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Fargo Hits a Crossroads at Season 3’s Halfway Point

How in the world is Fargo halfway over already? Where did the time go? Did the snow bury it? While it has remained a high quality show, cracks have shown which only grew larger this week. A different atmosphere exists to Fargo this season, and while I know opinions will differ I’m not so sure this change has been a positive one.

But that’s talk for later. For now let’s dig into the latest episode of season 3.

Spoilers for 3×05 “The House of Special Purpose” below

Recap

Fargo kicks off this week with Emmit’s wife coming home to find a mysterious package on the front porch. She opens it and finds both a ransom note and a sex tape starring her husband and an unknown woman. As you’d expect, it’s not actually Emmit on the tape but Ray and Nikki in disguise. While preparing to film it Ray proposes to Nikki.

Emmit gets an angry call from his wife and returns home to find her leaving him. He goes in the house and watches the tape. Over at the Stussy offices, Sy finds Varga sitting at his desk. Varga insults his wife, sticks his junk in Sy’s coffee cup, and makes Sy drink from it afterwards. He also throws in some anti-Semitism for good measure. Can I just ask why? What exactly is the purpose of this scene besides making Varga look like a bad guy?

Sy tries to call Emmit afterwards before leaving to meet with the Minnesota Storage Queen talked about this season. She offers to buy Stussy’s company outright and Sy wants to. He gets a text from Emmit before they can speak further and drives out to his house. Emmit tells him about his wife, the tape, and the ransom, and knows Ray is behind it. We also see Varga’s goons following Sy.

Emmit gives Sy the go-ahead to deal with Ray, gloves off. Meanwhile, Gloria and Winnie talk with one of Gloria’s officers and it turns out they basically have the entire situation leading to Ennis’s death figured out and are ready to investigate.

Ray tries on tuxes for the wedding while Nikki watches, and she assuages his doubts about the ransom. Sy calls and Nikki takes the call privately. They set up a meeting at one of Emmit’s parking lots. Nikki declines to tell Ray about the call.

Emmit makes a call of his phone to Ray, who gets in a public, profanity-laden argument with his brother on the bus. Gloria and Winnie pick him up when he gets off the bus. They question him further about Maurice and his relationship with his brother and Sy before Gloria’s new boss shuts them down. Why? To be honest, it feels like the guy only exists right now to stand in Gloria’s way and has no actual motivation to do so.

Back at Emmit’s offices, Varga waits for him in the parking garage. He plants seeds of doubt in Emmit’s head about Sy. Inside the office, an IRS agent waits to speak to Emmit. Ray’s $10,000 withdrawal last week triggered an alert and he wants to ask some questions, possibly even look at Emmit’s finances. Varga seems rather unworried and says they’ll show the agent fake books.

Sy shows up for the meeting with Nikki, and they briefly trade threats and terms before Varga’s goons arrive. Yuri gives a monologue about the similarities and differences between Siberia and Minnesota before they drag Nikki off-screen and attack her. Sy thinks they killed her and drives off, but Nikki drags herself to her car after he’s gone.

The episode ends with Ray coming home and finding her in the bathtub, with wounds all over her abdomen.

Review

Here at the halfway point, I generally have a positive view of Fargo’s third season. It remains exceptionally well-produced and acted. The plot is interesting. The characters are mostly engaging. You have your dependably high-quality dialogue and humor. There’s no doubt this has still been a good show to watch this season.

Unfortunately, this season has taken a rather dark tone, which has yet to fully sell me.

Now, I understand Fargo has always been dark. It revolves around murder and crime, after all, and has never skimped on showing either. The difference this season is how mean it feels. Advanced reviews of season 3 described the feel as horror. While that’s certainly true, that’s not my issue. I talked last week about whether Fargo wanted to try for a theme of hopelessness and misery this season.

Well, this episode really doubled down on both.  Between Varga’s thuggish brutality and evilness, the same from his lackeys, Moe Dammick’s continued absurd ignorance, and the general mean-spiritedness of everything happening, this episode lacked the usual charm which makes the absurd crimes more palatable. I know this is a personal preference, and not everyone may feel this way, but eventually overwhelming misery and darkness just wears away my enjoyment if not properly balanced out.

Typically Fargo balances out the terrible acts of its antagonists with kind, moral, relatable protagonists. An underlying optimism keeps me engaged throughout. Molly and Gus balanced out Lorne and Lester’s crimes. Lou and his father-in-law balanced out the brutal violence of the gang war between the Kansas City mob and the Gerhardts, as did Peggy and Ed’s goofy incompetence. You might feel fearful for everyone involved, but the promise of something better and good never vanishes thanks to those characters.

What we’ve seen of Gloria Burgle (and her new buddy Winnie) suggests they can easily fill this role. Gloria’s Hollywood adventure was easily my favorite of the season so far for this reason. Despite all the tragedy of her stepfather’s past and the failure of her investigation, I was happy to watch a relatable and good person go about her business. I loved watching Winnie investigate Sy’s hit-and-run last week for the same reason.

This week the two of them clearly understand the truth behind Ennis Stussy’s death, yet they barely appear in favor of more of Varga’s cruelty. They get Ray in an interrogation room but barely start chipping away at his lies before Gloria’s poorly written jerk boss puts the kibosh on the whole investigation. Altogether they appear for like 5 minutes.

The rest of the episode focuses on bad people being bad people. And frankly, why should I care about bad people suffering at the hands of bad people?

It hurts even more because so many of these characters show such promise. The Stussy brothers continue to be humorously inept and naïve of the machinations of those around them. Nikki continues to straddle the complex line between manipulative parolee and genuine love for Ray. Sy continues to entertain almost every time he appears. Varga’s organization continues to raise interesting questions about the power and influence they have.

At the halfway point, none of them have really escaped the label of “shitty person acting shitty”. I find it hard to truly connect to any of them the way I did Lester in season 1, even if my connection involved a growing hatred of the man. Varga’s overexposure and cartoon racism/sexism stops him from achieving the same kind of menacing presence Lorne Malvo had. His thugs are just thugs with no interesting qualities, yet Yuri has gotten a monologue two episodes in a row now.

With half a season left, plenty of time remains to change this. And hopefully it does. I’d hate to see Fargo become yet another show seduced by acedia.

The potential certainly exists to turn things around. Start focusing more on Gloria and Winnie. Stop making her boss a poor caricature of a useless, antagonistic police chief. Have the Stussy brothers find some common ground in the misery Varga’s inflicting on them both. Start giving us something to root for, something balancing out the bad people being bad.

I feel like this episode is a crossroads for this season. Head one way and remain the Fargo of the first two seasons, or head the other way and become a miserable disappointment. Living up to the first two seasons (especially the brilliant second season) was always going to be a difficult task, but I’d hate to see Fargo fail because of seduction by the same focus on hopelessness and misery plaguing so much of television today.

Other Tidbits:

  • “No! For Pete’s sake I’m wearing a hooker wig! That’s got to be bad luck.”
  • “Our enemies are at the gates! Inside the gates! Fornicating with our cookware!”
  • While Nikki does seem to like Ray, she definitely has greedy ambitions.
  • There’s definitely a focus this season on the nature of facts, which feels pretty relevant in today’s political climate.
  • Were these the first uncensored “fucks” spoken in Fargo history?
  • Gloria and Winnie had impressive interrogative chemistry. Come on, Fargo, let them do their jobs and let us see it.
  • Varga came across much less all-knowing in this episode, and a lot less capable in the process.
  • The IRS agent looked and acted a lot like the Division 3 interrogator from Legion.
  • Sy clearly thought Nikki was dead and will react as such.

Images Courtesy of FX

Bo
Written By

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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