Monday, July 15, 2024

Fargo Explores Technology’s Impact and Sets Up its Villains

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Fargo’s season 3 premiere was an outstanding setup for what promises to be another excellent season. It introduced our characters, the conflicts between them, and the incidents which will eventually bind them together. This week’s episode took those first steps towards this eventual convergence. It also continued an interesting theme regarding technology which looks to play an important role this season.

Strap in, everyone, because Fargo has some creepy and powerful villains for our heroes to face.

Spoilers for 3×02 “The Principle of Restricted Choice” below


After her stepfather’s death, Gloria stays the night at his house thinking over what happened. Come morning she wakes up and looks through his hidden sci-fi books. There’s also a newspaper clipping with her stepfather at a younger age under the name Thaddeus Mobley, which was his author name. Or real name, I’m not sure yet.

One of her officers comes to pick her up to meet their new chief. Along the way it is revealed Ennis’s mouth and nose were glued shut, which was cause of death. Gotta admit, Fargo, that’s a new one.

Emmit and his lawyer Sy (never caught his name last week) meet with another lawyer named Irv and explain what happened with V.M. Varga. They ask him to look Varga up. After they leave they talk about Ray. Emmit feels bad but the lawyer says he goes too easy on Ray. He talks Emmit out of giving Ray the stamp. He thinks Ray just wants Emmit’s success. When Irv goes to research Varga (using Google, and incompetently), one result shows up with a download link he hits. This shuts down all the computers in the building.

Speaking of Varga, he arrives at one of Emmit’s parking lots with a large semi-truck. Sy gets a call about it and goes along with Varga’s claim of permission. He also hilariously refuses to say Emmit’s name, as if it somehow avoids culpability. Emmit is reading about Ennis’s murder when Sy interrupts him to tell him about Varga. They discuss what might be in the truck and decide to feign ignorance.

Meanwhile, Gloria meets her new boss, who insults the lack of modern technology at the station. Gloria likes the old ways fine, but the new chief insists on it. He lets her interview a witness and then makes her take a few days off. She goes to interview the gas station attendant Maurice stole the phone book page from. She sees the tear and figures out that Ennis’s killer was looking for his address.

Our first look at Ray finds him checking the database for Maurice’s death record. It’s listed as an accident. He goes to tell Nikki and she’s distracted by a potential sponsor for their upcoming card tournament. She cares more about the tournament than the murder cover-up and says his chi is blocked. She assures him they’ll get away with it.

They decide to “unblock his chi” by either making peace with his brother or stealing the stamp. Ray shows up Emmit’s house late at night. While they talk outside, Nikki sneaks into the house. Ray makes a fake attempt to reconcile that turns real while she searches Emmit’s office for the stamp. Where it used to hang on the wall is instead a donkey painting. In a desk drawer she finds a receipt for a storage locker.

She takes the painting as an insult. Ray comes back inside and notices the light in his office, where he finds a message written on the donkey painting and Nikki’s tampon left in the desk drawer. Presumably the same night, Irv leaves his office and finds one of Varga’s goons waiting by his car. This goon and another throw Irv off a ledge.

Nikki returns to where Ray’s waiting for her. He tells her the reconciliation went well and Nikki tells him about the stamp and what she did. Emmit shows his lawyer what happened and we find out the stamp was moved because a cleaning lady broke the frame it was held in. He agrees to Sy’s offer to cut Ray off for good by threatening to reveal his relationship with Nikki to his bosses. They then get a phone call about Irv’s death.

Gloria and her son meet with a funeral home director to plan his funeral. Meanwhile, Sy finds Ray at a diner and tells him to stay away from Emmit. Ray responds with a middle finger. Sy responds by ramming Ray’s car with his Hummer. And also hits another car accidentally while speeding off.

Over at Emmit’s office, the episode ends with Varga and his goons moving forcefully into a new empty office. Varga again explains to Emmit and Sy that they have no choice in the matter. He also reveals globe-spanning experience in his business.

No surprise, his goons are fairly multinational.

Don’t let how cute this is distract you from their deadliness.


A large part of Fargo’s identity is the exaggerated portrayal of rural Minnesota. These stories always take place in small towns with folksy people who live behind the modern times. Where previous seasons have used this as a setup for the show’s identity and also for jokes, this season is trying something a little different. Season 3 opening episodes have focused on the impact of modern technology on a population which has gotten along just fine without it. (To be clear, the jokes made at the expense of rural culture are always balanced out by the fact they make the best characters, and always the ones we root for. They also tend to be quite intelligent and capable.)

We’ve seen this with Gloria and the automatic doors not opening for her, which is a gag I hope lasts the entire season. Her police station has been absorbed by the state and began a forceful shift to modern technology despite her objections. She struggles with her cellphone’s poor reception. Irv had no idea how to even use Google, and he was a lawyer. V.M. Varga views Emmit’s real estate business as ideal for his illegal activities in large part due to their relative lack of familiarity and use of modern tech.

Meanwhile we have characters like Ray and Nikki who seem very comfortable with modern technology. They use their phones in the bath and Ray constantly plays with his. Varga has manipulated internet searches for him so he can track anyone looking for him and wipe their systems. Gloria’s new chief is ready to force tech on the department come hell or high water.

Fargo has clearly set up a theme regarding modern technology’s impact on the world, and as a fairly tech-savvy person myself I find it intriguing. And if you think the depictions of technological incompetence shown so far to be unrealistic, you need only look into the opinions of American politicians and tech competence within our government.

So far Fargo has maintained a balance in this portrayal. There’s always the risk of using such a theme to shame people who don’t like or are not skilled with technology, or on the other hand over-romanticizing the “good old days” and making technology a villain.

Fargo doesn’t seem to be taking this in any particularly biased direction so far. Technology’s impact on the world just is. Sometimes it will be negative on a community. Sometimes it will be an incredible positive. Technology is always evolving and humanity continuously tries to evolve with it. I hope Fargo maintains this complicated outlook on a complicated social issue.

Seriously, don’t ever click a Google result that looks like this.

In the meantime, this episode continued to set up a fascinating storyline for this third season. V.M. Varga continues to swallow Emmit’s business whole while Emmit watches helplessly. After Nikki’s period blood message and Sy’s run in with Ray at the diner, the feud between the Stussy brothers will escalate further. Presumably Gloria’s investigation into Ennis’s murder will lead the local police to Maurice’s death, which will then lead them to Ray and Nikki. Eventually they’ll end up aware of Varga, or at least of some sort of illegal activity within Emmit’s business.

This eventuality makes me fear for everyone, because no one in this show is equipped to deal with an organization like Varga’s appears to be. Fargo always excels at this aspect of its stories as well. The good guys do eventually win on this show. Molly and Gus take down Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard. The Gerhardts are wiped out. However, the larger organizations behind these conflicts go relatively unpunished or unpunished entirely.

Ultimately these are small town or state police departments incapable of taking down a large criminal organization. The best they can hope for is to solve particular crimes, take a particular bad guy off the street, and live happy lives. And those victories mean something. They do not solve the larger issue, though.

Varga’s organization looks like the largest and most powerful criminal entity yet to appear on this show. Varga speaks multiple languages and talks about business all over the world. The criminals at his side are diverse. He took Emmit’s business over weeks before he ever met the man. There is absolutely nothing Gloria or her chief can realistically do to make a dent in such a large-scale operation. Whatever attempt they make will almost certainly result in casualties among the police, the Stussy family, and those they love. The escalation between Ray and Emmit will do the same.

I’m not looking forward to seeing these characters suffer through tragedy. There’s no denying it makes for some amazing television along the way, and a highly entertaining show that somehow keeps things light in the face of overwhelming fear.

Other Thoughts:

  • Ewan McGregor’s accent really punched through in this episode. Something about the fake Minnesota accent makes it unavoidable, it seems.
  • I’m not pretending these people don’t exist, because I know some of them, but Irv not even knowing what an Enter button was still hard to believe.
  • “But this? A truck full of…well, it could be anything. Booze, guns…” “You think maybe it’s…I don’t even want to say it out loud.” “Slave girls?” “What? No! Drugs. You think it’s slave girls?”
  • Classic Fargo.
  • I think Sy might be romantically interested in Emmit. He gives off the impression.
  • Gloria’s new boss is a condescending jerk. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t mouth off to me like my teenage daughter.”
  • Nikki Swango is coming across like an actualized Peggy Blumquist
  • Ennis has a mysterious backstory. Wonder how important it will be.
  • With all the discussion what V.M. stands for, I assume it will be important. I’m probably wrong.
  • “Feminine hygiene deployed as a weapon” sounds like an awesome feminist tagline.

Images Courtesy of FX


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