Since Fargo began back in 1996, a sentence has always kicked off any new story bearing the name; “This is a true story”. Now, obviously, none of these stories are actually true. They borrow from real events, sure, like any other story, but you’ll never look back through history and find the things in Fargo actually happened. Obviously. Season 2’s climactic gunfight ended because of a UFO after all.
Season 3 has taken direct aim at the infamous tagline, and as of this week has built the remaining four episodes around the idea of what exactly makes a story true.
Spoilers for 3×06 “The Lord of No Mercy” below
After the beating ending the previous episode, Ray takes care of a badly injured Nikki. She tells him the details she knows and he stews over them before grabbing his gun. The two of them head off together. Meanwhile, Varga tells Sy three separate stories about the nature of truth. He explains about his future plans for Emmit’s company and Emmit is on board despite Sy’s objections regarding the IRS. Emmit only pays half-attention anyway, preoccupied with thoughts about his brother.
Turns out Varga’s plan to get rid of the IRS agent involves Meemo copying his appearance and habits before handing him an official protest to the audit. Meemo leaves the office afterwards, and Nikki and Ray follow him back to the truck trailer in the Stussy parking lot. Nikki stops Ray from trying to kill them.
Back at their apartment, Nikki soaks in a tub of ice while Ray pleads to take her to the hospital. She tells him she thinks Emmit’s involuntarily involved in something and basically figures out how he ended up with Varga. Over at Emmit’s office, Gloria and Winnie come calling. They try speaking with Emmit about Ray and explain their theory about Ennis, but Varga rather brusquely stops them.
Varga tries looking for Gloria and the Eden Valley police department afterwards, but finds nothing digital. He sends Yuri to quietly retrieve Ennis’s case file. He also sends Meemo to kill Ray and Nikki. Gloria and Winnie show up at Ray’s apartment first, but he doesn’t answer. He and Nikki run after the cops leave, with Meemo following. They check into a nearby motel.
Unfortunately, it turns out Ray forgot their runaway cash taken from Emmit’s bank account, so he has to go home and get it. He finds Emmit waiting at his apartment. Emmit wants to bury the hatchet and tries to give Ray the stamp. Ray refuses, and they shove the frame the stamp is in back and forth. Emmit shoves it so the frame swings up and the glass shatters against Ray’s face. A shard of glass stabs Ray in the neck and kills him.
I did not see that coming. Classic Fargo.
Panicked, Emmit calls Varga to tell him what happened. Nikki leaves the hotel room to get ice and Meemo enters to wait for her. Meemo gets a call while he waits and Nikki returns to find no one in the room. He shows up at Ray’s place and scans the scene. Varga decides to frame it as Nikki murdering Ray because he abused her and has Emmit leave for a scheduled dinner with Sy as an alibi.
The episode ends with Gloria thinking on what Emmit and Varga said and deciding to head back to Ray’s apartment.
Of the handful of things you can count on with any rendition of Fargo, it’s the inevitability of people dying in the clumsiest, stupidest ways. The two deaths driving this season certainly fit the bill. Ennis Stussy died because Ray Stussy hired a stoned convict to break into his brother’s house, and said convict lost the address and went after the wrong Stussy. Said convict then died himself after trying to blackmail Ray, forcing an impromptu air conditioner accident.
Ray Stussy dying after a petty shoving match over a framed stamp seems rather silly even by those standards. I mean that as a positive, too.
One thing made clear even as the conflict between the Stussy brothers deepened was how stunned both were by the other’s animosity. Their arguments were old hat by this point. Neither could understand why this time triggered such violent reactions from the other because both only knew half the story. As happens sometimes, a series of miscommunications continuously escalated the conflict.
Finally, because he simply couldn’t understand it, Emmit tried to make peace. And just like that a stupid shoving match led to Emmit killing his brother. Ironically, such a tragic event was the culmination of a solid rebound from last week’s overly nihilistic episode, and should be the game-changer propelling the season towards the climax with only four episodes left.
To be clear, things were still pretty dark this week. Ray spends the entire episode taking care of a badly injured Nikki and ends up dead himself, after all. The difference this week was the reason to care. Ray wanted to protect his fiancé, and she wanted to protect him. Emmit loved his brother and desperately wanted to make peace, only to have a silly fight turn tragic.
While not pleasant to watch, I could relate and empathize this week in a way lacking last week. There was a human element I feared would be lost. With its return, all my excitement for Fargo’s third season returned with a vengeance.
Now Nikki is set up to take the blame in Ray’s death, Gloria is speeding back to his apartment on a mission, and things will inevitably tumble downhill. The circumstances allowing Varga to blame Ray’s death on Nikki are actually quite remarkable and play brilliantly into the whole theme this season about the nature of truth. It won’t matter to anyone but Nikki, Gloria, and Winnie that the story isn’t true. Just like in the season-opening scene in 1989 Germany, the circumstances match up enough to call Nikki as the murderer “the truth” and move on.
Fargo’s “this is a true story” tag has always been treated as half a joke, even as the truth of the stories was seriously debated. Fans have tried to parse out what true stories inspired the 1996 Cohen classic and never agreed. The Cohens themselves have changed their story a couple times over the years. Last season the show began taking jabs at it with the UFO and the history book narration.
Now Noah Hawley is flat out jabbing at the show’s infamous opening disclaimer. Season 3 is telling a story about escalating conflicts based on circumstances which “confirm” what characters believe to be “the truth”. Ray and Nikki believed Emmit was taunting them because the circumstances fit well enough. Varga manipulates Ray and Sy by manipulating circumstances to fit their beliefs. Even Gloria, right as she may be about what happened to Ennis, cannot accept her boss’s version of events because circumstances confirm what she wants to believe, that Ennis would not die by random happenstance.
This episode also took aim at the idea of a “true story” in Varga’s initial scene with Sy, where he tells three different stories about the Lehman banking collapse, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, and the moon landing as a fake. Is his account of any of these true? Those more knowledgeable than me would know, but that’s not really the point.
Just like the poor German man falsely accused, where he was clearly innocent but enough details fit to accuse him, the details fit Varga’s concocted story well enough to blame Nikki for Ray’s murder. She’s an ex-con beaten to hell and staying alone in a hotel. Many will see and accept this story. It will be up to Gloria and Winnie to prove otherwise.
Much more than last week, I am excited to see what truths eventually win out this season.
- So now Gloria, Winnie, and Nikki all have a common goal and Nikki has reason to seek protection from them. Make it happen, Fargo. Get these three on the case together.
- By the way, Nikki is a tough, tough person. She not only took that beating, she took note of everything she could, including the car they drive. Gloria and Winnie will be glad to know those details if they can find her first.
- Gloria is still playing a very small role in this season to date. It’s strange to see the main cop protagonist feature so little in Fargo. I still feel like the season is suffering for her relative absence.
- She did call herself “chief” this week. Huh.
- I love that Ray kept his gun in the meat and cheese drawer of his fridge.
- Bravo to Fargo for flipping the expectations of Nikki’s impending death and killing Ray instead. I’m not happy to see less Ewan McGregor or this character, but it’s different to see the guy die in this scenario.
- Varga clearly visits Info Wars. Also, the scene with him destroying his teeth was absolutely disgusting.
- Meemo’s impersonation of the IRS agent was spot on.
Images Courtesy of FX