Last month on the Movie Round-Up post at the bottom I talked about FX's "Fargo" TV series which was based on the 1996 movie. There are a number of bad people in the show, but the plot revolves mostly around two especially bad characters. The first is Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) a ruthless hitman who has absolutely no problem killing anyone at any time or just for the heck of it creeping little kids out by telling them the house they moved into was the site of a murder and may be haunted. The other is Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) who starts out as a mild-mannered, hen-pecked insurance salesman. And as the show went on I started to think that despite all the atrocities Malvo commits, it's Nygaard who's more evil.
As I said he doesn't start out evil. Then in the first episode after getting his nose broken by his childhood bully (which leads to him meeting Malvo in the hospital) Lester snaps and kills his wife with a hammer. In a panic he calls Malvo who shows up to help him clean it up and in the process kills the sheriff.
It's the calling Malvo where Lester's journey to the dark side begins. The right thing to do would have been to call 911 and confess after he hit his wife with the hammer--or of course not hit her with the hammer to start with. Instead he calls Malvo to try to cover it up. Then the sheriff dies and over the next few episodes Lester has to tell one lie after another to the cops, friends, and family. As they say once you start lying it's really hard to stop because they just keep piling up.
But it's not until after a near-deadly encounter with two hitmen looking for Malvo that Lester completes his journey to the dark side. After that he realizes that he needs a patsy. And who better than his own brother? The brother who's been kind of a dick to him for years and also happens to have a safe full of weapons. So Lester plants the hammer he killed his wife with in the safe, along with a pair of his wife's panties and a racy picture of her. When the cops find all that and interview him, Lester tearfully explains he had to lie before to cover for his brother. Since the new sheriff's an idiot he believes this.
Seeing that he's getting away with it, Lester throws out all his wife's things, replaces the washer that prompted the argument that killed her, gets some better clothes, and hooks up with the hot Asian chick in his office. When the show skips a year we see he's married her and started his own insurance company and moved into a big new house. All seems great for him.
He even wins an insurance award in Las Vegas. There he happens to see Malvo posing as a dentist and foolishly decides to confront the hitman. What he hoped to gain by this I have no idea. But having apparently having gotten away with murder--and profited from it--his hubris I guess made him think he was a badass now. He forces his way onto an elevator with Malvo and 3 other people and when Malvo asks if he really wants to do this, he ultimately says yes. Which prompts Malvo to kill all 3 bystanders right then and there. More blood on Lester's hands. But he's able to escape from the elevator and make it back home.
You might think this guy couldn't possibly go any lower, but yes he can. In the ultimate despicable moment he and his new wife are outside his office to get their passports so they can take off to Mexico for a "vacation." Seeing a light on inside, Lester asks his wife to go inside to fetch the passports. As if that's not bad enough, he gives his jacket to her. Which of course leads to her getting shot by Malvo while Lester watches safely from outside.
And it's then I realized the really evil person wasn't so much Malvo as Lester. OK yeah Malvo kills tons of people and he is certainly evil, but he's been a professional hitman for years so obviously he was not a good dude to start with. Whereas Lester was an otherwise normal guy who does horrible things--killing his wife, setting up his brother, sacrificing his new wife--all to save his own ass. You might not agree but to me all that lying and betrayal is a lot worse, especially because it is from someone normal. It goes to show how any of us in the right situation might find ourselves doing the wrong thing and turning to the dark side. It is frightening to think that any of us--you, me, your neighbors--could become an agent of evil all starting with one moment of rage. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight: "Madness is like gravity; all you need is a push." The same is true for evil.
If you remember my Clone Wars post I chastised the prequels for not really setting up Anakin Skywalker's transition to Darth Vader very well. By contrast I think "Fargo" did a great job of demonstrating how his fear of getting caught drives Lester down the dark path and how getting away with his initial misdeeds leads to even worse behavior.
In case you're wondering, Lester never repents. While trying to evade the cops he ends up in the middle of a frozen lake and falls through the ice. Which he might end up in a much warmer place to thaw after that, eh?