REVIEW – Fargo: Year Three, Episodes 4-5

***With the redesign and my move to Tennessee, some things slipped through the cracks, including last week’s Fargo review. It was written, just never found its way onto the site. So, here’s a two-for-one special. Two separate reviews of episodes four and five, and now we’re back up to date. Both were excellent hours of drama.

YEAR THREE, EPISODE 4: THE NARROW ESCAPE PROBLEM

You see, in Russia, there are two words for truth. “Pravda” is man’s truth. “Istina” is God’s truth. But there is also “nepravda.” Untruth. And this is the weapon the leader uses, because he knows what they don’t. The truth is whatever he says it is. – Yuri Gurka

I’m now officially convinced Noah Hawley just wants people to read and learn things every week, because now we know a little more about bridge, probabilities, and now molecular biology. The narrow escape problem is a formula that works to explain and estimate the average time it takes for a Brownian particle (ion, protein, molecule) to escape an enclosed compartment containing a small window. That window, as time passes, shrinks, changing the equation and decreasing the chances for escaping the area.

Fargo’s story centers around people caught in difficult situations, some through misunderstandings, some through grudges, some through bad personal or business decisions. View the humans as the Brownian particle, and all of the obstacles in their way as the invisible boundary of the containment cell. There is an escape route, but with every passing minute, the window is slowly closing.

Ray Stussy and Nikki Swango don’t even realize yet just how much closer Gloria Burgle and Winnie Lopez are to figuring out the truth about Maurice LeFay. They’re trying to wine and dine high level bridge investors (or she is at least), but in the slow motion scene where Nikki exits the Parole Board building and nearly brushes up against Gloria, who turns and looks at her briefly, it’s symbolic of Burgle’s progress.

The episode plays off Peter and the Wolf, and also features voice over work from Billy Bob Thornton, which was a nice touch considering his relation to the series. The tale is of Russian origin, which fits well within the V.M. Varga side of the story, and the musical selections are appropriate and accurate. That’s a story about naivete and about reckless abandon, but it’s also about obliviousness to temporarily hidden perils and dangers.

Emmit didn’t know what he was getting into, nor did Sy Feltz, but with each week, they both grow closer to the jaws of the beast. What purpose was there for showing Varga’s disgusting teeth? First, it’s to remind us this is a villain, as the musical accompaniment helps to demonstrate. Second, the teeth are jagged, misaligned, and unclean. Like a rabid animal’s, like someone unconcerned about aesthetics and entirely focused on being the predator.

It’s hilarious that Varga tries to sell his expansion and partnership in Stussy Lots, Ltd. by pointing to the mortgage and housing crisis. In that instance, the predators were those issuing the loans and those getting rich as a result of the lack of oversight, regulation, and common decency in the investment bank and lending industries. The prey were the unsuspecting men and women attempting to put a roof over their heads, particularly those with poor or non-existent credit or jobs that made the adjustable rates untenable once they kicked in.

Varga, bulimia and all, is the predator, and Emmit Stussy is the prey. He had no idea what he was doing, and while taking a loan, he did so under terms that simply didn’t make sense. Look to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme as an example, or any number of other financial fraud cases. When something appears too good to be real or honest, it almost always is. Varga asked in the season opener why Emmit and Sy wouldn’t wonder why it was so easy for them to obtain the money they did with virtually no collateral or benefit to the other party. In effect, those men took the mortgage on the second mansion he didn’t have, and couldn’t pay for, and now they’re’ irreparably fucked.

Ray hasn’t stopped to ask himself why a girl whose body “you could fry bacon on” is interested in him. When he’s shaving and dressing up to impersonate his brother, we see just what a broken, beat down man he is. That dynamo actually gets NAKED around him, kisses him, smiles at him, and cares for him? What? These are questions anyone of his ilk would ask themselves, yet he only sees the reward. He sees the curves, the eyes, the lips, and the spitfire personality, and he’s willing to pack up a box and quit his job in order to chase a RIDICULOUS card playing dream. It’s not even his dream. She might be, but bridge isn’t.

He’s every bit the loser his brother tells Varga he is later in the episode, and he may also be the prey. She might love him, and marriage plans might be legitimate, but if they’re not, she’s just another set of fangs ready to clamp down and maul him into a million pieces. Since she’s been in his life, he’s lost his job, but he’s also become an accessory to two murders, participated in two attempted thefts, and still ended up drunk at a bar while she waits for him at dinner. But I’m sure the sex made him forget all about it. His former boss might be right about her. “What if she’s manipulatin’ ya? Using her poontang to hoodwink and bamboozle?” Not the most eloquent way to state it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fact.

If the loan lured Emmit into the woods, Nikki Swango’s…everything…lured Ray into the same woods. Those two men need each other right now, but instead, they’re being pulled away. Remember, we saw Ray actually feel like his supposedly phony amends meant something, but Nikki ruined it. Then Sy used his H3, and it’s that incident that ties Winnie Lopez’ (played by Olivia Sandoval. who was vibrant and terrific) case to Burgle’s, and also points the finger directly at anyone named Stussy. The little tidbits that took Molly Solverson where she needed to be to arrive at Lester’s guilt are starting to fall into place for Gloria two seasons later.

Gloria has now met Officer Winnie Lopez, who used “putter inner” in a way I’ve never heard before, and probably won’t ever hear again. It was funny, even if uncomfortable for a few seconds. She’s the exact opposite of Burgle, who is quiet, reserved, and analytical. Lopez is a perfect character for Fargo, and her boisterous personality mixes well with Gloria’s intelligence. Watching those two together should be fun going forward, now that the not-so-coincidental coincidences have found their way to the surface. Gloria could use a friend, especially one different from herself, but with similar values.

On Fargo, many small things lead to a few big things, and oftentimes huge, grisly deaths. We have to start asking ourselves whether Ray and Nikki survive, whether Emmit and Sy survive, and whether Varga survives. My guess is the latter will be dead by the finale’s end, one of the Stussy brothers will be as well, unless they come together and end the beef, and Nikki will be in jail. Gloria and her son will be alive, and she’ll be named police chief at the end. Moe is a complete dick, but it’s necessary to create that kind of villain to put more sympathy on Carrie Coon’s character. It’s working nicely.

I’m not sure this has been the strongest Fargo season in terms of its high points, but it’s been consistently good television. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, increasingly so, and the characters are all growing on me by the week. Nikki Swango never needed to grow on me, she was always dynamite. The impending confrontation between Nikki and Gloria may be one of the best scenes of the year anywhere on TV. There’s much more import placed on the dialogue this season, and Hawley is still treating his show like a fable, which plays exceedingly well in creating a unique, Coen-like ambiance underneath the show’s foundation.

YEAR THREE, EPISODE 5: THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE

Okay, here’s another story. Once upon a time a guy named Stussy hired an idiot to rob his brother and the idiot drove to the wrong town and killed the wrong Stussy. – Gloria Burgle

“The House of Special Purpose” is the title of a 2009 John Boyne novel, which tells a story centered around the fall of the Romanov dynasty – courtesy of the Bolsheviks – and the death of Tsar Nicholas. Here’s Hubert O’Hearn’s description of the book, taken from his review.

As the novel moves briskly across 65 years of history, accidents tip the characters’ lives like those long sticks model sailboat enthusiasts use to control their toys. Georgy and his wife Zoya’s daughter Arina dies in a random car accident in London. A beloved friend is Paris is executed because of an accidental death. And the Tsarevitch lives in fragile dread of accidents even while desiring nothing more than to live like a normal, active eleven year old boy. Our lives boil down to a series of accidents which we somehow survive, or life is what we do between the tragedies.

Tonight’s episode of Fargo certainly applies to that description, as does the season as a whole. We’re not sure yet who survives between the tragedies and mishaps, but we’re already watching Gloria Burgle in particular live in the margins, rather than in the misery. How many accidents have we seen this year, how many boneheaded decisions, and how many misunderstandings or half-truths that have resulted in death and despair? The ending of the hour was powerful, more so than anything that’s happened this season, including the murder of Ennis Stussy.

The lead-up to that final few minutes, where Nikki Swango is beaten within an inch of her life by Varga’s thugs, was preceded in a very interesting fashion. This was the episode where the sympathy factor for this woman was at its lowest. She was a scoundrel tonight, with the ransom, the sex tape, the extortion, and the potty mouth. Everything she did stunk of “bad.” Thus, when she’s assaulted in the deserted lot, perhaps there’s a bit of “She got what she deserved” to it, but I didn’t feel that way.

This woman is trouble, which we’ve known from the outset, but it’s still not okay to see, or in this case hear a woman be attacked. That’s not sexist. I just don’t really get down watching women be beaten. Call me strange. I believe in equal rights, but not when two foreign-born criminals use a weapon to whip a woman half to death. That’s one I’d rather see reserved for Sy Feltz than Nikki Swango.

Gloria and Winnie have put the pieces together quickly, haven’t they? Not only do they confront Ray and take him into the station for further questioning, Burgle flat out tells the Chief exactly what happened, and she’s exactly right. I’m wondering how she figured out it was supposed to be a robbery, because she uses “rob” and then “killed” in the appropriate context. She doesn’t know about the stamp yet, and once she does, the final unknown will be in the open.

But, we’re only halfway through the season and she’s far ahead of her predecessors in this series in terms of understanding the crime and feeling secure in her suspicions. Considering we spent one episode tracking down her stepfather’s past in Los Angeles, that’s amazing timing for Gloria Burgle. She and Winnie are quite the team, and tonight, there was no hint of difference between the two. They were all business, with all of Lopez’ quirks on the back burner and both going for the finish line on the case.

Where Lorne Malvo and Mike Milligan were both villains to root for, my god is V.M. Varga ever the opposite. David Thewlis is a straight up asshole, in every scene, and with the teeth and the demeanor and the ill-fitting suits, he’s there to be the prick. Whether he’s urinating in a “World’s Best Dad” mug and forcing Sy to drink it or helping himself to everything he doesn’t own, he’s a complete jackwagon. You want this guy to die, more so than anyone in the series’ history, including Lester’s wife in the pilot. He’s doing a stellar job at making me hate his guts, and with every history lesson or Bible story or analogy, I hope for five more stab wounds when his time comes.

The IRS angle isn’t one I was expecting, but it definitely adds a layer on intrigue that might help slow down the Stussy Lots Ltd. business side, and it will force Emmit, Sy, and Varga to address company vulnerabilities. That’s smart, because it will also stretch Varga’s resources and his mind, so that he actually makes a mistake.

But there’s something else that came to me last night.

Emmit and Sy can’t defeat V.M. Varga, even if Ray and Nikki weren’t skulking around in the darkness. However, could Emmit, Ray, Sy, and Nikki all four take him down if they worked together? All four parties know each other and they know most, though not all of the secrets. Ray and Nikki have no idea about Varga, and Emmit and Sy don’t know anything about Maurice LeFay. If the bad blood gave way to a temporary alliance, that might be enough to end Varga’s reign of terror.

How interesting would it be to see them team up, succeed in saving Emmit from the clutches of evil, only for Ray and Nikki to be nabbed immediately afterward once Gloria and Winnie have the evidence to prove what now remains an educated theory of the crime?

I really just want to leave it right there. There was more, including Sy’s dinner with Mrs. Goldfarb, but I want that to be your lasting impression from these reviews. The Minnesota Avengers vs. V.M. Varga and the Heavies. One other quick thing though. How did Emmit’s wife not realize that wasn’t her husband? The wig isn’t THAT good, and she’s been with this man for many years. Her being fooled is the first time I called bullshit on Fargo in three seasons. But, maybe she’s a dolt.

I’m @JMartOutkick. I hear things. I hear them because I listen. I see them because I watch.

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