Tea & Review: Fargo – The Narrow Escape Problem

Whereas last week’s trip to Los Angeles was something of an experimental detour, “The Narrow Escape Problem” may be the most Fargo episode of Fargo thus far. All the ingredients are there: overly complex problem solving, tactless Midwesterners, oddly friendly police officers interrogating flustered first-time criminals. We even get a quirky framing device.

Speaking of which—the use of a fictional recording of Peter and the Wolf narrated by Billy Bob Thornton as a sort of thematic exoskeleton is definitely the most intriguing element of the episode, by far. It plays with the idea that the characters in Fargo are recurring archetypes, while suggesting a new perspective through which to view the somewhat familiar story being presented.

But as usual with this show, I have to ask: what does it all mean?

That is to say, the narration pairs up several of the major characters with Peter and the Wolf counterparts (as well as the respective instruments that represent them in the composition), but what exactly does that say about each of them?

Gloria (Carrie Coon), for example, is Peter, the central intrepid adventurer who ignores his grandfather’s warnings and defeats the villainous wolf. The analogue here is, of course, rather obvious. Thus far in the season, Gloria has repeatedly ignored the will of her superiors in order to bring down the people responsible for her stepfather’s murder. The thing is, though, she doesn’t actually know who she’s up against. Is she, like Peter, underestimating her opponent?

Emmit and Ray (Ewan McGregor), meanwhile, are the little bird and the duck, respectively. In a sense, they are two sides of the same coin. The duck and little bird both belong to the same animal family, yet one prefers to swim and the other to fly, judging each other for there individual shortcomings. Similarly, Ray and Emmit are near-identical brothers, yet one lives a humbly nontraditional life, while the other is simultaneously more conservative and more indulgent.

Additionally, this episode shows us Ray impersonating Emmit, and in doing so demonstrating his lack of insight into the behavior of rich men. Emmit, meanwhile, is advised by Varga that he should act less like the stereotype of an indulgent capitalist that he is, and become invisible instead.

Playing off of this same analogy, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) being the cat makes a lot of sense as well. On the one hand, the animal suits her personality. On the other hand, her role in the story is at least partially about causing friction between the two bird-brained brothers.

Curiously, Sy’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) designated analogue is the grandfather. This may seem like a random choice, but it is likely meant to underline the fact that the parking lot king’s right hand man is someone who believes he is in control of any given situation, yet is always in way over his head.

On the other hand, Yuri (Goran Bogdan) and Meemo (Andy Yu), Varga’s (David Thewlis) henchmen, are paired rather obviously, as “the blast of the hunters’ shotguns.” No explanation needed there; they’re both tools, used to intimidate and kill. And they are, from what we’ve seen, more like forces than characters.

And finally, we have Varga himself: the wolf. There is here, as well, an obvious interpretation. Varga is the ultimate villain of the story, and the only true threat to the heroes (whoever they may be). He is a predator who has Emmit and Sy backed into a corner, and is presumably going to consume all that they have.

But there’s more.

Near the end of the episode, Varga delivers a monologue about what it means to be truly wealthy. He refers to the need for bunkers and body doubles, and the importance of passing through the world without ever raising an eyebrow. Like the wolf, who hunts in packs and takes advantage of the cover of night and dense foliage of the forest, Varga uses his victims’ lack of awareness to his advantage. In fact, from what we’ve seen, it’s his main weapon.

So what exactly does this all add up to? By the end of the episode, Gloria is on her way to solving her case, Emmit is being turned to Varga’s side, and Sy and Ray are both in serious trouble. But nothing seems to be pitting Gloria and Varga against each other, as the framing device would suggest. Or is that too literal an interpretation?

Whatever the case, these stories have to collide by the end of the season…and when they do, it would sure feel like a waste if Peter and the wolf didn’t come face to face.

Additional Notes:

  • We’re introduced to a new character this week: Officer Winnie Lopez of the St. Cloud PD, played by Olivia Sandoval. She seems to be more the flavor of Minnesota cop that we’re used to, as opposed to Gloria’s more weary, cynical variety.
  • Varga is apparently bulimic. Whether this has some plot relevance or is simply a metaphor for the wasteful indulgence of modern capitalism remains to be seen.
  • What was up with Yuri’s Putin diatribe? I’m a little ashamed to say most of it went over my head, though the bit about truth and untruth is clearly playing with the whole “true story” theme of the series.

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