‘Fargo’ Season 3: What Goes Around…

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Well, the third season of “Fargo” is in the books, and, as ever, the moral of the story seems to boil down to the titular notion that what goes around, comes around. The real question was, was it enough? Let’s pick up where we left off and see what we can see. Okay, then?

In my last review, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) had found herself in a decidedly precarious situation, as a group of men sent by Varga (David Thewlis) had intentionally wrecked the bus transporting her to prison. However, a vet from the previous seasons, Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) was also onboard, and I correctly predicted that he would live up to his name and throw a wrench into those particular plans.

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Sure enough, in “Who Rules the Land of Denial?”, Mr. Wrench saved the day and managed to subdue Varga’s men and escape the bus with Nikki, albeit with both still cuffed to one another. Naturally, all concerned continued their pursuit, with things not ending too well for Yuri (Goran Bogdan) and Golem (DJ Qualls). The latter ended up getting his head cleaved clean off thanks to some ace teamwork by Nikki and Mr. Wrench, while Yuri was fatally wounded, leading to one of the more surreal moments of the series to date.

While at- where else? – a bowling alley, Nikki was approached by the mysterious Paul Marrane (Ray Wise), who, you’ll recall, also crossed paths with Gloria (Carrie Coon) in Hollywood. Is he an angel? Or an angel of death? Hard to say, but he tasked Nikki with delivering a message to Emmit (Ewan McGregor) when she inevitably caught up with him, just before delivering a death blow, and provided her with transportation for her and Mr. Wrench’s escape.

Shortly thereafter, Yuri showed up, on his last legs, sans an ear, where Paul presented him with a vision of what I assume was Yuri’s own personal Hell, involving thousands of dead Jews murdered by the Cossacks, as alluded to in a previous episode, chief among them Helga, who Yuri also referenced as having talked too much.

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From the severed ear on the ground, to the presence of Ray Wise, this was more David Lynch than the Coen Brothers, the bowling alley notwithstanding. (“Is that what you see?” asked Paul, bemused- we all know it was really the Black Lodge. 😉 ) Regardless, the first half of this episode was easily the best thing this season since the last time Wise was on the show, in the Gloria-centric episode “The Law of Non-Contradiction.”

As it turns out, this was about as good as it got this season, sad to say. After that, the show time-jumped ahead a bit, after we saw Varga somewhat eliminate the pesky Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) by poisoning him, landing Sy in a coma, where, as it turns out, he would remain until nearly the end of the season. That accomplished, Varga was free to expand his business and basically render Emmit under house arrest.

Unfortunately for Varga, Nikki was still about, and started gaslighting Emmit by making constant reminders of his involvement in his brother’s death. Eventually, it got to be too much for him and Emmit escaped Varga’s clutches, heading to the local precinct to confess to the murder of Ray, where Gloria was now firmly in deputy territory and relegated to a small closet-like office.

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In “Aporia,” we see the fallout of that decision on Emmit’s part. In order to discredit Emmit’s confession, Varga goes so far as to pay a man to falsely confess to both the murder of Ray and the murders of the other Stussys, which had become plural after a certain point, as Vargas had various Stussys killed as a way of proving that the man in question was a serial killer who hated all men named Stussy because he’d been molested by one as a child!

This naturally got Emmit out of jail, where he was right back to being under the thumb of Varga, who continued to force Emmit to sign away his life, contract by contract. Naturally, Gloria isn’t buying any of this, but it’s a clean solve to the situation, so you better believe Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham, whose character sadly never gets his comeuppance) is going with it, as it takes care of a multitude of murders in one fell swoop.

From an emotional standpoint, the scene in which Emmit confesses to Gloria is easily the highpoint of the season for McGregor, and his best work in this character’s shoes, though Ray is still missed- and apparently, now a cat, lol. Finally, Emmit admits what Ray knew for years now- he was completely hoodwinked by his brother. It’s why Emmit always lent him money and bailed him out of various situations- he felt guilty. If he’d simply had THIS type of conversation with Ray instead of Gloria, a lot could have been avoided.

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Meanwhile, Nikki and Mr. Wrench put their plan into motion in earnest and highjack one of Varga’s trucks- the one with the most sensitive of information, the “real” business books (as opposed to the fake ones given to the IRS guy) and key information stored on a hard drive, which Nikki then uses to try and blackmail Varga with.

It doesn’t go as planned for either party, and after a tense chess-like game of wits, the two reach a stalemate, and Nikki gives Varga time to think over her offer, while, unbeknownst to Varga, delivering the goods to Larue Dollard (Hamish Linklater), the IRS guy in question, in a yellow envelope, which will reap dividends in the following episode.

As all this is happening, poor Gloria once again has the rug pulled out from under her- and it was a good rug, really tied the room together- when Dammick announces that the “real” Stussy killer is caught and Emmit can go free, much to both Emmit and Gloria’s chagrin. She later laments to pal and fellow police officer Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) about how sometimes she feels like that robot in her stepfather’s novel, who comforts her in the episode’s second-most touching scene after Emmit’s confession.

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It’s hard not to be affected when, after Lopez tells Gloria she absolutely does matter, at long last the motion-detected sink faucet and blow dryer finally work for her. Sadly, she’ll have to wait a good bit longer for any sort of justice- and even then, it remains potentially elusive, as we shall see. Like Varga says: “The problem is not that there’s evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Otherwise, who would care?”

In the season finale, “Somebody to Love,” everything comes to a head, with yet another time jump to cap things off. First, we see the net result of Nikki’s plot to bring down Varga. While the first part of the plan has its intended climax- Dollard pieces together what’s really going on with Stussy and Varga and clues Gloria in on it after he spots her phone number within the yellow envelope- the second half decidedly does not, really.

At first, it seems like its going to, as Nikki beckons Varga into her trap, slyly manipulating an ever-careful Varga and his host of thugs into an abandoned building and leading them to an upper floor to drop off the money, with a note leading them to another storage unit, where the hard drives and books are ostensibly located.

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However, a heads-up from an outside source (possibly the widow Goldfarb, played by Mary McDonnell, who lied to Gloria to help solidify Emmit’s alibi) alerts Varga to the set-up in the nick of time and he is able to escape, evilly leaving his men to their doom, including Meemo (Andy Yu), who find it at the hand- and guns- of Mr. Wrench, who is awaiting them in the secondary storage unit.

Alas, when the elevator descends to the ground floor, where Nikki is stationed, Varga is nowhere to be found, having wisely gotten off on another floor, correctly assuming someone else would be waiting for him there. Mr. Wrench emerges victorious, having killed every last one of Varga’s men, and successfully retrieved the money, but Nikki comes up empty. She takes a handful of cash and gives Mr. Wrench the rest, saying that all she wants is to avenge Ray’s death by taking out Emmit.

Unfortunately for her, and us Winstead fans, such turns out not to be the case. After Emmit signs a bunch of papers for Varga earlier in the episode, he heads to his office, only to discover he’s been completely duped by him, as Varga has staged a coup with the help of the widow Goldfarb, who has taken over Stussy’s company in record time, and advises him to file for bankruptcy ASAP and indicates there’s some money waiting for him in an offshore account.

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Now drummed out of his own business, Emmit heads out of town, only to have his car break down. It’s no accident, though, it’s another angel of death, in the form of Nikki, who shows up to enact her revenge shortly thereafter. However, she falls prey to the time-worn pitfall of many a movie/TV villain by monologuing too long, including an attempt to quote the verse that Paul insisted she deliver before killing Emmit. Thanks a lot, Paul!

As it turns out, she should have moved faster, as a cop shows up, and things go south from there. Both he and Nikki have a showdown, and neither comes up a winner, both ending up dead on the highway. This frees up Emmit to leave, which he does, and that’s where we have another time jump.

It’s five years later, and Emmit is back with his family, seemingly happy. Sy is back as well, and though a little worse for wear, still alive, at least. Emmit goes into his kitchen to fetch dessert and finds himself on the wrong end of Mr. Wrench’s vengeance, as he finishes the job Nikki never got to. As he’s mute, he doesn’t have to worry about long speeches foiling his revenge, so this time, the job gets done.

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We rejoin Gloria, who has clearly moved up in the world, and who finally gets her man when none other than Varga, now going by another name, is brought in to be questioned. He doesn’t even remember Gloria, who, to be fair, does look a lot better with her stylish new ‘do and more positive attitude. She confronts him with what she knows and Varga laughs it off with another of his rambling soliloquies.

Gloria informs him that he will soon be arrested and spend the rest of his days at Riker’s, but Varga begs to differ, saying that he’ll soon be set free when his people arrive to bail him out, threatening that he’ll get his revenge on her when she least expects it. The clock ticks as both await to see who will emerge correct, and… that’s pretty much it.

TBH, I’m not a huge fan of open-ended narratives like that, so the ending left me wanting, but I suppose that’s the point. If you’re a glass half-empty type of person, then Varga, the baddest of bad men, goes free at the end, and perhaps makes good on his threat to wipe that smirk off Gloria’s (deservedly) self-serving face. If you’re a glass half-full type, then Gloria is the victor and the slimy Varga doesn’t successfully slither his way out of yet another bind to wreak havoc elsewhere once again.

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Either way, we don’t get a definitive answer, so there you go. Do with that ending what you will. Personally, I liked the front half of the episode, but the back half left me wanting. While I suppose it would have been somewhat cliché, I wanted to see Nikki have her revenge and emerge victorious. That she didn’t was somewhat anti-climatic for me, to the point that her death didn’t hold much weight for me. Instead of being impactful, it was more like Josh Brolin’s in “No Country for Old Men”- that’s it? Really?

Yes, we did get Mr. Wrench finishing the job, which was nice, but then we had that non-ending ending, which seemed like a bit of a cop out. I suppose that was the point. Bad things happen to good people, just as good things happen to bad people- it’s the way of the world. It’s also kind of depressing.

I kind of get what this season was going for- in a very real way, it was the most Coen Brothers season the show has ever done. The Coen Brothers, after all, aren’t necessarily known for neat, tidy endings that wrap everything up in a yellow bow. But for me, my favorites have always been those that come close, like the original “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona” and “Miller’s Crossing.” To each their own, I guess.

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But that’s not to say this season didn’t have its moments. I loved the Hollywood episode, as I mentioned, and “Denial” was mostly great, especially the first half, with the extended chase sequence that delivered on the “Peter and the Wolf” aspect of the season and the nutty bowling alley scene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure I understood all of that, but it made for fascinating TV nonetheless.

It’s hard to say what the show should do moving forward. I loved the second season, personally, with its sprawling cast of characters and the epic hotel shoot-out and out-of-nowhere UFO action. Many preferred the first season, which this season clearly sought to replicate to a certain degree, in terms of stripping things down to tell a more simplistic, straight-forward story.

But for me, the middle in particular dragged a bit and it often felt padded throughout. I don’t necessarily think the seasons need to be shorter, per se. But I do think if they’re going to be a certain length, more should happen than did. Season 2 was nearly overstuffed with all the shenanigans going on, with nary a dull moment, while Season 1, while more steadfast and less cluttered, was more expertly plotted and executed than this one, despite certain similarities.

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Maybe that was part of the problem. You had the female cop-against-the-world thing, a la the movie and the first season; the accidental death that could have been avoided, as with season one (the stepfather Stussy); and the isolated weirdness, like the UFO in Season 2 (the animated sequence, the bowling alley scene). In short, the show is falling into a noticeable pattern that is almost predictable in its unpredictability.

I might not have seen the ending coming, but it kind of felt obvious in retrospect, like I should have guessed they would have done the unexpected because that’s just what “Fargo” does- creator/showrunner Noah Hawley seeks to defy expectations. But now, it’s coming precariously close to being inevitable in the way things turn out. Basically, just zig when you think they’re going to zag and you’ve got a season of “Fargo.”

I realize that this may seem like crazy talk to some- after all, isn’t that what we want in a show, to be unpredictable? For the most part, I would agree with that, it’s just that a pattern has started to emerge nonetheless, almost in spite of itself, and it’s kind of hampering my enjoyment of the show, as much as I hate to admit it. I’ll still be watching in the future, but I won’t be looking forward to it as much as I did before.

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Part of it may be some of the competition. It’s hard to toss in a Lynchian sequence when the real deal is over on Showtime making one of the most groundbreaking and out-there shows on TV- and for the second time, at that. Granted, Lynch and his partner Mark Frost had some 25 years to mull it over, but they didn’t start thinking about it in earnest until a few years ago, and still managed to defy expectations. (Though some might argue, not in a good way.)

Granted, so did “Fargo” once upon a time. When the show first started, it seemed ridiculous to think that the sensibilities of someone like the Coen Brothers could ever translate to TV, much less to a series. And yet, Hawley pulled it off with flying colors. Now, three seasons in, he’s hit a bit of a wall, but there’s still time to pull out of it and save the show, for sure.

I think next season out, Hawley should just go for broke and shoot the works, and almost completely reinvent the show. If you’re a Coen Brothers fan, you’ve no doubt noticed all the references to previous efforts by the team scattered throughout the various seasons. I think that now it’s time to go big or go home. We’re talking the gonzo quality of “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” combined with the pitch black Noir qualities of a “Blood Simple” (still one of their most underrated efforts) and/or “Miller’s Crossing.”

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I feel like the show can easily rebound from this, especially since it wasn’t THAT bad of a season in the first place. Thanks to a solid cast and some first-rate acting, plus a handful of great ideas, it was enjoyable enough on the whole. Winstead and Coon were certainly stand-outs and though somewhat underwritten, McGregor did a fine job with his dual turns as the Stussy brothers. I just needed a little more shock and awe, as it were, instead of “okay, then” and meh. You know what I mean?

What did you think of Season 3 of “Fargo”? Did you enjoy it as much as the previous seasons? Or was there something missing for you as well? How do you think the show could improve moving forward? Is there something in particular you’d like to see? What did you think about how the show ended? Were you upset by any of the deaths? Are you looking forward to Season 4? Sound off down below and see you next season, hopefully!