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FARGO: YEAR 3, EPISODE 9: APORIA
See, you got cocky. Forgot to count all the pieces on the board; the cards I’m not showing. So now it’s just me and you, and I want my money. – Nikki Swango
Well there’s the fact that automatic doors never open for me, and the sensors on like the sink or the soap dispenser never sense me, and when I make a call no one can ever hear me. So I got this theory, in private, that I don’t actually exist. – Gloria Burgle
This season picked up long ago, and it was never “bad,” but it’s become spectacular. We got another terrific episode tonight, an effective penultimate episode with a few surprises along the way, and an utterly epic confrontation between VM Varga and Nikki Swango.
David Thewlis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead couldn’t possibly have played this scene better, and it was one of the real highlights of another strong season for Noah Hawley. This past Friday at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Hawley said it’s possible this is the final season of Fargo, dependent upon whether another worthy story is out there to tell. If that’s the case, it’s about to walk away on a mountaintop, not from a valley.
I attended the Austin event, and Noah stated during his panel that for the first time in the series, there’s really only one true villain. Varga does have a few henchmen, but in general, he’s big evil, and everyone else is at worst a shade of grey. Even Swango, a criminal, is endearing and you root for her. She’s at worst Walter White in Season 2 or 3 of Breaking Bad. She’s a shady character, but she’s absolute dynamite.
She outsmarted Varga, and used her new best friend Wes Wrench to do it. Wrench is a fascinating case, because out of nowhere, he becomes arguably the single most important character of the entire series. Each season of Fargo is supposed to be standalone, with a similar feel but completely different realities. There can be some bleed over, but in general, these are three different anthological plot lines.
Except for Mr. Wrench, who has factored into all three seasons, never more so than this year, where he saved Nikki’s life and has been her partner in crime. He’s a silent guardian angel for her, helping to keep her safe in the absence of Ray Stussy. He made sure Meemo’s sniper rifle wasn’t trained on his lady for very long, and even with Varga littering the hotel lobby with trenchcoat-clad cretins, it was Swango that walked away with the bounce in her step.
And Nikki and Wes pulling that caper with the paperweight grenade? That was so much fun to watch, and there’s absolutely no one watching the series that isn’t rooting for the two of them. Outsmarting Varga’s men, taking the truck, stealing the information, and using it to bring ole’ nasty grill to his knees was pure genius. We got the percussion back as well, as Hawley loves drums for his scores. It fits so well with Swango and Wes, because they move and execute like they just stepped out of a Terry Benedict casino.
What does “aporia” mean, anyway? Simply defined, it’s an expression of simulated or real doubt. There was obvious doubt from Gloria Burgle as to the non-Emmit confession, because this woman is the smartest woman ever to step foot on this show. She’s surpassed Molly Solverson, and Winnie Lopez isn’t far off from doing the same. Varga had Meemo murder two other men with a Stussy surname in order to try and make the crimes all look linked, and to nullify the impact of Emmit’s conscience.
Meemo duplicated the means of Burgle’s stepfather’s demise and then of Ray’s. The goal was to get him out of jail, so that they could keep him quiet, and we do see him leave in a vehicle with Varga after playing semi-dumb in the interrogation room.
Who knew milk mixing and coagulating with blood could be so aesthetically pleasing?
However, Burgle knows what’s up. She already suspected Varga as being the mastermind behind all of the hell in Minnesota, and even with Emmit too fearful to fully come clean in the police station, she’s positive she’s right. She also knows Moe Dammick is wrong, as do we. Although this season has been about alternative truths and fictional facts, echoing the state of the country, I’m certain she will end up Chief next week, and Moe will end up changing jobs and working at a hardware store. I’m not sure of what type of store, but his career will end, or he’ll be her deputy.
Ruby Goldfarb, who we refer to as “The Widow” Goldfarb, has to be more involved than we’ve seen thus far. If you paid close attention, you likely noticed both she and Varga both spoke elementary French in this episode? We have no idea who her husband is, and she’s mysterious and aggressive in her business dealings. One factual fact (unlike the fictional facts) about this Fargo season is that the women have dominated it. Gloria Burgle and Nikki Swango have survived and thrived, while Ray Stussy, Moe Dammick, and so many others have screwed the pooch or ended up six feet under the surface of the earth.
So, would it be that much of a reach to think Varga has a boss? Would it be that much of a reach to think that superior might be a woman named Goldfarb? I didn’t think so either. I’m almost willing to predict that’s going to be the shocker next week. I fail to understand why we’ve been watching Mary McDonnell at all, as great an actress as she is, if she weren’t to play the pivotal role in the finale along with Burgle and Swango.
Who is running shit this season? Gloria refuses to give up, as does Winnie. Nikki controlled every move Ray made, and although we find out in the sit down with Varga that she did legitimately care for him, she wore the pants in that relationship. Now, she’s got Wes Wrench keeping her safe, and she’s outsmarting someone previously untouchable. Even Paul Marrane had to settle for Yuri, because Varga never came to the existential bowling alley in the middle of the woods. But Nikki has him by the nut sack. If anybody’s drinking the tea, it’s going to be him.
Winnie hugging her friend in the bar was a solid emotional moment in a season that’s been a bit inconsistent in that area. Again, Emmit’s wife and children still haven’t returned from their sabbatical, and Nathan is the son that brings his mother lunch at work, but Gloria is lonely and often feels alone. She feels “unreal” and “invisible.”
Here we have very similar themes to The Leftovers, where Nora Durst felt exactly the same way. She felt like no one listened to her, didn’t believe what she was told, and sought her own truth. Carrie Coon plays both roles, and as Dan Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter mentioned on stage in Austin on Friday, it’s pretty wild just how much the two seasons have in common with one another.
We had almost forgotten Larue Dollard even existed until he walked into his obsessive compulsive office, sprayed his dead plant, and found the manilla envelope in his desk chair. Varga cooked the Stussy Lots Ltd. books long ago, and it seems like the real documents, along with a flash drive, just found their way into the hands of the Internal Revenue Service. How did Al Capone go down? Tax evasion. Varga dropping due to fraud, then being exposed as the scoundrel that he is would be a fitting and satisfying conclusion.
The men are scrambling, while the women are moving. Emmit confessed to a murder he didn’t commit and went back 30 years to express guilt over not being a better brother to Ray. Varga is terrified of Nikki Swango, and he’s about to be even more afraid of Gloria Burgle. The only male doing well right now on this show? Wes Wrench, and he’s mute.
The entire Swango-Varga confrontation scene was among my favorites on all of television this year, and everything between Gloria and Emmit was awfully good as well. Winnie and Gloria in the bar was also strong. Nikki and Wes outsmarting Meemo and stealing the truck was awesome. The reason to say all of that is because when you add the sum total of airtime those sequences took up, you realize just how good this episode was. It was filled with big moments and taut dialogue. It was intelligent, riveting, and at times emotional.
This was outstanding TV, and the finale should be more of the same. Fargo hasn’t skipped a beat. Even if it felt a little too familiar at certain points, it’s been a work of art more often than not. Predictability isn’t always a bad thing either, and we’ve gotten some of the obvious, coupled with a few major surprises.
Here’s how Noah Hawley explained it at ATX on Friday: “Hopefully what I’m doing is I’m making something unpredictable that in the end feels inevitable.”
I couldn’t put it better myself. This finale is going to rock. Okay then.
I’m @JMartOutkick. I just added two more zeroes to my salary.