I’m using this weekend to catch up on some the things I’ve missed during the week – yes, it has been one of those weeks – and Fargo is one of the things I just will not miss. After last week’s episode, where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango was hideously beaten by VM Varga’s merciless henchmen, the series turned on its head. No longer was the focus on the feud between the Stussy brothers; now it had become something more poisonous and vengeful. Episode six was extremely tense.
As ever, the start of the episode started with a narrative flourish and a natty device – this time it was this series’ evil incarnate, Varga himself, giving us a little narration, telling us about how World War I was started because of a sandwich, how the moon landings were faked and how when fate presents you opportunities that you must act upon when you can.
Varga and his master plan and the Stussy squeeze was going nicely, and exactly to plan. Fate shouldn’t play any part in someone so fastidious in planning – what Varga was doing was presenting the notion to Emmit and Sy that it was fate, not design, that had thrust him into their lives. They must take advantage of this miraculous coming together (we saw, two episodes ago in the superb ‘LA episode’ this theory of random particles bumping into each other espoused by the ageing movie producer). In this case it was fake news. This was exactly by design, Varga’s design.
What he hadn’t planned on was Emmit’s brother, Ray. Together he and Nikki, in their obsession to get the stamp back from Emmit, had threatened to derail his whole project. This really wouldn’t do. There was only one thing for it: to get rid of Ray and his ‘bitch’ Nikki Swango.
The two were fugitives now, and throughout this enormously tense episode, you felt that there was only one real outcome: one or both of them would be dead before the end of the episode. In the end, Ray Stussy was the one to go.
The way he went was not the way you expected him to. Meemo was dispatched to get rid of them both, who were both holed up in a cheap motel. Ray, having forgotten the get-away money at their apartment, left Nikki Swango in the room, contemplating another ice bath and a mouthful of Asprin to help soothe her bruises and numb the pain. I imagined that Meemo would trail Ray and take him out, but when Ray got to the apartment he found his brother, Emmit, there waiting for him, offering a truce and… the stamp. He wanted an end to the madness, as he called it, and offered his brother the thing he most coveted. Ray, who began to find his feet and his confidence over the past couple of episodes, was hurt: how could he accept something that was something rightly his? The stamp, of course, was more than just a stamp: it represented years of rejection, both from their father and his older brother.
In their final exchange – before a tug of war with the framed stamp ended with a shard of glass piercing Ray’s carotid artery – both of them revealed what really motivated them in this tit-for-tat feud: Emmit disregarded Ray, and had craved acceptance from his peers; Ray wanted to be accepted by his brother.
Both were losers. Ray’s desperation ended in death, while Emmit’s narcissism now sees him dealing with the devil.
Now this feud is over, you get the impression that the closing episodes will see Nikki Swango and VM Varga emerge from the rubble to duke it out. And that’s absolutely fine with me: they, along with Gloria Burgle, are the strongest characters in this piece. Varga, especially, is an enigma. We’re still not entirely sure of his motivations, but, as the title of this episode suggests (The Lord Of No Mercy), this human man has something almost supernatural about him, like his predecessor in series one, Lorne Malvo. Except with Malvo, we never got to see inside his lair. Varga is something different: we’ve seen his affectations (an eating disorder), his idolisation of Russian music and Stalin, and his ascetic lifestyle (when Emmit called him for help as Ray bled out onto the carpet, he was lying down on nothing more than a scant mattress, still wearing his suit), and the way he seems to dresses and speaks from another time. Like he mentioned in this episode in his first ever exchange with the astute Gloria Burgle, he may not even exist.
He feels like a spy from the 1970s or 1980s. A ghost still roaming, trapped between worlds; an unstoppable force.
This series is starting to get really good.
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