What I’m most impressed by, though, is how this episode gets you to identify so thoroughly with Lester—then immediately removes that identification once he kills his wife because she dared insult him. It’s a tough trick to play, and I’m not precisely sure how Hawley and Bernstein manage it (short of the fact that, y’know, killing your wife because she’s mean to you is the wrong choice in most circumstances). Here’s my best stab at it: When Lester impulsively conks Pearl on the head with the hammer, we immediately cut to a point-of-view shot of her face, frozen in horror, then watch as blood starts to trickle down it. Bernstein is suggesting, subtly, that we, who have been invited to identify with Lester because we’ve all felt picked on by the Sam Hesses of the world, or felt diminished by those we’ve loved, are the ones who’ve perpetrated this crime in some way—perhaps by wishing it would happen within this fictional context. Then, just as quickly, we’re outside of that point-of-view, watching Lester’s hammer swing through the air to connect with his wife over and over, and then we’re just watching him—not even his face—hunch over Pearl as he hits her again and again. We go from being Lester, to seeing the true horror of his actions from an angle that has him swinging toward the camera (and, by extension, us), to an angle that cuts out his face and dehumanizes him. The sequence asks us if we, ourselves, would be capable of something like this, answers “yes” in no uncertain terms, then removes us from Lester to see if we can recognize the gravity of what he’s done. It’s crafty stuff.
TV critic Todd VanDerWerff’s excellent analysis of *THAT* scene in Fargo
. Via his review in AV Club