After the brilliance of episodes three and four, we were back to relative normality in episode five of Fargo. And I say that with some regret because the weakest part of this story – in my opinion – just happens to be the main part of the story. Yes, we were back to witnessing the ever-disintegrating relationship between Ray and Emmit Stussy, and in this episode, they really did get to the point of no return.
Nikki Swango had concocted a new way to clean Emmit out – newly-shaven Ray would don a curly wig again and they would film him having sex with Nikki, also dressed up in a wig, and send it to Emmit, saying that if he didn’t pay them $100,000 they would tell his wife. They were going to present to him visual evidence of an event he never took part in and demand payment for an event he never took part in. A dubious plan, but you had to admire Nikki Swango’s doggedness and creativity.
And this was the start of a narrative thread in episode five that showed its main players grappling with the idea of truth: what was true, what was fake? Gloria Burgle was trying to convince her willfully pig-headed boss of the truth as she interrogated Ray, convinced she knew what he had done; and poor old Emmit – whose wife had actually seen the sex tape before he did and walked out on him, taking the kids and the mother-in-law – was caught up with a man from the IRS, trying to convince him that everything was legit; Nikki Swango tried to up her blackmail bid because there were new truths that needed to be considered; and hapless Ray Stussy blustered his way through the interview with Gloria and Winnie.
All versions of fake truths, or alternative facts.
I dunno, I love Fargo and it’s still miles ahead of many other crime dramas, but I’m just not deep into the Stussy story. In series one and two it all felt genuinely fresh and you never quite knew which way things were going to go. Here it all feels a little bit predictable. I love, love, love Nikki Swango – more on her later – and I love VM Varga, but the bickering brothers story feels a little hackneyed and a little too derivative. Lester Nygaard and Peggy Blumquist’s stories never, ever felt derivative.
And yet, there were moments of pure gold in this episode. Before they made the sex tape, Nikki Swango took Ray through the plan: “On the sofa I thought, unless you’re attached to a more classic bed narrative. Non-descript, though, the furnishings, so they can’t tie it to us. We can keep you in a shirt, to hide your… difference. Maybe in a cowgirl or a doggy scenario. Favouring our rears, in other words, keeping our faces slightly absurd.”
Nikki: “What did I say?”
After this exchange, Ray got down on bended knee and proposed to Nikki Swango. While still wearing his Emmit wig. “You have made me the happiest woman ever,” she cooed. “Now, let’s make a sex tape.”
I’ve been trying to figure out Nikki Swango all this while. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a revelation as the parolee looking to put her past behind her, playing her with just about the right mixture of sass and innocence. Like Peggy Blumquist before her, she has been prepared to go the distance to realise her dreams. I initially thought that Swango would be a modern femme fatale, playing Ray for all he has, luring him in with her confident swagger, street-smart ways and, yes, alluring physicality. There’s something of the slightly trashy, no-wave New York early 1980s about her and her fashion sense, but I think I’m wrong about her. The way she reacted to Ray’s proposal said to me that there’s something genuine there; she genuinely melted. And when, at the end of the episode, Varga’s henchman beat the living daylights out of her as a warning to stay away from Emmit, as an audience we sympathised with her even more.
There’s something dogged and determined about Nikki Swango, and as she rose stoically from her fearful beating and took solace in her bathtub, hideous bruises pocking her torso, I got the impression that this woman may turn out to be the hero of the piece; the character that we most want to win and beat the bad guys. Even after some of the things she has already done (yep, murder), I’m rooting for her.
Elsewhere, Sy was getting the super-nasty treatment from Varga (he insulted his ‘fat wife’ and was anti-Semitic in his barbs, he rubbed hs genitals in his World’s Best Dad mug and made him drink water from it) and Gloria and Winnie were beginning to form a bit of a formidable team.
I’m still enjoying it, and there are still moments and characters here that shine like diamonds. We’re half-way through the series and I think I know where this might be heading, but still… this is Fargo.
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