Now that Gloria’s Hollywood adventure has ended, Fargo returns to the snow and cold and bumbling idiot criminals we all know and love. The various plots of the season continue to collide and separate, and the characters involved with them. This week introduces some new characters to the game and new complications. Along the way Fargo might have indulged itself just a bit too much.
Spoilers for 3×04 “The Narrow Escape Problem” below
Fargo opens this week introducing each of our characters as a character from the fairy tale “Peter and the Wolf,” complete with accompanying orchestral identification. Emmit is the bird, Ray the duck, Gloria the cat, Sy as the grandfather, Varga’s henchmen as the hunters, Varga himself as the wolf, and Gloria as Peter. Complete with narration by Billy Bob Thornton!
During the intro Ray disguises himself as Emmit, Varga is revealed to be bulimic, and Gloria makes her way to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Ray and Nikki arrive at Emmit’s bank, where he hopes to use his disguise to get the stamp from Emmit’s safety deposit box. Nikki also talks about a meeting with a sponsor about their bridge team. Ray gets access to the deposit box but only finds ashes in a velvet bag. He also withdraws ten-thousand dollars.
And a dollar in quarters for the meter. Nikki is disappointed at how little Ray took.
Turns out the ashes were the cremains of Emmit’s dog and he’s understandably upset. Ray’s theft is yet another element of stress joining everything else. Sy recommends meeting with the woman who wanted to meet with him in the premiere. They should probably call Stan Grossman about that.
They watch Meemo and Yuri leave the office, and we follow them to the truck they parked in a Stussy lot. There they use various surveillance equipment while Gloria views Maurice’s body. She finds the torn phonebook page and Ray’s card in his wallet. Her new sheriff boss dismisses her findings and acts again like a condescending prick. Gloria ignores him and continues her investigation.
She visits the parole office looking for Ray. While using the bathroom, she meets a St. Cloud officer named Winnie Lopez after dealing with auto faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers refusing to work. Still love this and wondering where it will go. Winnie is investigating a hit-and-run, and Gloria tells her about investigating a murder.
Eventually she finds her way to Ray, interrupting a phone call with Nikki. He lets slip that Winnie is investigating Sy hitting his car and the waitress’s car outside the diner in episode 2. Gloria takes note immediately of his last name. She asks some questions about Maurice and Ray blames it on Maurice’s drug problem.
Outside, she finds an adorable note on her car from Winnie. Let the shipping commence. Back inside, Ray’s boss calls him into his office and confronts him with photos of him and Nikki. When given the chance to claim one-time malfeasance, Ray refuses and is fired, but convinces them through his firing not to revoke her parole.
He finds Sy waiting outside, confirming the pictures came from him. He also incapacitated Ray’s Corvette.
Yay, more Winnie! One scene and I already love her. She goes to Emmit’s office since the hummer involved in her accident is registered through his company. She asks Sy some questions he nervously avoids. Ray doesn’t want to press charges but the waitress does. Meanwhile, Ray misses the meeting with the sponsor because he is drunk at a bar.
As if he wasn’t creepy enough, Varga walks through the snow to randomly show up at Emmit’s house for dinner. He’s charming around Emmit’s family and talks about becoming his new business partner. He then goes to throw up the dinner he ate while Emmit reviews a contract.
They meet in Emmit’s office afterwards, where the contract turns out to make Varga a partner in Emmit’s company. Varga gives a monologue about a coming revolution by the poor and the need to use a person’s wealth to disguise oneself. He also reveals that he knows everything about Emmit and Ray, and has spied on both of them with the surveillance equipment shown in the truck. Varga promises to make him rich and protect him.
Emmit insists Ray and Nikki won’t be a problem when asked.
And last but not least, Winnie tracks down and visits Gloria at her house as she puts her son to bed. Winnie tells Gloria about her investigation, and the two realize how their investigations are connecting.
Assuming the narration of Peter and the Wolf was not just a fun artistic bit included in this episode, Fargo may have given viewers a vague blueprint to figure out the rest of the season. Peter (Gloria) catches the wolf (Varga). Beforehand, the wolf swallows the duck (Ray). The bird (Emmit) and the cat (Nikki) escape. Hunters (Meemo and Yuri) come for the wolf after it is captured.
And somehow, the grandfather (Sy) ends up untouched through it all, grumbling the entire time.
Maybe this story was supposed to be a blueprint for how this season plays out. Maybe it only existed to define the roles of these characters in the stories but not necessarily their fates. I’ve been skeptical about anyone’s ability to stop Varga’s organization, but taking down Varga alone would be something, at least. And if Gloria were to do so? All the better. I’m sure the fandom will tear this story and these characters’ places within it to pieces until they have an ironclad theory.
At the very least it appears Gloria has all the pieces and need simply place them.
Until then, I’ll content myself with an episode recalling classic Fargo. Winnie’s questioning of Sy more than recalled Marge questioning Jerry in the 1996 movie (yo, how is this 21 years ago), it damn near feels like a copy. Winnie herself reminds me quite a bit of Marge overall, with the implacable Minnesota niceness and strong investigative instincts. Emmit’s increasing helplessness in Varga’s scheme reminds me of Jerry losing control of his own plans. Varga is like a less hands-on Lorne Malvo.
Fargo also increased the technology focus touched at so far this season. Gloria’s inability to get anything automatic to work was pushed heavily to the forefront. In contrast, Varga has shown heavy reliance on technology to spy on the Stussy brothers and take over Emmit’s business.
Though I have to say, and I might be alone in this, Varga’s monologue felt just a bit too hammy and self-indulgent. Varga is a fascinating character, and David Thewlis has been amazing, but sometimes the scenery-chewing can be a bit much. It’s not so much Thewlis as the dialogue. He always speaks in the most outlandish and complicated way possible. Hawley is trying to be too cute, preachy, and societal with him.
I also wonder if the idea of the working class rebelling against the 1% really going to be a theme this season? Is this part of a theme of hopelessness and misery Fargo wants to try this year? Again, I love Thewlis but Varga frayed on my nerves a bit in this episode. Just a bit.
I’m also annoyed with Gloria’s new boss and just how condescending he is. I’m used to the Fargo bigwig cops who don’t believe the larger crime to solve behind the minor incident. Bob Odenkirk played this role in season 1 and I loved his character. I understand at this point that Fargo uses doofus cops to contrast the capabilities of the capable police solving the crime. And of course these kinds of idiot police do exist.
What makes Sheriff Moe Dammik worse is the petty tough guy routine he does, and the way he’s so determined to put Gloria in her place. So far I cannot name one redeeming factor about the man. He comes across incompetent. He comes across sexist. Hearing him spout off about unrelated military service made him sound self-righteous. Yeah, congrats, but what does that have to do with anything besides, again, trying to put Gloria in her place?
I’ll also admit that he’s somewhat right about Gloria. She is resisting the county takeover and her new boss’s authority. Her insistence on chasing this murder case alone does place her at great risk of ending up dead. Still, it’s hard to take the man seriously when he’s so insistently blind to the obvious connections placed before him.
I’m sure Dammik will redeem himself somewhat this season, but he has a long way to go.
These are small complaints compared to everything Fargo did well. McGregor shined, especially playing Ray playing Emmit. Winnie was fantastic, and I can’t wait to see her and Gloria tackle this case together (they seem to just about have everything figured out). The plot continues to progress in interesting fashion.
Fargo continues to excel this season. Here’s hoping Peter catches the wolf and makes it out okay.
- Millie at the bank moved down from Bemidji! Yay for season 1 town references! I’d scream if Molly and/or Gus showed up.
- Ray: “They always find a way to screw you, don’t they?” Gloria: “They try.”
- Yep, Gloria’s definitely taking the county takeover hard. I don’t blame her, but this does play back into my point last week about her having flaws the protagonists of past season didn’t.
- Nikki’s line about “the richest man in the room is always the boss” really shows with Varga’s behavior. He took over Emmit’s office without a second thought and Emmit went right along with it. He takes over every room he enters.
- Honestly, Ray, who tastes mysterious ash?
- Sy may be an annoying, childish prick, but damn if he doesn’t have at least one standout moment every week. Besides his Lundegaardish interview with Winnie, the pointing moment after Ray’s firing cracked me up.
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango may have taken backseat this week, but you can bet she’ll raise all kinds of hell next week after Ray missed their sponsor meeting. Plus Gloria and Winnie will almost certainly be on their trail.