By In Culture, Film

The consequence of evolution in ‘Fargo’ Season 1

Religion and philosophy are common themes on FX’s Fargo series. Seasons 1 & 2 serve as a cautionary tale of how belief fundamentally shapes moral behavior. Together the seasons offer a grim analysis of our cultural landscape, but one that doesn’t leave us without hope. This review focuses on Season 1 only. Click here for Season 2 and series summary.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Season 1

The year is 2006 and Lorne Malvo is a professional killer with no conscience. He is presented as a master of manipulation and intimidation. Malvo kills who he wants, when he wants – and with great ease. When he finds himself confronted by law enforcement, Malvo always manages to get free. Magically so, seemingly able to escape enclosed basements, control minds, and create fake identities ex nihilo.

With these qualities one might wonder if Malvo is a supernatural being. This is not so. Malvo is a mortal man, but the supernatural element is no coincidence. Malvo takes on the persona of the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan (Rev. 20:2). In episode one, The Crocodile’s Dilemma, Malvo alludes to himself as a dragon when he threatens police officer Gus Grimly:

“Maps used to say, ‘there be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.”

Later, in A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage, Malvo is more transparent. He says to Lou Solverson,

“Thanks for the pie and the coffee. Haven’t had a piece of pie like that since the Garden of Eden.”

Malvo is the father of lies in this story and he knows his Bible. One of Malvo’s victims is a Greek Orthodox Christian named Stavros Milos. Malvo recreates the plagues of Egypt, causing guilt to overcome Milos. Milos thinks that God is bringing judgment upon him for his sins. Of course, it isn’t God and there is nothing supernatural about it. Like Pharaoh’s magicians, Malvo specializes in counterfeit miracles (Ex. 7:8-12).

The motivation behind Malvo’s satanic behavior is his commitment to evolution. Indeed, evolution becomes an important topic in the show and is the key to understand how Seasons 1 & 2 flow together. In The Crocodile’s Dilemma, Malvo says to Lester Nygaard,

“Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t. We used to be gorillas. All we had is what we could take and defend … It’s a red tide, Lester, this life of ours … If you don’t stand up to it, let ’em know you’re still an ape deep down where it counts, you’re just gonna get washed away.”

Malvo is a consistent evolutionist. Morality cannot bind the conscience; societal obligations are a fiction. Each individual is free to pursue his own desires no matter how wicked they may be perceived and no matter the harm caused to other people. For our devil, that’s what it’s all about. Malvo has a murderous heart and an intellectual justification for it. There’s no god to whom we are accountable.

Perhaps the most important dialogue in the show is in Eating the Blame. Malvo asks Grimly, “Did you know that the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color? My question for you is, why?” Grimly tells the riddle to police officer Molly Solverson and she answers,

“’Cause of predators. Used to be we were monkeys, right? And in the woods, in the jungle, everything’s green. So, in order to not get eaten by panthers and bears and the like, we had to be able to see them, you know, in the grass and trees and such. Predators.”

In Fargo, Malvo isn’t the only evolutionist. Evolution is a fact accepted by the heroes of our story. Fittingly, Malvo is eventually killed in cold blood by Grimly. In Morton’s Fork, just before shooting an injured and non-threatening Malvo, Grimly says,

“Your riddle – shades of green. I figured it out.”

While Malvo’s death gives the audience a sense of satisfaction and victory, it was in fact a perversion of justice. Malvo receives no conviction and no trial. Grimly himself should now be tried for murder, yet he’s given a “citation for courage.” All is well and our hero lives happily ever after. But in the end, Malvo’s philosophy won the day. Grimly accepted the premise that humans are predators and he preyed on Malvo accordingly. Grimly outsmarted the prince of darkness – not by being a light, but by embracing the darkness.

Click here for Season 2 and series summary

 

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2 Responses to The consequence of evolution in ‘Fargo’ Season 1

  1. Brian McLain says:

    I just finished (binged) season 1 – a couple of thoughts:

    1) while this show is certainly like the film Fargo, there’s a lot of other Coen nods throughout – especially No Country For Old Men. Obviously there’s a similarity between Malvo and Chigur (indestructible, confident, weird haircuts, etc…) – they even mimic Chigur’s self-repair in the last episode when Malvo fixes his own leg. Also, there is a parallel between Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s speech at the end of NCFOM and Sheriff Bill Oswalt’s speech in the last episode.

    2) speaking of parallels, there is a parallel between Lester Nygaard and Gus Grimley. Both start out as a bit bumbling and incompetent at their jobs. They’re both bullied – Lester by his wife, Gus by his captain. They both come under the “tutelage” (so to speak) of father figures – Lester under Malvo, Gus under Lou Solverson. Solverson is shown as a protector – he spends the whole final episode outside his family’s house with a shotgun – and Gus becomes the ultimate protector. Malvo, of course, is the devil – confident in his evil abilities – and Lester follows suit, gaining more confidence with each successful scheme. Incidentally, Malvo’s demise is at the hand of both Lester (first) and Gus (finally). They unknowingly assist each other, through opposite motivations.

    3) the confidence that Lester gains throughout the show eventually does him in. Basking in his victory over Malvo, Lester believes he can get away with anything – to the point of even believing that nature (thin ice) will not stop him. He confidentially runs into danger, dying a death fit for The Darwin Awards. Perhaps this is the true consequences of an evolutionary worldview?

    4) Lester’s actions reflect a true evolutionary trait: self-preservation. Gus, though, acts on behalf of others. Perhaps one could argue that this is also evolutionary – the parent protecting the offspring to promote sustaining of the species – but Gus’s self sacrifice – facing the devil – is also a Christian virtue. I don’t have a problem with his action in the end – especially in light of what the show has shown us about Malvo – Gus has already seen how efficient and deadly he is, as well as seen how easily he previously escaped custody. I agree that Gus is beating Malvo at his own game, but I’m not so sure that he buys into the evolutionary viewpoint the way Malvo does. Even when Molly first answers the “green riddle,” I detected a note of dismissiveness in her answer (or perhaps that was just the Minnesotan affectation?)

    5) I think you could also contrast the real “Christianity” of the Solverson’s/Grimley’s (and even the Sheriff’s – both Bill and Vern Thurman – the one murdered on episode 1) – loving your neighbor/ putting others first – with the superstitious Christianity of Stavros Milos. Maybe going as far as comparing the Midwestern Protestant (Lutheran) community mindset vs. the Eastern Orthodox outsider individualistic mindset. Not to generalize, of course.

    Regardless, it was a great show. I haven’t been that invested in a show since Breaking Bad (tho Hannibal comes close). Looking forward to Season 2.

    Brian McLain

    • Thanks for contributing, Brian. Your comment deserves to be its own article. Good catch on the Coen nods. Fans are continually finding similarities to Coen movies. This trend continues in Season 2. Great parallel between Lester and Gus.

      I didn’t take Molly’s answer to the riddle as dismissive, but affirmative. I vaguely recall a reference to evolution between her and her father at the diner that further supports my interpretation, but I may be remembering that incorrectly. I need to revisit that.

      Nevertheless, it seems to me that Gus is “on the fence” so to speak, in an evolutionist world. In one episode he tells the story of spiders coming out of a man’s neck and says, “I don’t know if I want to live in a world where a thing like that can happen.” He’s battling a tension between created order and (perceived) chaos. He eventually embraces the chaos; though your interpretation is worth consideration.

      I concede that Gus doesn’t embrace evolution the same way Malvo does. Malvo uses it as justification to harm; Gus uses it to prevent harm. Gus may represent the equivalent of a “moral atheist,” one who embraces evolutionist philosophy but can’t escape the moral outrage of murder and injustice.

      The “Christianity” of the Solversons will become clearer in Season 2, which I believe compliments my analysis of Season 1. Let me know what you think of my review of Season 2 once you finish it.

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