By Jeff Michael Vice

FARGO – Live-action comedy-drama developed by Noah Hawley, based on characters created by Joel and Ethan Coen; rated TV-MA; airs Tuesdays on FX; 60 minutes (approximately). Episode 1.4: “Eating the Blame” (original airdate, May 6, 2014). Directed by Randall Einhorn; written by Noah Hawley (9 out of 10)

The story so far: Nomadic, hired killer Lorne Malvo winds up in the frozen Northeast after crashing his vehicle into a deer. He’s left a trail of dead bodies in his wake, and not just that of the poor animal in question. Meanwhile, born loser Lester Nygaard suffers abuse – from not only his verbally demonstrative wife, Pearl, but also his childhood bully, local businessman Sam Hess. And Bemidji (Minn.) Police officer Molly Solverson suddenly finds herself thrust into the role of murder investigator, thanks to Malvo’s recent actions.

In this episode: Malvo is arrested by Duluth Police officer Gus Grimly and is questioned by Grimly’s boss, Lt. Schmidt, as well as acting Bemidji Police Chief Bill Oswalt. And though Molly is no longer on that case, she continues to ask questions about Lester and tries to find out the identity of his “partner in crime,” Malvo. And speaking of Lester, he “takes a ride” with Mr. Numbers and his silent partner, Mr. Wrench, who try to coax a confession out of him.

Television’s best new series of the 2013-14 season continues its run of excellence with a spellbinding episode that flashes back to the ‘90s, in a scene that not only reveals more layers to Duluth supermarket king Stavros Milos, it also ties neatly into the Oscar-winning, 1996 Coen brothers film that inspired this matching-named, small-screen comedy-drama. (Remember that briefcase full of money? Hmmm … )

And it continues to shine with its character-driven moments. In the recent past, the hapless, clueless Gus has yet another confrontation with Malvo, who claims to be a mild mannered minister from up north. And under interrogation, Malvo not only convinces Schmidt and Oswalt he’s innocent, he also manages to get Gus in deep trouble with his superior officer.

On a similarly comic note, the “verbal” sparring between the mute Mr. Wrench and his somewhat talkative partner, Mr. Numbers (amusingly played by Adam Goldberg), turns physical in the middle of a bar. (Much of their frustration comes from their inability to get Lester to confess to the murder of Sam Hess.)

The episode does have some genuinely suspenseful scenes as well, especially the sequences in which Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers kidnap Lester and take him to their favorite body-disposal location. Freeman’s solid work makes these scenes almost unbearable to watch, and his character finds the wound on his hand, suffered during the fatal shooting of Bemidji’s police chief, continuing to fester.

And bizarrely, the increasingly paranoid Stavros Milos, who’s being blackmailed by Malvo and his dopey accomplice, Don Chumph, sees his supermarket overrun with locusts. (Like last episode’s bloody shower, this is yet another  Biblical “plague” unleashed by Malvo.)

As with last week’s “A Muddy Road,” this episode was helped by Emmy winning television director Randall Einhorn (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Nurse Jackie”). Executive producer/show runner Noah Hawley provided the script, which not only contains some of the sharpest writing on current television, and it also features many memorable quips and line exchanges. The better ones again come from Malvo, and include:

“Pipes full of blood? Like in a horror movie? Sounds like a bad date.” (Don Chumph)

“”Put it down.” “OK, but it’s a new phone.” (Gus Grimly, then Lorne Malvo)

“That’s what you’re going to say a couple of hours from now: ‘You’re making a mistake.’” (Malvo)

“Well, that’s irregular.” (Bill Oswalt)

“I think you need to ask yourself, was it worth it?” “Worth what?” “Worth your life.” (Mr. Numbers, then Lester Nygaard, then Mr. Numbers again)

“Nobody likes being watched when they eat.” “Some people do.” “Who?” “Mormons.” (Mr. Numbers, then Mr. Wrench, then Mr. Numbers, then Mr. Wrench again)

“Who knows you’re at the pet store right now?” “My mom?” “Do I sound like your mom? (Malvo, then Chumph, then Malvo again)

“Hoo, partner. That’s a heart stopper.” (Malvo)

“I’m lucky I had my nitroglycerine pills with me. Oofta.” (Malvo)

“What about the photo in the file?” “The Zapruder Film in there? Hell, that could be a photo of my mom for all I know.” (Grimly, then Lt. Schmidt)

“I think I may have been kidnapped is the thing.” (Lester)

“Kill or be killed, son.” (Stavros Milos)

Overall rating: 9 out of 10

CAST:

The regular characters: Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Allison Tolman (Molly Solverson), Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard), Colin Hanks (Gus Grimly), Bob Odenkirk (Bill Oswalt) and Keith Carradine (Lou Solverson)

Guest stars: Peter Breitmayer (Lt. Schmidt), Joshua Close (Chaz Nygaard), Adam Goldberg (Mr. Numbers), Russell Harvard (Mr. Wrench), Glenn Howerton (Don Chumph) and Oliver Platt (Stavros Milos).

You can read Jeff Michael Vice, aka Jerk-bot, at Cinephiled (www.cinephiled.com),where he writes movie reviews and film-related articles. He can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff), and be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com).

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Tags: FX Networks , Coen brothers , Fargo , Billy Bob Thornton