Fargo the series has gotten very good at being unpredictable in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Noah Hawley doesn’t throw in random plot contrivances mid-season to stir things up; he subtly builds to seemingly unlikely events that in retrospect turn out to be the natural result of what came before. As such, while the climaxes of Fargo installments do not necessarily abide by traditional narrative logic, they do make complete sense in context.
“The Lord of No Mercy” does a magnificent job of building tension, effective even after it becomes clear that it’s mostly misdirection. Most of the episode follows a cat and cat and mouse game between Gloria (Carrie Coon) and Winnie (Olivia Sandoval), Varga (David Thewlis) and his henchmen, and Ray (Ewan McGregor) and Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in the immediate aftermath of Nikki’s beating. From the beginning we know that Ray is out for blood, and not long after that we learn that Meemo (Andy Yu) is on his tail with similar intentions. We know someone has to die before the hour is up.
But the who, how, and why of it are something to behold.
In hindsight, it seems obvious. We should know by now that if a show like Fargo broadcasts a characters intentions, those intentions will not be carried out. So when Ray sets out to kill Meemo and/or Yuri (Goran Bogdan), we know he won’t succeed, just like Meemo won’t succeed in executing the troublesome brother. There has to be a third option.
As it happens, and as has always been Fargo’s bread and butter, unforeseen circumstances get in the way of a neatly bloody resolution. Ray gets Nikki to the safety of a motel before realizing he’s forgotten the money he stole from his brother. He returns to his house, unwittingly and only barely evading Meemo, and finds Emmitt (McGregor) waiting for him. And then, due to his own resentment and stubbornness, Ray gets his throat slashed open by glass from the framed stamp he so coveted—a result that could have easily been avoided, and which had little to do with the major threat of the season.
After watching the first episode of Season Three, I was convinced Ray and Nikki were going to come out of this thing alive, their relationship unscathed at the end of what would turn out to be a true love story. I was wrong.
Instead, Ray is dead, Nikki is about to framed for his murder, and the plot appears to be pivoting away from the adventures of two bumbling criminals to a showdown between small town police and a cadre of criminal masterminds. Things have not gone as expected, in the best way possible.
So where do we go from here?
Varga and Gloria have finally met, each one a perfect match for the other. VM is a tech-savvy man of the modern world and spinner of tall tales, while Chief Burgle is a down-to-earth technophobe who doesn’t take any BS. Already they have each other befuddled, and its only a matter of time before one of them raises the stakes.
Emmit, meanwhile, has finally turned to the dark side. Varga’s observation that accidents are rarely unintentional seems to have been on point: just like Lester in Season One, the elder Stussy brother was repressing some rage that may have subconsciously guided his hand when he smashed Ray over the head with that artifact of fraternal strife. Now—will he become putty in Varga’s hands, or will he become to big for his breeches and have to be dealt with? Time will tell.
The major wild card in all of this is Nikki. With her true love dead, what role does she play? It would be refreshing to see a female character preoccupied with avenging her slain man, as so often we see the reverse. But she might be too busy trying to keep herself out of prison to get a whole lot else done.
Otherwise, it’s hard to tell what comes next. The case Gloria’s been chasing so doggedly has more or less resolved itself, with the culprits dead or otherwise incapacitated. Now we seem to be building up to her facing off with the real evil of the story, but how that will play out is anyone’s guess.
It matters not: Fargo Season Three is officially firing on all cylinders. These next four episodes will be a treat to watch.
- Who was the titular lord? Varga or either of his henchmen would seem the obvious choices, but Emmit was more merciless this time around. I’d like to think it’s a sarcastic jab at Ray (RIP) being completely ineffectual as a vengeance-machine. (It also may be a D&D reference.)
- Varga being incapable of tracking Gloria was built up a little too well; they’re obviously going to do more with this superpower of hers.
- After taking the spotlight last week, Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) was mainly relegated to the sidelines this episode. His reaction to Varga’s monologue about true stories was still great, though.