I hate to say it – and I feel cruel for saying it – but ever since Ray Stussy bit the dust in last week’s episode, Fargo became excellent. Ray’s unfortunate demise has paved the way for series three’s most interesting characters – VM Varga, Nikki Swango and Gloria Burgle – to emerge, fully-formed, and wage a battle royale until the end. In this way, series three mirrors series one, and this run has got better and better as it has gone along. Now, these three characters are actually sharing screen time together, I’ve no doubt that it’ll get better still if this episode is anything to go by.
We picked up the action almost in linear fashion, with Ray still laying motionless on the floor of his apartment, grimacing with a bitter, shocked expression frozen onto his face. I did feel sorry for Ray, as hapless as he was, but I was also excited about what was to follow.
And what was to follow? It was Christmas time so, as if to reinforce his dastardly intentions, Varga was portrayed as a Grinch of the highest order, stealing his way into Emmitt’s palatial residence and opening the Christmas presents with that trademark, disdainful sneer. How low could one person go? Tampering with someone else’s Christmas presents, I ask you.
This episode seemed to be about characters realising the full effect of bad decisions: Emmitt, breaking down at the enormity of everything that had transpired; Sy breaking down in front of his wife at the enormity of everything that had happened (this was actually a touching scene); and Nikki Swango, sitting battered and bruised in a holding cell, about to be charged for the murder of her fiance.
Again, it was down to Varga to offer some clarity, reciting a nursery rhyme to Emmitt as he sobbed on the stairs of his empty house:
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little, crooked house.
Yes, they all now lived together in a crooked house. All fucked and fucked-up.
None more so than Nikki Swango. As Varga had predicted, she had been taken into custody, seemingly bang-to-rites for the murder of Ray. But, as she sat silently through insistent questioning from the pig-headed Chief Moe Dammick (a willfully unlikeable character), she looked like a lost teenager – underneath all that bravado and sass, there was panic, shock and sadness. And when someone dressed in a policeman’s uniform tried to inject her with something deadly (who was this corrupt copper? We haven’t seen him before and he’s not part of Varga’s crew, as far as I can tell), you felt for her – she was now swimming against a tide of unstoppable evil, the evil of men. What happens to Nikki Swango, and I’m rooting for her so hard, you know that a corner has been turned. No more bridge. No more Ray and petty cons. This is life or death for her.
The astonishing final scene confirmed this. As she was being transferred to a new holding prison upstate, Varga’s henchman Yuri stepped out into the middle of the road, causing the driver to swerve and crash. As the bus slid and buckled, everything inside seemed to move in slow-motion, not least Nikki Swango’s fellow cons (including deaf hitman, Mr Wrench, from series one). As she lay unconscious from the crash, Yuri, donning an animal mask, moved in to spirit her away. Yuri was involved in another astonishing scene when he visited Eden Valley police station to gather information on Gloria. He showed more menace and intent in two minutes towards a hapless, local policeman than anyone ever has a right to on our TV screens. On Christmas Eve, you were just relieved that Yuri spared the copper’s life – he had no earthly idea what or who he was dealing with.
If there’s one person who can save Nikki Swango from Varga and his relentless march towards domination, it is Gloria Burgle. She’s convinced that something is up and, perhaps, thought that Nikki Swango did’t murder Ray. But she knew something was going on (follow the money, Nikki Swango told her as she was being carted off), and the merest bond had been forged between them when Gloria saved her life. Gloria’s determination for the truth matches Varga’s need for power and greed.
Let’s see who prevails.
Another superb episode, full of genuine tension and intrigue. Looks like Fargo is back to its best.
For all our Fargo news and reviews, go here