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Fandom Friday: My ‘Citizen Kane’ List — Round 1

{Header image courtesy Pixabay and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license..}

Note: this article was also published on Contents May Vary.

I have a list of movies I’ve started calling my Citizen Kane list. I’m sure it’s something that we all can relate to: movies (as well as other media, for that matter) that, while we’ve never actually seen, are such a part of our cultural landscape that we may as well consider them watched. Funnily enough, Citizen Kane is no longer on my list as I finally saw a few years ago.

Here are five from my current list of movies that I’ve never actually seen from beginning to end, but I know all about them. And yes, the goal is to eventually take these off the list. Maybe when I invent that 48 hour day.

First is my genre shame: I have never seen Blade Runner. Even worse? My partner and I even own a copy. The problem? It has both the original and the director’s cut, and so I don’t know which one I want to watch first. I’ve seen arguments for both being the one to watch, and while I will definitely watch both, I know the first one I watch will be the one I will relate to more. The idea of replicants, the cyberpunk elements, the performance of Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, and the concepts behind it have colored the visual world of science fiction since 1982, so there isn’t much here I won’t already know. With the sequel coming soon, I plan on watching it. I just need to decide which one to watch first.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – Somebody to Love

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.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – Aporia

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.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The Law of Inevitability

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.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The Lord of No Mercy

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.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The House of Special Purpose

If last week’s Fargo was a symphony and the week before’s an interlude, this week’s can only be classified as a funeral march—although no one actually died. The solemnity was more in form than function, expressed through muted colors, elegiac music selections, and slightly more methodical editing. That is, until the final scene.

As was established in past installments, Season Three’s halfway mark is essentially the point of no return, the moment wherein the true stakes are established and the more farcical capers give way for darker plots. Think of the brutal killing of the hapless personal trainer in Season One, or the ambush of the Kansas City mobsters in Season Two. Both reversals were prime examples of the show’s ability to transitional naturally between tones per the story’s demands.

But this time around, the shift feels a whole lot starker.

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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: 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: 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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