Fargo Season 3: Double Vision

Fargo 6

Okay then! You betcha “Fargo” is back with the usual colorful cast of characters and sprawling storylines, encompassing several decades. Season Three kicks off in East Berlin, Germany, of all places, in 1988, because of course it does. We meet a young man accused of murdering his girlfriend even though he’s married and a good twenty years younger than the actual accused person, who is said to be in his forties. Despite the “Big Lebowski”-esque mix-up, the officer in charge insists that no mistake has been made because, you know, Germany. They don’t make mistakes, right?

Fargo 2

Flash-forward to 2010, where we meet the Stussy brothers, both played in decidedly diverse fashion by Ewan McGregor, in two of his best roles to date. There’s the sad sack Ray, a parole officer, whose entire world was flipped upside down when he was duped by his brother into taking a (then) flashy Corvette as his inheritance after the death of his father, over a stamp collection worth a ton of money, unbeknownst to him.

Fargo 13

Meanwhile, brother Emmit is apparently living large, having parlayed that collection into a lucrative parking lot empire, which may be a nod to the Coen’s “A Serious Man” and probably is, given both the show’s penchant for slyly referencing past Coen projects and the presence of that movie’s star Michael Stuhlbarg as Emmit’s right-hand man, Sy. (“Consider the parking lot!”) But is all as it seems?

Fargo 12

In actuality, Emmit, reeling from the real estate collapse of previous years, took out a million dollar loan from a shady group represented by V.M. Varga (David Thewlis, best-known as Lupin in the “Harry Potter” series, but also featured in “The Big Lebowski”), who has horrific teeth and two grim “muscle” types accompanying him: the always-rocking-an-iPod Meemo (Andy Yu, “Hell on Wheels”) and the hulking Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan, “Number 55”), who just so happens to share a name with the man that the poor soul in the opening sequence was confused for, though it’s unlikely it’s the same person, given the time frame. Perhaps a relative?

Fargo 11

Varga informs Emmit that the money was an investment, not a loan, and that they are now in business together, despite Emmit’s best efforts to simply repay the money and move on. In no time, Varga is moving in on Emmit’s territory, moving his people into Emmit’s office and planting a truck containing God knows what onto one of his parking lots, with little explanation.

Fargo 3

Indeed, when Emmitt tries to have his lawyer look into Varga and his people, Varga promptly has the poor guy tossed off- what else? – a parking structure. It’s painfully clear that Emmit doesn’t have much of a choice but to go along with all this, which can’t lead to anything good, and already hasn’t for his lawyer, obviously.

Fargo 10

Meanwhile, Ray, shades of “Raising Arizona,” is egged on by his ex-con parolee and current girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, rebounding nicely from the cancelled-too-soon “BrainDead” and “Mercy Street”) into actively competing in a local bridge tournament to drum up money to buy her an engagement ring. Though successful, he still feels slighted by his brother and asks him for money as well to up the ante on the quality of said ring, but Emmit refuses.

Fargo 4

Desperate, he blackmails another ex-con, Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy, “Halt & Catch Fire”), who failed his drug test, into robbing his brother of the rare stamp he has hanging on the wall of his office. Only problem- LeFay loses Emmit’s address and instead ends up robbing the unrelated (?) Ennis Stussy by accident, killing him in the process, in another “Lebowski”-style mix-up. Bigger problem- the man in question is the stepfather of the local police chief- for now- Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”), who despite a shaky relationship with the man, isn’t about to simply let it go.

Fargo 7

Gloria, in the midst of both a ego-shattering divorce- her husband left her for another man- and having her police department absorbed by another precinct in what amounts to a hostile takeover, led by the unforgiving new chief Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham, “Boardwalk Empire”), latches onto the case for dear life, needing something to keep her occupied in the midst of all this drama.

Fargo 19

The investigation leads her to a cache of hidden books, which she assumes is what the robber/murderer was looking for when he ransacked her stepfather’s home. The books turn out to have been written by none other than her stepfather himself, under the name Thaddeus Mobley. Mobley adopted the Stussy name that fatefully ended up getting him killed when he spotted it on a toilet, of all things.

Fargo 14

There’s a good reason for that, as Mobley, after being conned by a film producer named Howard Zimmerman (Fred Melamed, also of “A Serious Man”) and actress Vivian Lord (Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint, here playing the younger version of her own mother, Frances Fisher), nearly beat Howard to death and fled town, after fearing he’d killed the man. Lord reluctantly informs Burgle of all this when she makes a sojourn to L.A. for some answers.

Fargo 15

All of this results in a fun series of flashbacks set in 1975, and featuring at least one nod to seasons past, when we catch a fleeting glimpse of a faux-B-movie poster about a UFO attack on a motel. It just so happens as well that the motel Burgle is staying in bears more than a passing resemblance to the one in which said aliens paid a visit to in Season 2, in my fave episode of that season.

Fargo 16

In addition, the episode also features a recurring bit of animation dramatizing one of Mobley’s old sci-fi novels, which was just delightful. Do I smell a tie-in spin-off? Probably not, but I loved every minute of that. It was also fun seeing guest bits by Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks”) as a fellow traveler that Burgle keeps running into, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”-vet Rob McElhenney as a douchey fellow police officer who extolls the virtues of Facebook when he’s not sleazily hitting on Burgle.

Fargo 17

When Burgle returns, she discovers that fingerprints on the scene of her stepfather’s murder trace back to LeFay, who, as it turns out, was on the receiving end of a spectacular air conditioning-related (!) “accident” that was actually engineered by Swango and Ray after LeFay tried to blackmail them for money after killing the “wrong” Stussy. With LeFay dead, it would seem that the case is all wrapped up- or is it? I don’t expect Burgle to let sleeping dogs lie on this one, so Ray and Nikki better watch their backs!

Mary Elizabeth Winstead fargo still book

As ever, “Fargo” remains a sprawling, eye-popping tour through Coen Brothers Land- a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure if you’d want to live there, given the body count. Showrunner, creator, writer and occasional director Noah Hawley, hot off the triumph of his newer FX series, “Legion,” hits the ground running here with lots of fun characters and wacky scenarios that run the gamut from bridge tournaments to sci-fi conventions to the aforementioned animated sequences, as well as split screen moments and, thanks to McGregor, two characters for the price of one actor. (Does he get paid double as well?)

Fargo 1

That said, this season does benefit somewhat from a slightly tighter focus on a more limited group of characters, a la the first season, though I certainly didn’t mind the tapestry of memorably twisted characters in Season 2 at all. One of the great things about the TV approach is that it allows one to be a little more ambitious, filling in the blanks of supporting characters in a way it simply wouldn’t be possible to do in a two hour or so movie, resulting in what is more akin to an old-school miniseries than a TV show.

Fargo 9

It’s also pretty self-contained, I might add. There are absolutely connections from season-to-season for those paying attention, but one could easily start watching this at the beginning of any season and still enjoy it on its own, without even being aware of all that, barring maybe the coda at the end of last season, which ties more directly into the events of Season 1. Of course, for the full effect, you’d want to watch them all, and I look forward to seeing how it all ties together when all is said and done, and someone creates the inevitable fan-edit chronological version, but it’s not entirely necessary, either, as the show really does stand on its own, from season to season.

Fargo 18

Another element that remains consistent is the quality of the cast. Even the lesser-known actors, like Season 1’s Allison Tolman and the current one’s Carrie Coon are expertly cast, as are the smaller roles, like the thugs played by Yu and Bogdan, who manage to make quite an impression despite limited screen time.

Fargo 21

I also love the music, which is all over the place and a lot of fun, and often made up of left-of-center choices that leave viewers scrambling to play “What’s that song?” My favorites thus far in the season are this, this, this, and this. Also, for one hot minute I thought that Gogol Bordello song was totally Weird Al Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus,” which wouldn’t have made a lick of sense but made me smile nonetheless. (Am I alone in this? Yep, I’m old, lol.) And, of course, it’s always fun playing spot-the-Coens-reference.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead fargo still car

While the jury’s still out on where this one ranks among the three seasons to date, it does have a lot going for it. Coon had already made quite an impression on me in “The Leftovers,” and I’ve been sweet on Winstead for ages (an ex of mine adored this wacked-out soap she used to be on, “Passions” and who can forget her spending the entirety of “Death Proof” in a cheerleader outfit?), so I’m onboard with those two for sure.

Fargo 5

And I’ve always liked McGregor since his “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” days. Between this, his underrated directorial debut “American Pastoral” and the belated “Trainspotting” sequel (which I haven’t seen as of yet but am very much looking forward to), McGregor is having quite the comeback as of late. This role- or should I say roles?- is undeniably a tour de force turn for him and a chance to really show what he can do as an actor. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango in Fargo S3

All in all, a fine start to the season so far, with plenty of surprises to come, no doubt, if past seasons are any indication. Let me know down below what you liked- or disliked- most about the season to date, and any predictions you might have for the future. I will be back with another look at the show in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!