Season 1, Episode 3: “A Muddy Road”
Directed by Randall Einhorn
Written by Noah Hawley
Back to Minnesota. You betcha!
“A Muddy Road” begins in an office building, cubicles on every which side. People work quietly, like any other day. One man looks troubled. Then suddenly, he spies Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) down at the end of the hall. The worried man obviously owes money. So Lorne drags him by the tie down through the hall while others watch. A security camera records all of this, right through the building, down into the parking garage.
Malvo strips the man down with a knife, then throws him in the trunk. Ah, so this is where the beginning comes from. From inside the trunk we watch the man get thrown around, Malvo flying out off the road and into the snow. Out in those woods, the man dies, as we already saw. But I dig how Noah Hawley takes us back through that beginning moment, to show us a little behind those opening moments of the series premiere and gives us a bit of context, instead of it being a one-off moment.
Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is out at the office building where the frozen man was dragged from by Malvo. The employees are hilarious, each giving their opinion on the guy. Mostly, Molly is looking for connections to what happened in Bemidji with Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and his wife, the Chief, all that.
At the same time, Lorne is over sweating Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton): “You got bronzer on your blackmail note.” Poor Don has got himself into a rough situation. Howerton is an awesome addiction to the cast, he is a funny guy and able to be subtle, unlike his excellent portrayal of Dennis Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But more than that, I love the entire scene between Don and Lorne. Eventually Lorne discovers Don knows nothing, only that Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) supposedly “lies about where he got his money“. Now there’s more of the wandering evil in Lorne coming out, making people do as he bids. He’s getting Don to make a new blackmail letter.
Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) is still haunted by letting Malvo go. He looks up the plate number of the car; it was Lester’s car. Heading into the bathroom to talk with his lieutenant, Ben Schmidt (Peter Breitmayer) hilariously as the man is trying to take a shit, Gus tells him about the car belonging to one of the – supposed – victims. “It‘s god damn Sioux Falls all over again,” Lt. Schmidt says to himself. He is not impressed with Gus, but how could he have done anything? Lorne basically threatened his life. Was it worth pushing? At the same time, the lieutenant has every right to be pissed.
Lester is also haunted. He can’t stop thinking, obviously, about what happened at his house; his wife, Chief Thurman, everything. Weighing heavy on him. And why wouldn’t it? Well, now Lester is trying to get back to work at the insurance office for his foolish boss Bo Munk (Tom Musgrace). He actually ends up bringing documents over to Sam Hess’ widow, Gina (Kate Walsh). Interesting.
The Hess boys are still as dumb and dickish as ever, taunting Lester as a “loser” and wondering if he wants to “do” their mom. All the insurance mess starts to get worked out eventually once Gina invites Lester inside. “When do I get my money?” she asks quickly. He tries being a bit graceful, but she’s really only concerned with cold hard cash; not her cold dead husband. Then they start bonding a little over their dead spouses, as Gina sips what is most likely wine from a water bottle. Slowly, Gina starts trying to seduce Lester, whose awkwardness as usual knows no bounds.
And out in the trees, Lester eventually eyes Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) and Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) watching on.
Lester: “You‘ve got your kids”
Gina: “I‘ve taken shits I wanna live with more than them”
A perfect scene between Molly and an old friend having dinner is highly reminiscent, without copying, of the original Fargo film where Marge Gunderson meets her friend from school Mike Yanagita. Of course, this scene with Molly and her friend is not at all the same situation. But the whole thing is very good homage. One of those awkward encounters we have with people after years of not seeing them. I thought it was a great inclusion. Plus, it just shows how sensible and intelligent minded Molly is compared to so many other clueless people around her.
Lorne: “It‘s already dog–eat–dog, friend. Not sure what worse a bunch of zombies could do.”
At the Milos residence, Lorne shows up with his nasty knife. He meets a big burly dog eye to eye, and you get the sense the dog recognizes Malvo as another animal. Inside, Malvo switches Stavros’ medication out with amphetamines. Well, that’s going to be quite the shock, isn’t it? Just as Stavros almost catches the culprit at work, out slips Lorne from the front door. Then, through the window, Stavros sees what the animal did to his dog, who lies dead with a cut neck and a new blackmail note to his corpse. Tragic to see an animal die, but did we expect anything better from a guy like Lorne? Not I. Milos is clearly intimidated, and also pretty angry.
Something I love about this series is there are little easily read bits of symbolism throughout the episodes. Such as the buckshot left in Lester’s hand: it stays around, it won’t leave, he can’t get it out and the wound just won’t heal, similar to how his guilt and those other feelings remain right below the surface threatening to expose him. Coming out of the bathroom in his office, Lester finds Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers waiting silently at his desk. The phone rings and he sits down to answer it as usual; it’s actually the impound in Duluth letting him know they have his vehicle. From there, a tense conversation between Mrs. Wrench and Numbers and Lester begins. First with a little sign language, until Numbers tells him exactly what they’re here about: “Sam Hess“.
Then, inconveniently, Molly appears to talk insurance with Lester. She wants to start thinking about life insurance, possibly. On account of her father Lou (Keith Carradine), worrying what might happen to him if she were to die in the line of duty. When some files fall on the floor from Molly’s folder, a security camera picture comes out: Lorne. This rattles Mr. Nygaard pretty bad, fast, and Molly can see how much it does. Little by little, the facade slips. Lester can only try his hardest not to be swept away in the tide of guilty lies.
At the home of Milos, a windshield scraper, a small one, is framed on the wall. Everything there is very grand, except the scraper. Strange, no? We’ll find out its significance soon enough. Milos wants to get things handled now, after the death of his dog; he and Wally (Barry Flatman) berate Lorne a little for him not knowing who exactly did the deed. Then we get into a little mention of Milos and his fortune, only Milos won’t budge on giving up any further information. Then he chews up one of the amphetamine tablets Lorne slipped into the bottle earlier that day. Lift off.
Gus Grimly and his daughter Greta (Joey King) sit at his desk. He’s looking through mugshot book after mugshot book, to try and find the man he pulled over that night. You can see how it all chews him up inside, the poor fella. But I suppose living on the thin blue line is never easy, no matter how much we wish it would be; it just is not.
Continually, Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) does not appreciate Molly’s theories about what happened in their town. She realizes Lester knows more than he lets on, yet Bill is so blind to the people in his quaint little town he is just completely unable to see what’s really going on. Molly isn’t giving up, though. Onward and upward.
Finally a break – Molly meets Gus, who came to tell her about his mistake. He talks about what happened, letting Lorne go and so on, the car he was in belonging to Lester Nygaard. Now, things are starting to come together, and an interesting relationship between Gus/Molly begins as she now has someone on her side.
But the best of all comes in the finale of “A Muddy Road”.
Lester goes to see his brother Chaz (Joshua Close) looking for the gun that “makes the biggest hole“. They have a brother-brother bonding session. And we can see, Lester is getting more bold. Slowly, but it is happening.
Then, the finale concludes with Lorne reading from the Bible – the part about the plagues in Egypt – which also sees Stavros still sweating it out, hopped up unknowingly on amphetamines, then hopping in a shower. Except the shower starts to pour red, much like the red water in Egypt during the plagues, and when Milos notices he goes berserk. As one would. A smile on his face, and a couple buckets of pig’s blood in the back, Lorne gets in his vehicle to drive off.
Loved this episode. Can’t wait to review the next episode, “Eating the Blame”. More Minnesota chaos and mayhem coming again. Stay tuned for another review.