All posts by Arzhang Zafar

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?

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Tea & Review: The Leftovers – G’Day Melbourne

Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) have never made a whole lot of sense as a couple, which is why their pairing on The Leftovers made perfect sense. Apart from their shared rejection of any sort of divine explanation for the Sudden Departure, they were never established to have a whole lot in common. They were just two people who were able to find some release in each other with the understanding that they were both too damaged to really come back from whatever losses they had incurred in the past.

So when their relationship seems to fall apart in “G’Day Melbourne,” the dissolution is both heartbreaking and a completely natural result of everything that preceded it. Their paths became intertwined for a while, and now a variety of factors have seen fit to untangle them.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s recall how we got here.

After the events of “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” Kevin and Nora head to Australia so that Nora can expose the people claiming to be able to induce departures for the frauds she believes they are. At least, this is what she has told Kevin. In fact, we don’t know if this is simply a lie she’s telling to hide the fact that she’s willing to risk death to be with her children again.

After an uneventful flight, the couple arrives in Melbourne and, after checking into their hotel, almost immediately go their separate ways. The remainder of the episode sees them embarking on parallel adventures which leave them both feeling more alone than ever.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The Law of Non-Contradiction

“The Law of Non-Contradiction” is undoubtedly the most atypical episode of Fargo thus far, and that’s saying something for a show basically filled with atypical episodes. In an unexpected move, especially this early on in a season, it takes a break from the Stussy feud that’s shaping up to anchor the season so that Gloria (Carrie Coon) can travel to L.A. and learn a bit of info about her late stepfather that in no way moves the plot forward. Yet despite that seeming pointlessness, or perhaps because of it, it may be one of the most fascinating hours of television I’ve ever watched.

The titular law is a logical theorem which states, more or less, that a thing cannot be both what it is and what it is not. The concept is exemplified in a few ways in the episode: Gloria can’t be both chief and former chief, Ennis couldn’t have “sorta” been her father, and Thaddeus (Thomas Mann) seemingly couldn’t have been two completely different people.

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Tea & Review: The Leftovers – Crazy Whitefella Thinking

On The Leftovers, faith and abjection are two sides of the same coin. People like Matt Jameson (Christopher Eccleston) and other followers of pre-existing belief systems have tended to attribute divine explanations to the Sudden Departure, while the more nihilistic among the cast have mocked the idea of meaning in such tragedy. As with all loss, some look for any reason to believe it was meaningful, while others are determined to spit in the face of consolation.

And then there’s Kevin. (No, not that one.)

Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn) was, until now, the least developed central character on this show. As the ostensible main character’s father, he was a part of the narrative from the very start, but he had always existed on the sidelines. Now, we not only get to get a glimpse of his Australian adventures; we also get to learn a little bit about his past and what makes him tick.

And here’s the thing—Kevin Sr.’s not a likable character. He refuses to believe he’s anything other than the savior of all mankind, and this leads him to degrade Australian Aboriginal customs, alienate Matt and disregard his son, and accidentally kill one of the few people who was willing to help him. As far as heroes go, he’s firmly of the ineffective variety, and he appears to have done more harm than good…thus far.

Faith has clearly played a big role in Kevin Sr.’s decision-making, though not the sort of faith we’re used to seeing on this show. This episode establishes that he doesn’t necessarily care about any sort of divine power. As far as he is concerned, the voices in his head are commanding him to save the world—whether it’s for or from God is beside the point. The mission is to secure a future for humanity, regardless of what the almighty wants.

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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.

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Tea & Review: The Leftovers – Don’t Be Ridiculous

Throughout The Leftovers, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) has been portrayed as the central character most obviously affected by the Sudden Departure. While others have had more minor losses or been affected by the event in more indirect ways, Nora lost perhaps the most important people in her life: her husband and two children.

In fact, her loss was so profound that she has been contacted and harassed by researchers and conspiracy theorists who believe that people like her are focal points for whatever force caused two percent of the world’s population to disappear.

Early in Season One, Nora was hiring prostitutes to shoot her in the chest while she wore a bulletproof vest, clearly an odd coping mechanism that enabled her to feel the nebulous pain of loss in a more concrete way.

Later, after being hugged by Holy Wayne, she seemed to get over this fixation.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The Law of Vacant Places

The first two seasons of Fargo, building off of the original 1996 film, meticulously established a set of recurring archetypes: the idealistic yet overwhelmed cop, the resentful loser with a dark side, the dangerous and philosophically minded outsider, and several more mythically mundane figures.

In Noah Hawley’s Coen-flavored stories, the characters embodying these archetypes have collided in unique and often shocking ways, either by destiny, happenstance, or the fact that they exist in a world governed by “truth” rather than reality. It’s even possible, If one takes the otherworldly elements of the series a bit too literally, to interpret each season’s ensemble as vessels for the same group of immortal souls, eternally trapped by their own shortcomings in some kind of cosmic tragicomedy.

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Tea & Review: The Leftovers – The Book of Kevin

“You’re home.”

These are the words that close out the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers, spoken by Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) to her partner Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) when he returns to his half-makeshift family after coming back from the dead in a town about to succumb to the chaos engendered by the Guilty Remnant.

Both seasons of The Leftovers thus far, but especially Season Two, have been at least partially about how great tragedies turn disparate groups of people into families, and how the idea of home hinges around those families.

Obviously, this isn’t a profoundly new idea; its novelty and beauty is in its context. The characters on this show exist in a world torn apart by inexplicable loss—loss that we in the real world may not be able to fathom—and have managed to find love and companionship despite this.

But is it sustainable?

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