Last week’s opening episode of the third series of Fargo was another fine piece of storytelling, but, for me, it didn’t quite have the same impact as the openers of series one and two had. Why? It looked great and all those Fargo themes and tropes were present and correct and thrown into the mix straight away – coincidence, chance, action and consequence – but there was a sense of repeating itself. There was also the Ewan McGregor factor, too: I was watching McGregor more than I was watching Emmit and Ray Stussy simply as characters. Thankfully, things settled down a bit in episode two.
At the heart of the show is Emmit and Ray’s sibling rivalry, which sets this series apart from the first two. It’s the new wrinkle. Things looked as though they might escalate in this episode – heck, they did escalate – into something truly nasty. That’s not to say that Ray hiring a thief to steal back the heirloom he argued that was rightly his wasn’t nasty (it wasn’t), but the outcome of his little plan certainly was. The stoner thief he hired murdered another man who shared the name of his brother.
No, their tit-for-tat bickering escalated in a way that meant battle lines had, by the end of this episode, been drawn. Nikki Swango suggested to Ray that his chi was all blocked up and they needed to do something about it and that his ongoing feud with his brother. They concocted another plan – well, Nikki did – to steal the heirloom themselves. Except Nikki, in the middle of her period, left her bloodied tampon in Emmit’s desk drawer and daubed a message to Emmit on a picture of a donkey on the wall with her menstrual blood when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. “Feminine hygiene deployed as a weapon.”
Naturally, Emmit signalled the end of their relationship.
Emmit was under pressure, elsewhere. The best thing in this series so far is David Thewlis’s sinister VM ‘Call Me VM’ Varga, who was putting the serious squeeze on the hapless king of parking lots in Minnesota. His presence in this series gives it edge and a sense of impending doom, and the way he lolloped around with his two henchmen (one a Ukranian) with a bored, sighing superiority filled him with menace and an untouchability. If Emmit had a doubt to what he was dealing with, Varga had his henchmen kill Emmit’s lawyer, who had been tasked with investigating him. He soon moved into Emmit’s office.
The title of this episode was The Principle Of Restricted Choice, which, I’ve read, is a reference to bridge. But it could equally apply to the hole Emmit now finds himself in. As VM Varga said, he is now trapped. You get the sense that he’s being pushed and squeezed and he’s going to try and get out of it. Perhaps even make some bad, bad decisions.
Elsewhere, Gloria was investigating the death of her step-father and hitting some sort of trail. Bogle is tenacious, but in a way all policewomen have previously been in Fargo – with a matter-of-factness and a light step. A friendly intensity. When she found her step-father’s stash of sci-fi books in his house at the scene of the crime, hidden beneath some floorboards, there was a sense she was about to find out about Emmit Stussy’s other life (her Emmit Stussy, that is).
So this third episode simmered nicely, with some smile-inducing moments and some menacing ones. It’s starting to build, starting to establish some narrative strands and build up the stories and characters. It’s never less than intriguing.
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