I’ll say it right off the bat: episode three of this third series of Fargo was so good, so head-scratchingly and brilliantly tangential, it helped to breath new life into the series and was easily my favourite episode of the series so far. It was one of those delicious Fargo flights of fancy, a real tangent, and yet it managed to pack in loads of stuff: really interesting philosophical stuff, while being pure procedural. And yet it shouldn’t have worked – or at least, we shouldn’t have cared too much – because it didn’t further the narrative of the tangled web of the Stussy brothers in any way, shape or form. As I said, it should have been a throwaway episode. It so wasn’t.
Gloria Burgle, who has been somewhat sidelined by the Stussys back in Minnesota up to this point, headed to LA to find out more about her kind-of-step-father Thaddeus Mobley. From his murder scene she had retrieved some old pulp sci-fi novels written by her kind-of-step-father in the days before he had changed his name to Stussy.
Right from the moment we saw her on a plane to LA, to investigate his life before he came to Minnestoa, the episode was a delight. A full-blown, smile-inducing, intriguing delight. It was that perfect Coen brothers mix of the weird, the wonderful and the philosophical. During her LA trip – it was Christmas time in LA and the sun beat down – she met an avuncular older man (Twin Peak’s Ray Wise) who imparted wisdom, got her car stolen by a man dressed as Santa Claus (there was a Santa convention), went on a date with a hilariously chauvanistic, socially challenged cop who thought facebook was the be-all and end-all, and found out, slowly but surely, more about Thad’s story – he had come to LA to make it big, had won an award, and was courted by a smooth-talking producer, who promised him riches aplenty (as long as he could lend him some money). He also fell in love with a beautiful actress, experienced much hot sex and drugs, and generally lived the dream. But that dream soon turned into a nightmare when he began to get strung out on the sniff, and found out that the producer and the actress had done him.
It was just glorious. As Gloria made her way through the LA thicket looking for people who might have known Thad, she had some moments of clarity; of thought-provoking clarity. As she read one of Thad’s books – those scenes were animated for us – and told of a robot looking for the meaning of life. It’s this compunction to mix media and treat the story as just that, a story to be told, that sets Fargo apart. When she found the ageing producer who had swindled Thad, he told Gloria about a theory he once believed – that we are all particles floating about, until a confluence of solidification enables us to meet and bump into new people. And then we go off again, dissolving in different directions. We are here, and we are there.
This diluted version of quantum physics gave the episode a metaphysical feel, and that what might have been a throwaway episode had been imbued with a greater meaning. Or not. You never know with Noah Hawley.
Let’s face it, ‘The Law Of Non-Contradiction’ was pure exposition and something that could have been told in a few lines elsewhere. But Hawley being Hawley, we got a fable within a fable, a detour with some meaning or no meaning. And it was brilliant, confident storytelling. (Gloria had a brilliant line in this too, that deserves a mention. When she was told that her boss was on the line and was spitting made that she had taken an unauthorised trip to LA, she retorted: “Tell him I’ve seen the ocean, and it’s wet.”)
Episode four, meanwhile, began with another eye-poppingly unexpected storytelling device. We were back in Minnesota – cold, cold Minnesota – and after our little sojourn to LA it was important for a quick reintroduction to the main players, to help reacquaint ourselves and get back into the main thread of the story. Once again, Hawley and co did this in a totally unique and charmingly quirky way – Billy Bob Thronton (Lorne Malvo in series one) was back, this time in voice-over form, to do the reintroduction for us, reading lines from Prokofiev’s Peter The Wolf, matching each character with a musical instrument. I’ve often said that Fargo is much modern fairytale (and morality tale) than anything else, and this link to an actual fairytale gave this theory credence. So… Emmit was the bird (represented by the flute), Ray was the duck (oboe), Nikki was the cat (clarinet), Sy was the grandfather (bassoon), the blast of the hunter’s shotgun was Yuria (kettle drum), Varga was the wolf (French horn), and Gloria is Peter (strings). It was such a lovely little interlude, which would have been done totally differently in other series. We might have gotten the characters walking in slow motion, or a little, slickly edited montage of them. Here we got something charming and totally different. It was pure exposition, but again, the kind of exposition you’ve never seen before.
Buoyed by episode three and the start of episode four’s brazen creativity, we were back into the story with feeling, and Gloria – who received the identity of her step-father’s killer at the end of last week’s episode – was at work, finding links to Ray Stussy all over the place. She interviewed him and he handled it well, but it did put the skids beneath him. Furthermore, he was fired before the end of the episode because of his illegal relationship with Nikki Swango.
Earlier on, Ray had shaved off his moustache and wore a curly wig to hoodwink the bank into giving him the contents of his brother’s safety deposit box (and take 10 grand out of his account for good measure). So we saw the best and worst of Ray – confident in impersonating his brother, but broken after he was fired and missed a crucial meeting with Nikki and a potential bridge sponsor because he was drinking his sorrows away at a bar. You get the sense that, with Gloria edging ever closer, things won’t get better for poor old Ray. After all, it’s hard to disagree with Emmit, who assured VM Varga (when he asked whether Ray and his girl were going to be a problem), that he was nothing more than a loser.
And what of Emmit and Varga? The latter was putting the squeeze on the former big time, showing up at his house, amking him sign contracts, and there was footage of him eavesdropping on Ray telephone conversation’s with his brother… he knew everything about Emmit and there was nothing at all he could do about it. (Just a short note about Varga. During our Prokofievian musical sequence at the top of the episode, we saw Varga, after wolfing down a meal, go straight to a toilet cubicle, ceremoniously lay down a towel on the floor and throw up into the pan with gusto. He did this again at the Stussy’s house when he showed up unannounced for dinner. This suggests that VM Varga has an eating disorder. If this is the case, I’m not sure it’s cool to use an eating disorder as a character quirk.)
But once again, it’s Gloria Burgle who is beginning to emerge as the most interesting character. There were some lovely comedic moments in this episode, mostly taking place in the toilet with fellow policewoman Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval). Winnie’s TMI conversation about trying to get pregnant and her partner’s liking for certain sexual positions made me snort, while Gloria herself was having problems with the automated soap machine (every time she put her hand beneath the machine nothing happened, echoing her scene with the sensor-operated automated gas station door in a previous episode. Of course, when Winnie tried the soap came out first time. Brilliant silent comedy).
So there was much to like, and now the whole had been framed in an explicit fairytale context, it settled down and is beginning to become something special. Can’t wait to see where this goes.
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