Fargo: 1.07 Who Shaves the Barber?

After the high thrills and suspense of last week’s episode, culminating in the superb blizzard scene where Molly was literally within arm’s reach of catching Malvo, this week’s Fargo takes a slower turn. Its tone is more thoughtful than we’ve seen recently, and while this allows for a superb dissection of certain characters – particularly Lester – the change in tone comes across as something of a downturn.

Unfortunately, the major cliff-hanger of last week – Gus accidentally shooting Molly in the whiteout – is resolved all too easily. The show issues itself a get-out-of-jail-free card by claiming the wound isn’t serious, and Molly, after a groggy awakening, is up and walking pretty easily for someone who’s just had their spleen shot out.

The most interesting part of this side of the story is Gus trying to cope with what he’s done, but he’s given too small a part to really explore this. The dynamic of Gus’s character, of a man trying to do the right thing but struggling with his own incompetence, is well portrayed by Colin Hanks but fundamentally underused.

On the other side of the law, Malvo is shown seeking revenge for the attempted hit on him by Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench. He, too, has a relatively small part in this episode, and at times things can seem a bit flat without his clever turns of phrase and dead-eyed stare. Nevertheless, Malvo is as terrifying as ever, and the numbers in his body count column continue to rise.

The real winner of this episode, however, is undoubtedly Martin Freeman, whose performance as Lester Nygaard continues to impress. Even after the terribly things he has done, Lester has thus far retained a sense of being overwhelmed by the situation. But that is no longer the case, as he takes a truly active role, not to mention a diabolical one, in controlling his own fate.

In last week’s episode, we saw Lester planting evidence in the house of his brother Chaz, and now we get to see his plan come to fruition as he squarely lays the blame for his crimes on someone else. Furthermore, he draws attention to the evidence by putting a gun in his nephew’s backpack – and when he hears that young Gordo has been arrested at school, he shows no remorse.

All of this leads to one of the best scenes the show has offered so far. There are no guns, no light shows; just Lester calmly walking out of the police station, with a small, boyish smile on his face, while his brother screams at him from the other side of the bars.

Lester’s depravity is being unmasked bit by bit, but this episode is the first time he has really been a villain. His cowardice stripped away, we see the darkness within him. When he goes on to take sexual advantage of Sam Hess’s widow, under the false pretence of speeding up her insurance claim, it is disgusting but certainly not surprising.

“Who Shaves the Barber?” was a solid episode of Fargo, but was largely saved by Freeman’s performance as Lester Nygaard. The other storylines seemed to stall a little, and it’s difficult to say exactly how the overall plot moved on except for Lester framing Chaz. Ultimately, it feels like more of a stopover point, setting up things for future events, than a strong episode in its own right.

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