Erstwhile on Fargo, another promising episode saw the return of Mr. Wrench inside of Nikki Swango’s crashed prison transport bus following Ray’s murder. Yuri and the other of Varga’s henchmen were breaking in to kill her. Sounds like a hell of a setup for the next episode, right? Fargo picked up from this spot and delivered what might be the best episode of season 3, though also one serving as a perfect microcosm of both its strengths and flaws.
Spoilers for 3×08 “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” below
Naturally, things begin where last week left off. Yuri and his fellow goons set up the bus crash. Nikki and Wrench manage to escape the bus and flee into the woods while chained together. A couple drives by the crash and the fake cop who tried to kill Nikki last week gives chase. Nikki and Wrench struggle to communicate because of Wrench’s deafness.
A pair of hunters take aim at the wolf fur Yuri wears, and when they go to retrieve their crossbow bolts Yuri kills them and takes the crossbows. Nikki and Wrench come across a clearing with an axe in a stump. Wrench takes a bolt through the arm while trying to break their chains and Nikki takes one through the leg when they try to flee. However, they catch and kill the fake cop. They do so by strangling him with the chain binding them, which slices right through his head. Yep, they were just as unbelieving and it was awesome. Wrench also cuts Yuri’s ear off by throwing the axe.
Wrench finishes breaking their chains and together he and Nikki escape the woods to a nearby bowling alley. Inside, Nikki orders whiskey and has a conversation with a man who is implied to be supernatural, and the bowling alley to be some kind of purgatory. The man offers her and Wrench a car to escape in, which they obviously accept. He also asks her to relay a message to the wicked when the time comes.
Yuri finds the bowling alley just as Nikki and Wrench drive off. He has a conversation with the same man Nikki did.
Yeah, let the speculation begin. Though be warned, you’ll likely be here a while.
Meanwhile, Gloria has an awkward Christmas morning with her son, ex-husband, and his new boyfriend. She gets a call about the bus crash and drives out to see it. United States Marshals turn her away rather impatiently, though they tell her Nikki was not on the bus. Sy makes a visit of his own to Emmit’s house because the cops want him and Emmit to make a statement. Varga answers and forces Sy to drink some tea.
Unsurprisingly, the tea was poisoned and puts Sy in a coma. After all, every scene between these two involves torturing Sy. Two months pass. Gloria and Winnie try to talk to Emmit while he visits Sy in the hospital. They seem to know Sy was poisoned. They follow Emmit onto the roof, where Ray’s car is parked unexpectedly in his parking spot, which shakes Emmit. Also, turns out his company has bought a lot of new property.
He returns to his business office, where he finds all the art on the walls replaced by copies of Ray’s stamp. His secretary doesn’t know who did it. Emmit calls Varga thinking Ray is alive and responsible for everything happening. It also turns out Nikki’s escape is public knowledge.
Later, at his house, he wakes up from a nap with a fake mustache glued to his face. He freaks about this as well. Meemo insists he saw nothing and was there the whole time. Emmit’s guilt spills over and Varga tries to calm him. He also gives Emmit some sleeping pills. Only it turns out Emmit fakes swallowing them, and once Meemo takes him to bed he goes to Gloria’s precinct, declaring himself ready to confess.
So yeah, this episode did many things incredibly well. The opening 20 minutes of Wrench and Nikki fleeing their hunters was Fargo at its best. It was tense, beautiful, frightening, and graphic in all the right ways. Watching Wrench kick ass again was a real pleasure, and Nikki was yet again a determined badass. I also loved how her last moments with Ray haunted her as she fled.
While a little too focused on the same abstract dialogue which has soured me on Varga, Nikki and Yuri’s scenes with the man in the bowling alley worked much better due to the circumstances. I can buy the whole “talking to God in Purgatory” thing when all three walk into the bowling alley bleeding to death. Fargo can absolutely pull these kinds of scenes off and usually does. Nikki and Wrench were given the chance to leave, while Yuri never returned.
It was a great cap to an outstanding first half of the episode.
Emmit also had an outstanding episode. What exactly is happening with him? Is it Nikki? Wrench in cooperation with Nikki? Is Emmit torturing himself unknowingly in some kind of fugue state? Whatever the case, his increasing paranoia and guilt were effectively portrayed and served as another highlight of the episode. After all, Emmit was never a criminal mastermind. He was never a bad man. He was a passive man unknowingly duped into the plans of a monster.
While certainly seduced by Varga’s idea of power in the past couple episodes, this episode showed the price he paid. His family left him. Sy lies dying in a hospital. He killed Ray himself, albeit accidentally. In the span of weeks he lost every emotional rock in his life. Two months later he is a nervous wreck who can’t handle it anymore. Of course he would walk into a police station ready to confess.
“Who Rules the Land of Denial?” did so, so much right and continues to rebound Fargo strongly from the low point of the first half of season 3. However, it also made clear that some elements I dislike will be here for good, and I need to accept it.
Gloria and Winnie continue to entertain me every time they appear, but at this point I have to accept their limited role in the season. It hurts. I know a big reason it hurts is because Nora Durst is my patronus and seeing Carrie Coon slay on The Leftovers every week in that role makes her relative lack of a role on Fargo hurt. I’ve also explained my other reasons in previous reviews and won’t revisit them again.
I still can’t help but feel disappointed about Fargo ignoring its cop protagonists like this.
Varga also continues to bore the hell out of me, specifically his scenes torturing Sy. I understand why he wants Sy out of the way, but it still feels so unnecessarily cruel. Seeing it week after week jades me to every scene they share. I still have no reason to care about Varga. There still exists absolutely no depth to him or his henchmen. That would be fine if they didn’t dominate the screen so much.
Again, at this point I know I need to accept these flaws in this season and stop hoping something changes. So long as the rest overcomes those flaws the way this episode did, I can more than live with them.
- For any who may have forgot, the man Nikki and Yuri meet in the bowling alley was the same man Gloria met on the plane and in Los Angeles. This scene was also very reminiscent of The Big Lebowski.
- Yuri was confirmed as the Yuri Gurka the German officer was looking for in the season’s opening scene.
- “We’re on our lunch break.” “Heard it was shepherd’s pie day in the cafeteria.” Seriously, Gloria and Winnie are spectacular.
- “You’re hurting my arm, sir.” “Oh, sorry.” I don’t know why that cracked me up so much. Emmit is not a physical guy at all.
- Gloria’s divorce finally goes through at the end of the episode. It’s okay, I’m here to take her ex-husband’s place.
- One huge positive; no Moe Dammik! That instantly improves any episode drastically.
- The time jump is a bit jarring. How can the investigation into the Stussys around Christmas end up on hold for months like that? Sy’s poisoning especially should have been a “holy hell something screwy is going on” moment intensifying the investigation.
- Fargo had perfect displays of its skill with both absurd and graphic deaths and off-screen deaths in this episode. The beheading of the fake cop was a brilliant example of the first, while the off-screen deaths of the couple who came across the bus showed the other.
- One big reason to suspect Wrench’s involvement in the stuff with Emmit: this is psychological warfare right in line with the stuff Malvo did back in season 1.
- I increasingly feel like further inspection of this season will reveal dozens of plot holes. Should be interesting in its aftermath.