Fargo: season 3 episode 2 review – The Principle of Restricted Choice
This review may contain spoilers.
An interesting thing about FX’s Fargo is that its anthology is set in different years, highlighting the feel and the features of their respective time periods. While season 2 was set all the way back in 1979, the third season has returned us to the modern day of season 1 and is set four years after the events of the first season, in the year 2010. And that makes a world of difference, as you see characters using mobile phones and Google, which, in turn, means that certain plot developments will be based around the ussage of modern technology – something that a 1979 setting would certainly not have. Or, as one character says in this episode, “it’s the future!”
Despite all that, Noah Hawley makes sure that the show retains the atmosphere of the 1996 film, with the snowy fields of Minnesota and the distinctive accents of its people. And it is evident that while the story is set in modern times, Hawley wants the show to have an ‘older’ feel – it is seen in the old science fiction books, the cars some characters drive, and the whole atmosphere in general. In this case, incorporating modern elements into the story adds a certain flavour that definitely doesn’t ruin the broth. In fact, it enhances it – it is very Coen-esque to see an older man attempting to look a man up on Google and having no idea what he’s doing, with his wife trying to help him, and then clicking on a link that most of us would know we shouldn’t ever click on.
Which brings us to another running motif that each season of Fargo has had so far – wildcard characters. These are the most mysterious, the least predictable, and, incidentally, the most iconic characters that appear in the series, ones whose motives we question until the last few episodes, and ones that make a good story into a really great one. Season 1 had Lorne Malvo, season 2 had Hanzee Dent (AND Mike Milligan), and it seems like the wildcard of season 3 is shaping out to be the mysterious V.M. Varga (played by David Thewlis), who, instead of being a ruthless killer is running a massive money laundering operation, which doesn’t make him any less terrifying. Especially considering the big rig he parked in one of Emmit’s (Ewan McGregor) parking lots contains something we’ve yet to find out.
The episode also further develops the rivalry-relationship between the two brothers, both played by Ewan McGregor. Having failed to obtain the stamp, Ray stages a meeting with Emmit to “make peace” with him, or so Emmit thinks. In the meantime, Ray’s fiancé Nikki breaks into Emmit’s house and steals the two-cent stamp from right under Emmit’s nose, leaving a picture of a donkey in its place, and a message, written in Nikki’s period blood. “Who’s the ass now?”, the message reads, and with that, her character gains extra dimensions this week and definitely feels like someone to root for.
As a side-note, before the season started, I was rather skeptical about McGregor playing two characters, but he does so in a fashion that almost feels as if there actually are two different people on screen. The actor delivers a top performance for both of his characters, and manages to make us believe in their relationship, even if the editing of the scenes with them together still feels rather restricted, as is often the case in any movie or show that has different characters played by the same person. It may just be me, but it’s often hard for me to suspend my disbelief in scenes where they appear together, and my focus shifts from following the story and dialogue to looking at the editing of it all.
Other actors deliver great performances this week too, with David Thewlis being much more eerie as V.M. Varga than he ever got to be with Professor Lupin, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki is extremely engaging too, and her character is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Carrie Coon as Gloria, the usual Fargo-esque, winter-hat-wearing Minnesota cop is bound to become a great character too when the plot begins to develop at a quicker pace (which is usually the case with Hawley’s seasons). For now, we see her investigate the death of Ennis, which begins with her gathering evidence left by Ray, which includes a phone book with a torn-out page. We also learn Ennis was a relatively successful science fiction author back in his day, which is a detail worth considering, knowing that season 2 included a UFO subplot.
The second installment in Fargo‘s third season keeps us on a steady track of engaging story, rich characters and riveting performances, and for now the season stands in par with its two predecessors, as well as the Coen brothers film. It will be fascinating to see how the story accelerates, as that is definitely bound to happen.
Image credit: FX