Up until now, we’ve had more or less a bit of everything in this series – the sublime (a lot of that), some unevenness and a bit of the ridiculous. With the end fast approaching there’s a lot to be tied up, but this penultimate episode felt melancholy and reflective in mood and tone; the narrative pyrotechnics that have exploded regularly throughout dialled back to focus on characters and their interactions. Characters were circling and taking stock, trying to understand their place in this world and what it all means. As Gloria Burgle ruminated: “You think the world means something, and then it means something else.”
There was one beautiful scene where Gloria Burgle – the episode was her’s for sure – teetered on the brink, dissolving into tears in Winnie’s arms at the feeling that the whole world was against her and that she didn’t exist. She went to the bathroom and, expecting more motion-detecting equipment not to work for her, was mildly astonished and delighted that both the soap dispenser and the tap extinguished its fluids as she ran her hands beneath them. It’s been a running joke in this series of Fargo that whenever Gloria walks in front of a door or puts her hand underneath a tap they fail to open or work for her but work for everyone else. These little moments of physical comedy have been beautifully played and have made me chuckle, but there’s a serious side to them – they seem to suggest that no one, not even a door or a tap, takes the sanguine and determined Gloria Burgle seriously. Her husband left her for another man, she has raised her son alone, her sort-of-father had been murdered, her idiot boss had never taken her seriously and no door would open for her. She felt invisible. The fact that the soap dispenser and the tap worked felt like the world – the universe – finally recognised Gloria and her and her work. Things were starting to fall in her favour.
This shift in Gloria’s existence also suggested that there was a higher power watching over Fargo and its characters, dictating what works for them and what shouldn’t; where they should be and what they should be doing; and guiding them down roads on which they should travel. Throughout the three series ideas of fate and chance have juxtaposed with ideas of higher powers (see the Biblical storm in series one and the UFO in series two). For Gloria Burgle it seems something or someone is finally taking notice.
But she had had to work hard for this recognition.
We last saw Emmit Stussy walking into the Eden Valley police station ready to confess, and when he did it was the first time I had truly warmed to him as a character. How his brother, Ray, died was an accident, but the sin was there, he painfully admitted. The intent had always been there. He may not have pulled any trigger or plunged any knife into his own flesh and blood, but he had, he told Gloria, been killing him silently for years by always being better than him; by wanting to be better than him and to rub his nose in it.
You got the feeling that now everything was out in the open Emmit Stussy would not be long for this world, especially as Varga had engineered his escape (by instructing Meemo to kill two more innocent men by the name of Stussy in exactly the same way as Ray and Gloria’s sort-of-father, thus making it looking like a serial killer was on the loose. They even paid off a suspect to confess to these new murders. Chief Mo Dammick, forever a thorn in Gloria’s side, gobbled up this notion like crack-spiked mac and cheese, once again pissing on his deputy’s chips).
And what of Nikki Swango, that extraordinary character? The arch survivalist, the flawed heroine. We got a hint that her strategy of vengeance had begun at the end of the last episode, and in this penultimate instalment, she put her plans in motion. Now fully recovered from her horrific beating and bouyed by her brush with supernatural emissary Paul Marrane, she hijacked Varga’s truck and all his documents and held him to ransom. For the first time in his life Varga was rattled – before his meeting with Nikki Swango, he sat on the toilet chomping ice cream in terror, the close-up of his masticating face highlighting his grotesquely stained teeth and dripping mouth. (Varga has a very strange relationship with food. Once again he comes across as not of this world, as if human food is something to be endured and grappled with.)
When it came, the confrontation with Nikki Swango was nothing more than a skirmish. They jousted and danced around each other, prodding and jabbing. He tried to hire Nikki Swango as an employee; Nikki Swango, enjoying her newfound power in this relationship, wanted nothing to do with it. Varga had Meemo train a sniper’s rifle onto her head from a vantage point way above; Nikki Swango knew that this would happen and had Mr Wrench pacify the situation with his own show of force. Nikki Swango also knew that the case that Varga had brought with him would not be full of the money she had requested him to bring. She walked out brazenly, knowing that she had the upper hand… for now. You can’t help but love Nikki Swango, but you also can’t help feel dread for her, like she’s in way over her head however much she has the upper hand.
These confrontations and moments were subtle, tense and intriguing, and full of fruity dialogue. This was Fargo at its best and an episode that returned to the show’s blueprint – quirky, yes, but not overly or willfully so. Episode nine was also tense and willing to discuss the big things in the world and beyond.
Who knows what the last episode will bring?
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