‘Fargo’ Season 3: The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round…

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Well, a lot has gone down on “Fargo” since our last review, so let’s get right to it. Beware: full spoilers for the season thus far, with an additional few mild spoilers to the ones that came before it, which this season just explicitly tied into. So, if you don’t want anything ruined, maybe come back after you’ve caught up completely. Although, know that the “spoilers” in terms of previous seasons come down to a couple of cameos from prior cast members, and won’t ruin your experience of the respective seasons in any way, really.

We pick up where my last review took off with “The Narrow Escape Problem,” which features our first tie-in to seasons past, though not altogether, as you might recall the nod to the inexplicable flying saucer scenes of last season in Episode 3. Here, it came in the form of a vocal cameo from none other than Season 1 star Billy Bob Thornton, who narrates the beginning of the show, retelling the classic story of “Peter and the Wolf,” which, if you’re like me, was immediately familiar from listening to/watching the Disney version as a kid.

Thornton’s dulcet tones show that, if he hasn’t already, he would be a natural on the audio book scene, so if he ever needs work, however doubtful that may be, he could certainly have a secondary career in that industry if his work here is any indication. In addition, it makes a lot of sense anyway, as Thornton’s character Malvo was often referred to in terms of wolves.

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Here, the wolf is associated with Varga, played by David Thewlis, who has an wolf connection of his own, as “Harry Potter” fans know, as he played a werewolf, Professor Lupin. Also interesting, especially in retrospect, is that the character of Ray (Ewan McGregor) is associated with the duck, which is a bit of foreshadowing for those who know the story and that character’s fate, though technically it isn’t the wolf the duck here runs, ahem, afoul of. (See what I did there?)

The bulk of this episode was all about escalating the ongoing feud between Ray and his sibling Emmit (also McGregor), aka the “bird.” Ray dressing up as his twin brother and stealing some of his money from the bank was a nice bit of business that gave McGregor the chance to play Ray acting like his brother, not entirely convincingly, but completely on purpose on McGregor’s behalf.

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It’s a great piece of work, in what has been McGregor’s finest role (or roles, as it were) in ages, particularly coupled with his solid gig directing and starring in the underrated Philip Roth adaptation, “American Pastoral.” I couldn’t help but be favorably reminded of Kyle MacLachlan’s similar gig over on Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” which likewise consists of a variety of characters that are also twins of a sort. (We don’t have the time and space to get into all that here, but fellow viewers will know exactly what I’m talking about.)

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Naturally, this theft on Ray’s part leads to repercussions, namely Emmit’s right-hand man Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg), aka the “Grandfather” of the “PATW” story, sending photos of Ray and ex-con GF Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), aka the “Cat,” to his employers at the parole board, which eventually get him fired when Ray refuses to stop seeing the girl, despite their warnings.

Meanwhile, Gloria (Carrie Coon), aka “Peter” from the story, gets an unexpected break when her paths cross- in a bathroom of all places- with new character Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval,”Medium”), who has no corresponding character in the “PATW” story, insofar as I can tell. (The only other character to get such an assignment is Yuri, aka the “Hunter,” played by Goran Bogdan, which seems appropriate.)

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Lopez is the traffic cop assigned to the not-so-innocent fender-bender that Sy got into with Ray and another innocent bystander at the café a few episodes back. After a hilariously awkward introduction in said bathroom, Lopez and Gloria’s paths cross again, after she interviews a squirmy Sy and puts two and two together about the connections between the Stussy situation. She later compares notes with Gloria at her house, beginning an ad hoc partnership, in lieu of any solid help from incoming police at the “new” station, particularly the gruff, condescending new Chief Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham), who is just the worst.

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In “The House of Special Purpose,” Ray ups the ante on the feud with his brother by sending him a faux sex tape with him dressed as his brother once again, actually having sex with a bewigged Nikki, and threatening Emmit with sending it to his wife if he doesn’t pay him a large amount of money immediately. Naturally, the wife gets curious about the package- which is labeled “For Emmit’s eyes only!”- and opens it, seeing the sex tape and believing what she sees and leaving Ray and taking the kids with her- and with Christmas just around the corner. The shame!

Meanwhile, Vargas, convinced Sy is up to no good after seeing Lopez pay him a visit in the last episode, terrorizes the man by threatening him and putting his genitals inside Sy’s coffee cup and then making him drink from it. Yikes! To make matters worse, Vargas attempts to further poison the well water, as it were, by bad-mouthing Sy to Emmit, in an attempt to turn him against his friend, which, as we will see, isn’t entirely successful.

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Far from the case, Sy is actually working overtime to try and get Emmit out of his impossible situation, which has only gotten worse after Vargas intimidates him into signing a contract. Sy sets up a meeting with the uber-rich widow Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell, “Major Crimes”), hoping to cash out of the parking lot business and get out of his and Emmit’s association with Vargas altogether in the process, never knowing that Emmit has already gotten himself in even deeper.

Sy also attempts to buy off Ray and Nikki, setting up a meet with her to give her $40,000 to end the feud already. However, unfortunately for Nikki, Sy is being followed by Vargas’ henchman, as Sy is under suspicion from Vargas because of the visit from Lopez. This ends incredibly badly for Nikki, who finds herself pummeled nearly to death by Yuri and Meemo (Andy Yu), after they mistake her for Sy’s partner-in-crime, in a hard-to-watch sequence, even though it mostly takes place offscreen and is more implied than shown.

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The real question is, did Sy do this on purpose, knowing he was being followed by the two, and, in effect, throwing Nikki under the bus in his stead? It sure seems that way. But then again, Sy seems pretty horrified by what happens to Nikki, so maybe all he meant by “gloves off” to Emmit was the whole paying her and Ray off to get rid of them thing, not trying to get her almost killed. Either way, that sucked, as I really like Nikki, despite her half-cocked schemes, as she genuinely seems to care for Ray.

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Meanwhile, Ray gets interrogated by Gloria and Lopez, where he plays down the car “accident” with Sy, saying that he had no intention of pressing charges- that’s not the problem, of course, it’s the waitress who was collateral damage that is doing so. Be that as it may, it’s pretty clear that Gloria has figured out exactly what has gone down here, but alas, she can’t get anyone else- save Lopez, of course- to buy into her version of events. Not in the least that testy new Chief, who sends her packing with a glib (but essentially true!) story about two little girls with a red balloon and the same name, as an example of how sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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Things get even worse in “The Lord of No Mercy,” which features the first major- and decidedly unexpected death- of the season. It’s no less tragic in being essentially an accident, either. Finally reaching the end of his rope, between Vargas’ manipulations and the whole Ray feud thing, Emmit decides once and for all to end it, by giving Ray his much-argued over stamp, which started all this ugly business off in the first place.

Unfortunately, by implying that he’s doing Ray a kindness in doing so, rather than admitting he basically swindled Ray out of it in the first place, Emmit finds himself between a rock and a hard place when Ray refuses to take what he insists is his in the first place. You can’t “give” me what is already “mine,” Ray argues.

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Alas, this childish back-and-forth proves fatal, as Emmit accidentally lets go of the framed stamp and the glass pane breaks and a piece of it lodges into Ray’s throat. When Ray removes it, that’s all he wrote, and he collapses to the floor in a pool of blood, much to Emmit’s horror. Naturally, he calls Vargas for help, who “cleans up” the situation, at least to a certain degree.

Shortly thereafter, Gloria, who had been looking for Ray earlier to confront him with the evidence she had against him, comes back and finds Ray dead. This is all unbeknownst to Nikki, who sent Ray back to his place to retrieve the money they stole from Emmit’s bank previously, which he left behind in his haste to get out of there the first time the cops came looking for him and Nikki. This, of course, proved to be his undoing, and very nearly is Nikki’s.

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As we see, Meemo has followed Ray and Nikki to their hideout motel, and was about to take Nikki out before she was saved by the call from Vargas to take care of the whole Ray fiasco. This proves to be a good thing for Emmit, as Vargas suggests that Nikki might take the fall for everything, being as how, from an outside point of view, it would appear as if Ray were beating her and she simply killed him in self-defense and fled town.

It’s a sad, lonely end to a sad, lonely tale, and I really hate to see Ray go, and not just because I liked the character, but because McGregor was really firing on all cylinders with these two roles, and Ray was definitely the more interesting of the two. Still, it also makes perfect sense that the hapless Ray would be the first to get himself killed- the only surprise was in how it happened, and that it happened so soon.

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On the plus side, it did kick up the stakes for the rest of the season, as I genuinely don’t know what will happen now. Sure, I expected it would all end tragically, and that probably will prove to be true eventually. But now I have no idea how we’ll get there exactly, and that’s a good thing. The next episode, “The Law of Inevitability” does nothing to dispel this feeling.

As predicted, Nikki is indeed arrested for the crime of killing Ray, but wisely tempers her reaction to everything, refusing to talk without a lawyer. It isn’t until Gloria finally finagles her way into speaking to her and catches a man posing as a cop (DJ Qualls) trying to inject Nikki with something or the other- possibly one of her former “marks,” as it were?- that Nikki says anything of value, telling Gloria to “follow the money.”

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Vargas and his men are naturally carefully observing the whole situation, and when Nikki is put on a bus to be transferred to a state prison, they finally make their move. (Meemo looked to be considering it at the motel, but held off once he saw the cops bust in and arrest Nikki, proving that Vargas’ plan had worked.) Standing in the road, Yuri causes the bus to crash, so that he and Meemo can get onboard and no doubt either take Nikki out once and for all or kidnap her for whatever reason- likely the former.

This is also where we get the next connection to the former seasons, as Nikki is seated next to none other than deaf/mute hitman Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard), aka Numbers’ partner-in-crime from Season 1, who we also glimpsed as a child at the end of Season 2. Now this may just be a cute in-joke for “Fargo” superfans, but I suspect it may amount to more, given that the episode ends in the middle of the action. Might Mr. Wrench live up to his name and throw a wrench into Meemo and Yuri’s plans to eliminate/take Nikki? Could be.

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We’ll just have to wait and see, but it would be a sucky end to a cool character, not to mention the cliffhanger ending in general, if the two simply killed Nikki and that was that. I’m not saying she might not eventually be killed, but why postpone the inevitable if there wasn’t something more about to happen than that?

After all, we all no doubt suspect a happy ending isn’t in the cards for Nikki. But if something unexpected were to happen next, which is what I suspect will happen, then that abrupt ending would make sense, as would the sudden appearance of a past character out of nowhere. Otherwise, ending the episode where it does makes no sense, but we’ll see. After what happened to Ray, though, I think we should expect the unexpected.

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Meanwhile, Emmit is clearly coming unraveled, as evidenced by his incredibly poor handling of the talk with Lopez, who interrupts his dinner with the widow Goldfarb to discuss selling off his business to break the news of Ray’s death, more so as a test suggested by Gloria because she suspects he was the real culprit than a notification of the death.

In way, though, she might have done him a favor, as the dinner with Goldfarb wasn’t exactly going swimmingly. (Props to Lopez for following up on things by questioning Goldfarb after Emmit storms out with Sy, which was not something suggested by Gloria.) If the widow knows what’s good for her, she’ll run, not walk, away from all this insanity. Then again, she might just make out like a bandit if she plays things the right way, but I’d err on the side of caution if I were her.

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Two great scenes deserve a mention here as well. The first is the one in which Vargas methodically opens up all of Emmit’s Christmas gifts one by one with a knife, being as how, thanks to everything that’s happened, Christmas has effectively been cancelled this year. Not sure why, but there was an overwhelming sadness to the whole affair, not only for obvious reasons, but in the sense of Vargas rifling through the most personal of Emmit’s items in such a callous, unfeeling way. The shot of him and Emmit on the opposing end of the stairs was a great visual, too.

The other was the one in which Yuri broke into the cop station/library for files, only to be caught by deputy Donny (Mark Forward), who accidentally left his gun behind when he went to leave and went back to retrieve it. Even after Donny does so and tells Yuri to vacate the premises, Yuri is so intimidating to the man that Donny leaves anyway, in spite of being armed at the end of the confrontation. Now THAT’S intimidation. Great scene, and once again, extremely well-shot. Big props to cinematographer Craig Wrobleski (“Legion,” “Zoo”) for his work here all around.

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Not sure where we go from here- all bets are off, really, which is as it should be for a show like “Fargo.” Early on, I was somewhat unimpressed with the season, save the excellent, partially-animated stand-out, somewhat stand-alone episode “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” and was pretty sure I knew where all this was headed. This being the third season, a certain pattern emerging was perhaps inevitable.

But by doing the unexpected with taking out Ray so early on, and with the events of this last episode, I’m honestly no longer sure anymore how everything will end up going down. Will Nikki escape her seeming fate on the bus? Will Mr. Wrench be involved, or was that just an Easter Egg for “Fargo” fans? Who will be left standing of the main cast, if anyone? Will Gloria emerge victorious, in spite of all the roadblocks in her path? (God I hope so, as that Dammick guy is insufferable.) Will the widow Goldfarb end up Queen of the Parking Lots? Who can say?

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Either way, after a bit of a poky start, this season is finally getting interesting, so I’m onboard with whatever they have in store for us next, even if it’s not what I hope will happen. I’d rather be wrong and shocked than right and unmoved by the end results. As much as I’d like to see Nikki somehow get out of this alive, for instance, I could live with the opposite if it were done in an unexpected way. Here’s hoping the show keeps the twists coming.

Only three more episodes to go, so I’ll be back sooner than later. Depending on what happens, expect either a review on the 15th or the 22nd. If they save all the mayhem for the end, then it will be the latter, but if something major happens before then, expect another review before that. (I admittedly should have done one last week after Ray’s death, but I put off watching the episode until after the holidays, so I didn’t know about it until yesterday or I would have.)

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Be sure and keep an eye out for that next review, and be sure and let me know what you thought of the last few episodes down below, as well as your predictions for the end and your overall thoughts on the season thus far. Thanks for reading!

  • Michael Edison Chandler

    I believe its season 3 not season 5. Just a heads up. Great review.

    • Mark Trammell

      Thanks, and fixed!

  • ptjackson

    This season is awesome. I also appreciate your pointing out characters and actors I would have missed or not recognized.

    The dinner with Goldfarb was so uncomfortable, it was almost comic. Kind of expected “Sharon Rayder” to pop out and start asking questions; you know what I mean? Emmit was being so squirrely!

    I can’t wait to see where this is going!

    • Mark Trammell

      No problem. My mom completely missed the Mr. Wrench thing, as did a few other reviewers I looked at after my review. (I only look at other people’s reviews after mine are done, so as to not be affected.)
      I’m with you on the Sharon thing, especially since I just started getting caught up with the last half-season, which I haven’t had time to watch until now. I was, like, “Sharon would SO see through all this BS.” Lol.
      I’m not sure I like this season as much as the last, but I’ve heard people say that they were disappointed in the second season bc it wasn’t like the first. This one seems to be more in line with the first one, suggesting that they decided to strip things down to get more back-to-basics, with less characters and less far-out stuff, like the whole UFO thing. I do like it, though, especially Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I’ll be pissed if they killed her off next week after that cliffhanger. Mr. Wrench better step up!

      • ptjackson

        I think she may either be the last one standing, or she’s a gonner before the season ends.

        I think I have lower standards than others, since I have enjoyed all three seasons. 😎