great open cathedral/where all men are brothers/where all things are bound by law/and crowned with love,” Ahbez incants.
Wrench and Numbers walk back to their car, unaffected.