Fargo Season Three, Episode 1

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The problem, I think, is you’re confusing the word singularity with the word continuity. – V.M. Varga

We’re a team, you and me, simpatico to the point of spooky. – Nikki Swango

Fargo’s first two seasons were tied atop my drama lists in their respective years, and if someone were to ask me what my absolute favorite show is, this would be my answer. I’ve gotten so much enjoyment and seen so much artistry in Noah Hawley’s anthological masterpiece that I already feel fulfilled with the experience. If it hadn’t come back, it would have been tremendous, but the fact that we’re still rolling in the snow with crazy names and even more absurd circumstances is an absolute joy.

It’s a new year, a new season, a new story, a new time period, and although we’re likely to find ties to Season 1, and maybe even coincidental allusions to Season 2, this is its own animal. While it might not have been the strongest Fargo opener (or maybe it was, I need to watch the other two again), it was still excellent TV, and we met our newest megastar character in this universe.

Nikki Swango is a rock star, and casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead was nothing short of a sublime decision. She’s perfect for the role, because of her ability to play characters both above and beneath the law, plus she has the sex appeal needed to be a bridge playing, air conditioner unit dropping, head turning hustler. Ewan McGregor is pulling double duty as the Stussy brothers, and he’s outstanding, but Winstead stole the show in the opener.

Before we speak to the present, let’s head to East Berlin in 1866. It was a strange way to start the season, because the connection or the relation to what was to come wasn’t apparent. By the end of the episode, it was an appropriate analogy, and in hindsight was a beautiful choice. “Jakob’s” story made sense, especially the portion about his wife offering the men who took him away tea when she first opened the door. The official in front of him wasn’t interested in Jakob’s version of events, because the state doesn’t get anything wrong, and to assert it’s even possible the government could have made an error is treasonous. “This wife who is alive. A different last name. That is called a story. And we are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth.”

It was a misunderstanding, based on flawed identification, and considering Gurka’s crime of strangling his girlfriend and leaving her on the banks of the Spree, the punishment is obviously death. For Jakob, he was confused for someone else (I think), and we’re supposed to jump to the conclusion that the innocent man with the loving wife is about to die because someone in position to murder him is indeed going to take his life. Later, we’d see the same thing happen in Minnesota, except the problem came because a fool smoked himself stupid. Well damn, Noah. Let’s just turn out the lights right out of the gate.

This story, like those that came before it, begins in simplistic fashion and ends up complicated and packed with whoopsie daisies and “I didn’t mean to” moments. Ray Stussy is a pathetic guy with a pathetic job he despises, even though it brought him Nikki. In short, he’s an “ACE HOLE.” Hawley shows us the multitude of urine tests he’s forced to give as a parole officer, and his work leads him to meet and deal with clowns like Maurice LeFay. Scoot McNairy doing anything at this point interests me, because Gordon Clark on Halt and Catch Fire has been such a wonderful and complex character, and the role has showcased the talent of the actor behind that persona.

Maurice and Gordon have one thing in common. They both partake in marijuana. The weed ends up costing Gloria Burgle her father, and Nathan his grandfather. Even without the shrubbery, LeFay probably would have found a way to lose that note or kill the wrong person, but Fargo can’t exist without the mistake or the accident. Of course he read “Valley” and not “Prairie,” and hilariously, he just grabs random stamps from the old man’s home and assumes that’s what he was sent there to acquire. The murder was just a bonus. What a fucking idiot. He’s such a Fargo kind of guy. It’s terrific.

He’s also got a little of Slater from Dazed and Confused in him, except he’s not likable. Instead of the smile and the laugh, he’s just dumb as shit. But the phone conversation where he discusses morgues always being in basements and how the President of the United States buys his clothes is on par with George Washington growing “fields of it, mannnnnnnn.”

Is anyone having a better year than Carrie Coon? She’s simultaneously starring in Fargo and The Leftovers, and she’s otherworldly good in both. Discovering her three years ago is one of the best things that’s happened to television watchers around the world. She’s going to be around for a long time, and we’re all going to be better for it. She’s our Molly Solverson this season, as Gloria Burgle appears to be a caring mother, a hard worker, and someone attempting to make an impact as a police chief in a small town. The fact that her ex-husband turned out to be gay, well that’s just Fargo. Nothing outlandish in this show comes across as such because everything is a smidgen off, from the language, accents and odd surnames to the happenings themselves.

One thing I really like about the Burgle clan is that Nathan isn’t an asshole punk kid. He felt he had to go back to get the model his grandfather made him for his birthday, because of the optics of it more than anything else. That’s impressive for a kid whose head was buried in a handheld video game for much of the time we encountered him during the premiere. Fargo does bring with it a few normal people with normal lives that aren’t scumbags. It makes the real douche nozzle much easier to spot, and it also makes his or her decisions that much more pronounced.

The murder was the climax of the episode, but the other story is the one involving Emmit Stussy and Sy Feltz. “The Parking Lot King of the Midwest” has a big house in a well-to-do neighborhood, and it’s one that went undisturbed thanks to Maurice’s imbecility. He may or may not be intentionally involved in shady dealings, but he’s certainly stumbled into something problematic. V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), who may or may not turn into a werewolf when he’s near Hogwarts, is quietly frightening, and as he lays out what Stussy has gotten himself into, we’re left to wonder just how bad this is going to get. His parking lot business is now going to be a front for some serious chicanery, so that’s not good. Since it’s Fargo, I’m expecting bloodshed and perhaps even Michael Stuhlbarg’s head rolling down a bowling lane at some point.

Back to Nikki, the speed to which she jumped into action and came up with that air conditioner move tells me she’s real trouble. You might call her a spitfire, but she’s the kind of spitfire that could lead Ray Stussy to be the one pissing in a cup, rather than collecting samples. She’s dangerous because not only is she attractive, but she seems like so much fun to be around. She’s the kind of gal that could drive you crazy, or leave you begging to go crazy on her. That song, by the way, is such a sweet tune to use for the after party dirty sports car scene with “Stussy and Swango.” It made me want to listen to a little more Heart for the first time in a long time. Even then, we knew he was the dummy, long before we reached the Wildcat Regional Bridge Tournament.

But hey, they finished third runner up. They’re on a roll. Except for being accessories to one murder and actual perpetrators of another.

An old, petty feud between brothers, one that ended up much better off than the other. A valuable stamp the sad sack of the pair needs to turn his fortunes around. A dumbass bumbling criminal that killed an old man whose daughter is the Chief of Police of a small town. A saucy bridge player with street smarts that match her eyes. A hard working mom forced to deal with a personal crime. A shadowy criminal organization that has a few small time businessmen by the balls.

Finally, what about that title? Well, after doing some research, I learned two things. First, I don’t know anything about bridge. Second…this…

The theory of vacant places in bridge states that when the distribution of one or more suits is completely known, the probability that an opponent holds a particular card in any other suit is directly proportional to the number of vacant places remaining in their respective hands. – Probabilities and Vacant Places (2013)

Simply put, the principle of vacant places is useful in estimating where a specific card resides within the four hands on the table. Maybe instead of a card, it’s a stamp, or a man named Stussy, or the location of a certain chain smoker after pulling a gun on a couple pre-coitus? Is that a reach, or am I just brilliant? You tell me.

Yes, this is Fargo.

Thank the good lord it’s back, ya know?

You betcha.

I’m @JMartOutkick. Hit me there or at jmartclone@gmail.com. But ya gotta buy somethin. And it goes without saying, you’re not to mention this to anybody. 

Written by Jason Martin