Editor’s Note: In our glorious return, our Tea & Fiction team take on the wonderful debut of Stranger Things 2’s Mad Max and our conflicted feelings about episode 7: The Lost Sister.
When we last left our diamonds in the rough heroes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow the team had seemingly “broken time”. Our original leader, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) had given his leading position to Sara Lance (Caity Lotz).
Last season suffered without the presence of Mr. Hunter along with the plotlines that didn’t quite live up to season one.
However, from the get-go Rip Hunter is no longer trying to figure out his place among the Legends. Now, he’s graduated from time pirate to laced up Men in Black (or Blue?)
In a span of minutes… or five years (time is super fluid) Rip has found a new group to enforce his rules on now that the Legends have outgrown him.
The finale of the Fargo’s third season is so unpredictable, so confoundingly inexplicable, that as I’m writing this review I’m really having trouble parsing it. If I had to rate it I’m not sure I would be able to, but thankfully all I really have to do is come up with a kind of easily digestible critical interpretation that tries to make sense of an hour that repeatedly reinforces the idea that life is inherently meaningless.
So here goes…
We open with Emmitt (Ewan McGregor) and Gloria (Carrie Coon) signing papers, both preparing to seal their fates and vacate long-held positions. Emmitt attempts to threaten Varga (David Thewlis) into letting him go and fails spectacularly, while Gloria gets a call from Chekhov’s IRS agent that makes her stay her retirement from the force. Then all hell breaks loose.
Season Three of Fargo has been the Cold War to the second installment’s World War, and the penultimate episode follows suit by building a climax out of an anticlimax. This year, eight episodes worth of buildup doesn’t amount to a massacre or a standoff or even a real shootout. Instead, what we get are small victories nestled in larger disappointments, and more importantly, characters coming to terms with who they are.
“Aporia” begins with yet another murder, though this one has even less to do with the main action than the unnecessary execution of Ennis Stussy that put to whole plot in motion. The victim, perhaps unsurprisingly, is another Stussy, killed by Meemo (Andy Yu) to make Emmit’s (Ewan McGregor) confession to Gloria (Carrie Coon) appear less plausible. Of course, given Chief Dammick’s (Shea Wigham) unwillingness to believe anything that isn’t completely straightforward (and the fact that Varga’s (David Thewlis) henchmen don’t just leave it at one dead name-alike), it works.
But that doesn’t mean the confession was useless.
Although Emmit is ultimately allowed to go free (for a laughable measure of “free” anyway), his admission of guilt allows the audience to hear all that he’s been bottling up about his brother through their troubles, in addition to providing him with some much needed emotional catharsis that will keep his conscience steady in the finale and hopefully fuel his ability to bring the hammer down on Varga.
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…
The Leftovers has come to an end. Three years of experiencing the maddening doubt of inexplicable loss through the eyes of an eclectic ensemble of characters and it turns out we were watching a love story the entire time.
“The Book of Nora” is as elegantly simple and simply beautiful a series finale as one could ask for. It provides potential answers while refusing to confirm anything; it gives us one final, meaningful look at characters we’ve grown to love; and it is as emotionally charged as anything on television has ever been.
This final hour (and a bit) devotes its first third or so to picking up where Nora (Carrie Coon) and Matt’s (Christopher Eccleston) adventures left off and seeing Nora through to her final destination, so to speak. She and her brother say their goodbyes, she records her last will and testament, she makes the final decision to enter to magical radiation departure machine, and she takes the plunge.
The writers of Fargo have, over the course of nearly three full seasons, done an excellent job of crafting individual episodes which tell their own little stories while at the same time contributing to a larger narrative. This is a difficult thing to achieve in any serialized medium, but it is especially hard when you have a limited number of hours with which to work. Fargo doesn’t have the privilege of being able to stall or go on tangents, and yet it still manages to create little thematic pitstops on the way to each tenth episode.
In Season Three, it has been especially easy to pinpoint what each particular episode was about, or rather what each one did that set it apart from the rest. We had Gloria’s (Carrie Coon) solo trip to L.A., the Peter and the Wolf analogue, and an episode that delved heavily into Russian and Eastern European concepts. Other installments, meanwhile, have prioritized individual characters and relationships.
Tonight’s episode—“The Law of Inevitability”—is thus far the hardest to pin down. One could argue that it’s an episode that needs to pick up the pieces left after Ray’s murder last week, and so doesn’t have time to be about anything. And while I think that’s true to an extent, I also believe that same practicality affords it a theme that is in and of itself inevitable: transition.
When The Leftovers premiered back in 2014, it was unclear if it was going to be a work of purely speculative fiction in which a mundane world experiences a single inexplicable event, or a magical realist series more on par with Damon Lindelof’s earlier creation, Lost. And though there were some surreal elements sprinkled throughout the first two seasons hinting at the latter, it wasn’t until “International Assassin” that it became clear the writers were intent on heading in a supremely supernatural direction.
Since that episode, the otherworldly elements have only grown in prominence, building a mythology that adds myriad layers to an already-thematically-rich world.
So it only makes sense that in “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)”—which serves as both a sequel to that aforementioned episode as well as the penultimate installment of the series as a whole—we would return to the dreamlike afterlife that first marked the show’s swerve into the mystic.
New Jersey, 1947. A happy singing family drives towards Atlantic City at night when they get a flat. Instead of fun hi-jinks, this dilemma leads to the father being dragged into the woods while trying to change the tire. The wife desperately yells into the woods, but she sees only his foot in the flashlight beam disappearing into the brush.
The 1947 police rally in search with dogs and guns. They find a body with a leg eaten off. Before further investigation, they run back towards a cave where they think they’ve found the culprit. Without warning, they all fire their guns into the cave because spelunkers be damned.
Scully meets up with Mulder in the modern-day FBI headquarters where Mulder is reading up on more abductions. Scully tells him about a body found in the woods of New Jersey that is missing limbs; these limbs seem to have been gnawed off by a human. Mulder retorts that Jersey is a place where people lose body parts all the time because of the mafia. Scully explains that the victim was homeless, and therefore, not mafia-related (what?!?).
Mulder shows Scully an X-File on the 1947 Jersey Devil and relates the tale of the family who lost their father in the woods. The police shot the beast-man who had human bones in his stomach. Scully insists it’s a folktale, and Mulder, of course, Believes. She doesn’t.
X-file: The Jersey Devil is alive and real and living in New Jersey.
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.