We’re nearing the end of series three of Fargo, and now, with the Stussy brothers’ feud now over, it’s down to the last men and women standing to wage a battle royale. For what exactly? Like series one, a plain and simple, good, old fashioned battle between good and evil, featuring the flawed but determined Nikki Swango and the verisimilitudinous embodiment of rotting secretion, VM Varga. The question remaining from last week’s stunning episode was: did Nikki Swango survive the bus crash?
The swift answer was yes. The first 20 minutes of episode eight – entitled Who Rules The Land Of Denial – was pure tension, pure bravado storytelling, albeit a tangent and a Fargo flight of fancy. We saw one huge example of this willingness to go off-road earlier on the series when Gloria Burgle went to LA, and in this episode, Nikki Swango, rescued from the bus-crash wreckage by Mr Wrench, went on the run across the barren, freezing cold plains of Minnesota, with an enraged Yuri and his gang – dressed in animal hides and masks – giving chase. Nikki Swango and Mr Wrench were shot at, wounded and toyed with by their hunters, until a very violent scene saw one gang member decapitated and Yuri badly wounded.
It was thrilling, it was tense and it was scary. And, ultimately, it was pointless.
Every muscle and fibre in my body was clenched, hoping beyond all reason that Nikki Swango would escape her relentless pursuers, but little bubbles of clarity popped up from my visceral viewing experience: what was the point in all this? As well staged and acted as this sequence was, I really did struggle to find a point to it. Did it drive the story? Kind of, but they could have wrapped this segment up much quicker.
As Nikki Swango and Mr Wrench stumbled, exhausted, bloodied and wounded, into a deserted bowling alley, it looked for all the world that that was where they would meet their maker. Nikki Swango ordering a whisky from the bar would be her last drink, surely.
But then… something magical and utterly unexpected happened: into view came smooth-talking, white-toothed Paul Marrane, who was, like he was in the Gloria Goes To LA episode, full of enigmatic, prophetic chatter. But this time we got a clue as to who he really was, and what the bowling alley really was – was it heaven, or was it some sort of in-between netherworld? Something along those lines, because Paul Marrane told Nikki Swango (after he had handed her a kitten, who he had called Ray) that “life is suffering” and that “she was beginning to understand that”. He also told her the story of Rabbi Nachamn (google him), and translated another Hebrew saying, pointing at Nikki Swango: “Who will rise for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand against evil doers?”
As Nikki Swango looked on, battered and bloody, and holding a kitten called Ray, he asked her to deliver a message to the wicked, when the time came.
Though thou exalt thyself, like the eagle;
Though thou make thy nest among the stars
Thence will I bring thee down,
So sayeth the Lord.
Fargo has always had hints – some more explicit than others – of the supernatural, the Biblical (the same thing?) and of the fairytale, but Paul Marrane was fronting up like an angel from God himself. As they sat there in the bowling alley (oh hai, The Big Lebowski), Fargo went full super-duper-natural. It was fitting that Ray Wise – a Twin Peaks alumnus – played Paul Marrane. He must be used to this kind of stuff by now.
So more dazzling, tangential, surrealist stuff with supernatural overtones. All this dazzling storytelling filigree is fine and thrilling, but the strands of magic have to make up a cogent and satisfying whole, and I’m not sure that these sequences and scenes – as brilliant and off-kilter and surprising and thrilling as they are – ultimately do that.
Soon, Nikki Swango and Mr Wrench were gone, into the night and never to be seen again (in this episode, at least).
Attention switched to Emmit Stussy. Varga had poisoned Sy with a cup of tea on what looked like Christmas Day (and we then jumped forward in time to see him in a coma, which was an unexpected narrative flourish).
So where is Emmit Stussy at the end of all this? He’s a different beast to Lester Nygaard and Peggy Blomquist, but there are similarities – the ambition and greed are there, but with Varga’s influence and pushing, they’ve exploded into something poisonous and twisted. And that way madness lies. Whimpering, seeing and hearing things, and, thanks to a sustained psychological attack (probably from Nikki Swango, who had obviously learnt a thing or two from being hunted back in the woods – she’s the huntress now and she’s going to work the classic route of disorientating her prey to the point of madness and, no doubt, strike when he’s at his weakest), Emmit Stussy reached the end of his tether and, at the end of the episode, walked into Eden Valley police station, sought out Gloria Burgle and began to confess.
This series of Fargo is a funny one. Not ha-ha (well, ha-ha in some places), but most peculiar. It has often givens us so much brilliance, almost too much, and this episode felt like a microcosm of the whole series: incredible, tense set-pieces; characters that you truly care about; flights of fancy; and memorable dialogue. So why is not truly leaving a mark? Much to ponder.
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