Fargo is a show that has always been unafraid to throw supernatural elements into narratives in which they would not normally be expected to fit. Though such elements were rather minimal and more subtle in the first season, the second introduced aliens and psychic dreams, and now the third, which has thus far held back on the otherworldly, appears to be going all out.
I’ll be honest and say I’m not entirely sure what the magical realist aspects of the prior seasons really added to the story, whether thematically, tonally, or in terms of narrative, apart from perhaps intentionally stretching the credulity of the idea that the stories being told are true. I mainly enjoyed those scenes because of how off-the-wall and unexpected they were; they were entertaining if nothing else.
But as of “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” I can safely say that Season Three is using the same conceit in a brand new way.
The episode opens with Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) escaping the clutches of Yuri (Goran Bogdan), Meemo (Andy Yu), and an unnamed third Varga henchman played by DJ Qualls. They flee into the woods with the killers in pursuit, and in the second best part of the episode, engage in a battle of wits-come-stamina in which Qualls is decapitated and Yuri loses an ear to Wrench (get it?).
They then stumble upon a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere, which may or may not be some sort of gateway to the afterlife.
There are several facets to the following sequence that I think are worth discussing…
While at the bar, Nikki meets a character played by Ray Wise, who if you’ll recall was the traveling businessman Gloria met on her way to Los Angeles some episodes prior. This man is credited as Paul Marrane, which research (i.e. reading online forums) tells me is one of the names attributed to the “Wandering Jew” of legend. Paul explains to Nikki that she is a lost soul and asks her to deliver a message to the wicked.
But that’s not all. He also makes reference to the massacre of the Jews of Uman at the hands of the Cossacks, as well as the revered Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who was buried among them. These seem to underline the recurrent motif of Jewish history and folklore that has danced around the edges of the season, relating both to the few Jewish characters we’ve been introduced to, as well as antisemites like Varga (David Thewlis) and Yuri.
Speaking of Yuri… After Nikki and Wrench leave the bowling alley in a green VW, everyone’s favorite modern day Cossack enters covered in blood. He too is greeted by Paul, who seems to recognize him and introduces him to the aforementioned Jews of Uman, as well as Helga, the girlfriend he murdered back in 1988. We do not see Yuri again after this.
So…what do I make of all this? Do I believe Fargo is suggesting its world is governed by laws similar to those outlined in the Old Testament, and that the truly wicked among its characters are all subject to Biblical levels of divine retribution? It would certainly be an oddly specific thing to bring up if I didn’t believe it…
Of course, none of this is cut and dry. What I will say is that the more monstrous characters in Fargo have historically gotten their just deserts, while the ethically pure have all seen happy endings. It’s the lost souls like Nikki and Wrench whose fates are often more shaky.
Interpretation aside, though, I would like to make it known that watching this pseudo-mystical escapade unfold was breathtaking, and reminded me why I fell in love with this series in the first place, while also giving me new things to appreciate about it. The cinematography, acting, writing, art direction…they all came together to form a scene that was at once eerie, redemptive, and hilarious.
The remainder of the episode caught us back up with the rest of the still-living characters at breakneck speed, then put Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) in a coma and jumped ahead about three months.
In that time, it looks like Gloria (Carrie Coon) and Winnie (Olivia Sandoval) have continued to investigate the Stussy case on their down time, Emmitt (Ewan McGregor) has become consumed by guilt while being trolled by forces unknown, and Varga’s made a lot of money.
But, given how the hour ends, it looks like it could all come crashing down with a single confession. The retribution may not be divine, but it’s coming.
- It’s implied that Ray has been reincarnated as a kitten, but Nikki doesn’t get to keep him.
- Qualls’ character is apparently credited as “Golem,” which of course is another reference to Jewish folklore. I doubt it means anything specific for the guy, since he’s dead, but it’s a fun easter egg all the same.
- The bowling alley scene, of course, owed a lot of its stylistic choices to The Big Lebowski.