Stay on target
If, after two seasons of Fargo, you thought you knew what to expect from this show, last night’s season premiere showed you just how wrong you were. Yes, there was small-town murder, Minnesotan accents, and poorly covered tracks, but the show’s opening moments let us know to expect something a little different. We began in East Berlin, 1988: a good 22 years before the main story takes place.
Already, the season has knocked us off balance. There’s a brief scene about a man named Jacob Ungerleider. The state has mistaken him for Yuri Gurka, a man who killed his girlfriend. The problem, other than the wrong name, is that Jacob has a wife who is very much alive. She greeted the arresting officers that morning. But this is East Berlin, where the state can never be wrong. Jacob is being pressured into admitting to a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed. The interrogator tells him that his alibi is a story, and they are not here to tell stories. That’s about as chilling an introduction as this series has had. While it may connect to the main thread in 2010 eventually, for now, it provides some interesting parallels.
Names have been changed. That’s part of the phrase that opens each episode of Fargo, but it also describes the events that set off the murders in this season: a case of mistaken identity. Ray Stussy, a parole officer, pays a parolee who failed a drug test to steal a stamp from his brother, Emmit. The man he hires, Maurice, is about the dumbest criminal in Minnesota. He loses the address, ends up in a different, but similarly named town, and robbing a completely unrelated Stussy.
Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle (Photo via FX)
Ennis Stussy is the stepfather of Gloria Burgle, who appears to be this season badass female cop. The policewomen have been the best part of previous seasons (and the original movie), and Carrie Coon already appears to be carrying that torch just fine. When she returns to the home to find her stepfather has been murdered (his mouth and nose were taped up), she immediately goes into cop mode. The scene where she searches through the ransacked house, knowing the killer could still be in there, is underscored by Tuvan throat singing. That appeared to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way on Twitter, but it was one of my favorite sequences of the entire episode. The music deliberately knocked the audience out of the moment, making us feel just as confused as the characters in the story. Suddenly, everything felt wrong. I feel like this is an indicator of things to come. Fargo spent two seasons setting up expectations. Now in its third, the show is going to subvert itself.
Ewan McGregor is fantastic as both Emmit and Ray. Both characters are entirely different pieces, and it’s a lot of fun to watch McGregor switch between the confident, successful, possibly a little sleazy businessman, and the eternally put-upon parole officer. As always, the entire cast gives amazing performances, including Cohen Brothers veteran Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Emmit’s partner. He previously starred in A Serious Man, which also opens with a seemingly unrelated sequence in the distant past. That movie might be worth a rewatch sometime before next week’s episode. Just in case more parallels emerge this season.
Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, David Thewlis as V.M. Varga, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz. (Photo via FX)
Now, let’s talk about that death scene right at the end. Maurice threatens to blackmail Ray and his girlfriend Nikki, who have just bonded by coming in third at a bridge tournament. Maurice threatens to go to the police, and Nikki counts the seconds until he’s outside while loosening her window A/C unit. We all know what’s going to happen, but it takes an agonizingly long time. The show even managed to build suspense by having Maurice pause to light a cigarette, and get his shirt caught on the rail. All that build-up, plus the agonizingly slow fall of the air conditioner made the inevitable splat of Maurice’s head all the more shocking. Even when we knew it was going to happen, Noah Hawley pulled off the moment so well; it still came as a surprise.
Finally, there’s the matter of Emmit, who took a loan from some shady individuals about a year ago. Now that his company can pay off the debt, the mysterious group doesn’t want them to. Instead, the mysterious group wants to launder money through the company. They’re in business together now, whether Emmit likes it or not. Hey, it wouldn’t be Fargo without a cruel Midwestern criminal organization. As the investigation into Ennis’s death inevitably leads Gloria back to the Stussy brothers, it’s going to be fun watching all these plot threads come together while everything around them falls apart.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango. (Photo via FX)
“This is a true story.” Just like every other episode, the opening sequence concludes with that phrase. In the past, the word “True” has stayed on screen while the rest of the words faded away. This time, the emphasis was placed on the word “story.” That’s going to be a major theme this season. The German interrogator insisted they weren’t there to tell stories, even though that is clearly not the case. The state’s story is directly contradicted by the truth, but since it’s the state’s story, it outweigh’s the truth. The truth is that Maurice got the wrong address and killed the wrong man. Maurice’s story, that he completed a job and Ray didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, is the one that mattered. That story eventually led to Maurice’s death and will lead Gloria to Ray. Every conflict in this season boils down to two people having different accounts of a particular event. Just like in 1988 East Germany, the truth doesn’t matter. People will accept the story that’s most convenient for them. That story is what determines what happens next.