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
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