Tea & Review: Fargo – The Principle of Restricted Choice

Two episodes in, the third season of Fargo already feels a good deal different from its predecessors. Like Seasons One and Two, this one takes place in the same Midwestern setting and, as I noted last week, contains character archetypes we’ve become familiar with. Yet despite these commonalities, Season Three feels apart somehow. It’s not just that it doesn’t seem to have the obvious plot and character connections the previous installments did; its distance from the original film, both in tone and time, in a way makes it feel more urgent.

Season One was so preoccupied with proving its worth as a successor to the movie that it, in a sense, had to occupy that same 90s temporal realm despite taking place in 2006. Plus, the need for audiences to understand how it was connected to the preceding story added a layer of detachment to the whole affair. Meanwhile, Season Two was a prequel whose outcome was, in the grand scheme, more or less inevitable. In comparison, Season Three comes off as both contemporary and more intimate.

The newfound coziness of the brutal crime thriller is evident in its use of family dynamic as conflict, as well as its focus on romance. Compared to the surrealy stable Solversons and the always-squabbling Gerhardts, the Stussys and the Burgles are more realistic, down-to-earth clans. Ray and Emmit’s (Ewan McGregor) quasi-war is evocative of something you’d see in a dysfunctional family comedy, while Gloria’s (Carrie Coon) troubles are straight from a near-naturalistic drama.

Ray and Nikki’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) relationship, meanwhile, is proving to be one of the more enrapturing elements of the season (second only to whatever the hell is going on with Varga (David Thewlis)). From the outset, it was clear that Ray was madly in love, and now it’s apparent that the feeling is mutual. It looks like Nikki, possible sociopath though she might be, would do about anything for her fiancée, up to and including using menstrual blood to write a threatening message to his brother. It brings to mind a question rarely addressed in fiction: is it possible to be in a healthy relationship with the devil on your shoulder?

Emmit might be asking himself the same question, though his partner isn’t a romantic one. Throughout the episode, Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) goads him more and more into cutting ties with Ray, while at the same time supporting him wholeheartedly in his efforts to curtail Varga’s encroachment on his business. The scene at the diner tells us Sy might not be too stable himself, but that might be exactly what Emmit needs with a growing menace on the horizon….

Which brings us to another peculiar element of this series, which serves to tie the seasons together while keeping them distinct from one another. Namely, each installment has a seemingly out-of-place motif weaved into the narrative, giving the show a distinct vibe each time it returns.

Season One had the recurring Biblical references, what with Stavros’ obsession with the Bible and the punishments he received, in addition to Malvo’s not-so-subtle implications that he was the devil himself. Season Two had the UFO imagery, building up to the eventual controversial scene in which a flying saucer interrupts a bloody gun battle.

Now Season Three looks to be setting up two of these. Firstly, we have the East German prologue establishing some sort of Eastern European connection with the guilty “Ukranian” man, who may or may not have been framed by Varga’s “Cossack” henchman (Goran Bogdan). In addition, Varga himself occasionally speaks in Bulgarian, the gas station attendant thought Maurice was Russian and Slavic music has been used on multiple occasions.

On the other hand, there are the many references to technology and the treachery associated with it. Gloria, in her first scene, was established as not only technology-averse but seemingly invisible to technological instruments. This impediment continued this week, with her new boss (Shea Wigham) pointing out that dislike of technology doesn’t really fly in the modern world. At the same time, Varga’s use of tech, to track and kill a suspicious lawyer, both contrasts and strengthens Gloria’s view.

Will either of these threads lead anywhere? It’s obviously too early to tell, but it wouldn’t hurt to follow them as we move into the heart of the season. Either way, it’s good to be back in Fargo.

Additional Notes:

  • The subplot with Gloria’s stepfather being a secret sci-fi writer is intriguing, but until it goes somewhere there’s not a whole lot that can be said about it. Maybe it somehow ties into the aliens from Season Two?
  • The music continues to be excellent, though nothing stood out as much as last week. Is the piece from the prologue becoming a leitmotif?
  • The scene between Sy and Ray was great and ended beautifully, with Sy bungling his attempt at intimidation and giving the obligatory “ah jeez.”

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