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Recap / Fargo S 01 E 01 The Crocodiles Dilemma

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Is that the face of a murderer?

In January 2006, Lorne Malvo hits a deer with his car on a wintry rural highway outside Bemidji, Minnesota. A nearly naked man jumps from the popped trunk and flees into the woods. In town, Lester Nygaard runs into Sam Hess, a former high school bully who intimidates Nygaard, causing him to accidentally break his own nose. At the hospital, Nygaard meets Malvo, who was slightly injured in the crash, Nygaard tells Malvo about Hess, and Malvo casually suggests murdering him, an idea that Nygaard neither approves nor rejects. Shortly afterward, Malvo kills Hess, later telling Nygaard that he never said "no."

Meanwhile, Chief Vern Thurman and Deputy Molly Solverson investigate the car wreck and find the nearly-naked man frozen to death; they also investigate Hess's murder and learn that Nygaard was overheard discussing Hess with Malvo. Thurman arrives at Nygaard's house to question him, unaware that Nygaard has just killed his verbally abusive wife, Pearl, in a fit of rage. Malvo, whom Nygaard had summoned to help, arrives and shoots Thurman, but not before the latter radioed for backup after discovering Pearl's body. Malvo disappears, and Lester intentionally knocks himself out to make the killings look like a home invasion.


Later, in Duluth, Officer Gus Grimly pulls Malvo over for speeding. Malvo presents Grimly with two choices: press the issue (and face death), or allow Malvo to leave (and live). Malvo drives away as Grimly, confused, does not report the incident.


  • Absolute Cleavage: Gina Hess keeps adjusting her neckline to assure that her breasts are as pronounced as possible.
  • The Ace: Chazz is established as everything Lester isn't from the get go: attractive, well-paid, and happily married.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Molly runs out to tackle Mickey for beating his brother, Gina laughs at the situation.
  • Asshole Victim: Sam Hess deserves what he gets without a doubt. Pearl is a less direct example, but still counts due to her constant belittling of Lester.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Lester and Pearl seem to be mutually upset about having married each other. Sam and Gina Hess also qualify, as the latter is completely lacking in sympathy concerning her husband's death.
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  • Big Brother Bully: Mickey beats his younger brother Moe with a hockey club after Malvo tricks him into believing that their dad left his entire estate to his youngest son.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Sam spits up blood on the backside of a hooker when he's stabbed in the head.
  • Brutal Honesty: Gina plans to tell everyone at Sam's funeral that she's glad he's dead.
  • The Bully: Sam Hess fits this trope to a T.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lester has been this for years, but we only see it for a couple of days before it transitions to The Dog Bites Back.
  • Character Death: Sam Hess, Pearl Nygaard, and Vern Thurman.
  • The Corrupter: Malvo convinces Lester that Sam's murder was on him, and tells him to aggressively stand up for himself, which leads to Lester killing his wife. Malvo also gets Mickey to beat up his brother with a hockey stick and convinces a young boy to urinate in his boss' gas tank.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Vern Thurman is set up to look like the leading police officer into the murder investigations, but is quickly killed by Malvo when he stops by to question Lester. The remaining episodes feature the real protagonist, Molly, at the helm.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After Pearl belittles Lester for the entire episode, he kills her rather brutally with a hammer.
  • Drop the Hammer: How Pearl meets her end.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Back in high school, Sam Hess used to call Lester a black man, changing his last name from Nygaard to "Niggard."
  • Establishing Series Moment: Lester's status as an Expy of Jerry Lundegaard being more prominent in this episode more than any other, things seem to be retreading the movie quite a bit up until Lester beats Pearl to death with a hammer.
  • Expy: This is the episode in which Lester most resembles Jerry Lundegaard from the original movie, mostly because of his status as an Extreme Doormat, but also because he's only just begun descending to the level of darkness he'll end up at by the end of the season.
  • Extreme Doormat: Lester spends the entire episode getting shit on by everyone around him. This is what manages to make him a somewhat sympathetic character even after he breaks and kills his wife, as he still mourns her and regrets his actions.
  • Famous Last Words: The last thing Pearl does is doubt that Lester will hurt her.
    Pearl: Oh? You gonna hit me? That's a lau—
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The blood splatter on the poster in the basement when Lester kills his wife with a hammer.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Lester does this typical to the Minnesota accent.
    Lester: Heck. Just... heck.
  • Gun Nut: Chaz happily shows his brother his illegal M249 SAW among other various hunting rifles and shotguns.
  • Happily Married: Chazz and Kitty Nygaard, as well as Vern and Ida Thurman.
  • It Amused Me: Malvo seems to mess with people for his own amusement. An entertaining character trait of his is his own curiosity, as he carries on a conversation with the lady at the motel about whether or not room rates should change depending on a variety of different animals being brought in as pets, including bacteria.
  • Jerkass: Sam Hess is really the only black and white example, though arguments could certainly be made for his sons, Pearl, and Chazz.
  • Mood Whiplash: Lester and Pearl are having an amusing argument over their inadequate wedded life. Next thing you know, he's grabbed a hammer and is beating her to death on the floor.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Hess reminds Lester that he used to call him "Niggard" back in high school on account of his last name.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Lester inadvertently sending Malvo to kill Sam Hess and then murdering Pearl shortly after kicks off his Character Development.
  • Psycho for Hire: Lester inadvertently convinces Malvo to kill Sam Hess for him. Subverted, however, as Malvo just wanted to make Lester feel guilty to see how far he could be pushed. Over the edge, it turns out.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Pearl gives one of these to Lester before he finally snaps.
    Pearl: You’re not a man, Lester. You’re not even a half a man. Honestly, I have no idea what got into me marrying you. My mom said, "Don’t do it, Pearl. He’s the kind of boy that loses all the time. And you know what those boys grow up to be, don’t you? Losers."
  • Sacrificial Lion: When Vern Thurman is revealed to be a mere Decoy Protagonist, the show establishes that Anyone Can Die.
  • School Yard Bully All Grown Up: Hess was a bully in high school and hasn't matured a bit.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: All three of the murders have an enormous effect on the plot. Malvo murdering Sam Hess after Lester doesn't tell him not to packs guilt onto him, which eventually leads to him killing Pearl and sinking further into darkness. Both deaths also garner police attention, while Thurman's death makes the case personal to Molly.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Mickey and Moe Hess.
  • Troll: Malvo convincing the motel worker to piss in his boss' gas tank, only to immediately inform her of what he's doing and have him caught in the act.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Hess is an overweight jerk, but he married the physically attractive Gina Hess, presumably because he could afford it.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Thurman seems pretty unfazed by the presence of a deer in the trunk of the car.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Sam Hess, Pearl Nygaard, and Vern Thurman all end up setting the trend for future seasons of Fargo in which a few characters die in the first episode to set the plot in motion.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Lester sure would, and he wouldn't stop there.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When Malvo leaves Lester in his house with two dead bodies, he resorts to running into the basement wall headfirst so as to appear a victim. It works.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sam is killed having sex with a prostitute despite being married.


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