FARGO, Season 3: “Somebody to Love”

Officers Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) and Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) persue truth in the Fargo, Season 3 finale.

The FX series “Fargo” takes viewers on a “true crime” adventure through the snow-swept landscape of Minnesota. Based on the Coen Brothers Academy Award winning film “Fargo,” each season of the TV series explores a new story cast from the themes of innocence lost, human failings, and the redemptive power of goodness.

Northern Minnesota author Aaron J. Brown reviews each episode of “Fargo” with an eye for unique details from the place where the show is set.

Now, for this week’s review. The details rate from INTERESTING  (bad), to COULD BE WORSE (not so good) to PRETTY GOOD (not so bad), and OH, YA! (real good then).

Beware the spoilers.

Somebody to Love

(Original air date: June 21, 2017)

One of the lingering questions I have about “Fargo” Season 3 is whether Emmit Stussy, the Parking Lot King of Minnesota, is “wicked” or not. Because the ten episodes of this show served only to humanize him, to make his behaviors seem understandable. What if *I* was a struggling businessman feuding with my brother while watching my company taken over by criminals? What if my wife and family left me because someone else lied to her? Heck, what if I had a gun to my head? Well gee, I might well have done things just the way he did. I would have suffered the same way, too. I, too, would be relieved to escape danger.

But underlying Emmit’s human reactions to these various problems is another truth. He deceived his brother and never atoned. He tried, but pride and emotion turned the situation even worse, leaving Ray dead in a pool of blood. Emmit knowingly let the devil manipulate his limbs, his pen, his mouth. He was afraid, yes, but he did these things. And when he seemingly escaped the consequences, he resumed a life of upper class comfort.

That word “wicked” is important. Remember, in the fantastic episode “Who Rules the Land of Denial?“, we saw Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Wrench (Russell Harvard) receive an awesome assignment. Marrone tells them to meet the wicked and punish them, reminding them of the Old Testament passage Obadiah 1:4: “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.”

I thought for certain that passage was destined for Varga. Instead, Nikki read it to Emmit. But perhaps she was reading it to herself, too.

“Somebody to Love” opens on a fantastic compilation of signatures, papers and typewriter clicks. We see IRS investigator Larue Dollard (Hamish Linklater) piece together the Varga scheme by pasting spreadsheets on a conference room wall. We see Emmit (Ewen McGregor) signing all manner of documents for Varga (David Thewlis) and his goons. And we see Gloria (Carrie Coon) typing her resignation letter (on a manual typewriter, of course). This sequence launches the plot out of the gate while also serving as a creative delivery for the show’s classic line: “This is a true story.”

Gloria’s resignation doesn’t last long. She yanks the letter out of her boss’s inbox as soon as Dollard calls her. In her meeting with Dollard, we finally learn the true nature of Varga’s business dealings. Take over a healthy company. Borrow as much money as possible. Hide the money. Sell the company for a song. Declare bankruptcy. Live rich. And it’s not even illegal. That is, it wouldn’t be, if they had paid taxes. Stussy Lots didn’t pay taxes on any of their dealings, their only true crime in this — dare I say — wicked system created by and for men like Varga.

Back at Emmit’s house, the Parking Lot King seems anything but. Surrounded by gunmen, he signs paper after paper, not knowing what they’re for. He’s tired. Varga tells another story, that prey instinctually falls limp in the teeth of a predator. Emmit is just food, and knows it. That doesn’t sit well with Emmit, who sees an opportunity to grab Meemo’s gun. Varga distracts him with another story, that Meemo’s gun recognizes fingerprints and won’t shoot. True or not, and probably not, the monologue distracts Emmit long enough to allow Meemo (Andy Yu) to clock him with a tire iron.

Varga orders his team to wipe the place down for prints. They’re leaving, for good.

But Varga has one last stop. He must meet Nikki and Wrench to get the hard drive back. We saw them earlier in the episode. Wrench lays out weapons on a hotel bed, Nikki calling them out like cards in a game of bridge. She’s learned sign language now. The pair appears closer than ever. This meeting isn’t likely to go well for Varga.

The next set of scenes brings the visually mesmerizing experience of a “Fargo” shootout — something we’ve seen in each season of the show. Varga’s team pulls up outside some kind of warehouse. The name on the building reads “King Midas Storage.” In the ancient myth, King Midas possessed a touch that turned everything to gold. He starved to death because you can’t eat gold.

A young boy beats a drum cadence on a bucket in the industrial district. We’ve seen him before. He knocks on Varga’s car window, tells him in Spanish that Nikki Swango is over there. Where? We follow the boy, a cool customer even though he’s leading a veritable army into the maw of an ambush. Varga’s paramilitary forces check the place out. No one there. Instructions on the concrete floor. The item is on the third level.

“Two elevators,” Varga remarks. Twice as many possibilities for carnage. Earlier, Meemo speaks one of his few lines in the entire series. “This is a mistake.” Yes, it is.

A security camera spies upon Varga and Meemo in the elevator. Varga sees it. He’s out of his element. Keep in mind, Varga once killed a man for googling him. These predators now feel more than ever like prey.

The trap is simple, yet brilliant. Nikki counts on the fact that Varga will let his guards protect him, that at the first sign of trouble he would flee with or without them. Meemo and the men find a note, sending them to yet another floor. But at that precise moment Varga gets a text — from Nikki probably — telling him that the IRS has the hard drive. “Get out!” And Varga does, just as a storage locker opens to reveal Wrench, armed to the teeth, with a jump on the bad guys. The elevator door closes just as the gunshots begin.

The slow elevator brings Varga to ground level, but he knows that he won’t survive the opening of those doors. Nikki waits down below, to find only Varga’s signature trench coat lying on the floor of the elevator. The beast has fled. At once it seems he is some sort of supernatural being, but we quickly see that he simply scurried out through the elevator roof.

Wrench emerges from the other elevator with the briefcase full of Varga’s cash, covered in blood. Nikki takes a couple bales of money for herself, giving Wrench the lion’s share. It’s goodbye. She has one last task.

Cut back to Emmit. He’s awake now, and alive. The crooks left the Sisyphus stamp stuck to his forehead as a final show of dominance. He literally tosses it into the wind as he gets into his car. The tiny scrap of paper and glue, a trifle that arguably caused this whole mess, no longer holds any value to anyone.

Emmit speeds into town to find his office being renovated. The Stussy logo is coming down. He races to his office to find the Widow Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell) in his chair. It’s her company now. She bought it for $100,000 (one of the papers Emmit signed). He realizes that she’s been in cahoots with Varga this whole time. She tells him about how Varga’s plan works. He should simply declare Chapter 11 and move on with his life. Security guards Mike and Mike remove him from the premises. The Parking Lot King of Minnesota is dead, long live the Parking Lot Queen.

Meanwhile, Gloria gets the call about what happened at the storage facility. We see that all of Varga’s goons, including Meemo, are dead. Carnage.

Emmit makes the long drive home, across the sweeping west central Minnesota landscape we’ve seen so often before. Suddenly, his car breaks down. No cell phone coverage. In anger, Emmit smashes his cell phone. Then an old Ford F-150 pickup pulls up. It’s Nikki, of course, with one final job to do.

She holds Emmit at the barrel of her shotgun, the one she intended to use on Varga. Nikki asks if Emmit has fallen low enough yet, if this was bottom. She wants him to suffer for what he did to Ray.

“He’s a kitten now, Ray,” informs Nikki. “I looked into his eyes.” His sad eyes.

Of course, Emmit is as low as he can go. Yesterday was bad, but “Here we are today, lower still.” Nikki begins to read the scripture given to her by Marrone, the message to be delivered to the wicked. Emmit gives up trying to explain what happened to her. Instead, he asks her to shoot him.

But just then, in what must be perceived as an act of providence, a state trooper pulls up to investigate. Nikki hides the shotgun on Emmit’s back bumper. A tense standoff ensues, one that ends with Nikki drawing the gun on the officer. Both fire, both die.

There was a lot of death in this episode. But these deaths hurt me most. The senseless killing of the officer. Nikki, who had seemed to be on a path of righteousness, failing in her duties because of spite. Where will Nikki’s lost soul go? One hopes another kitten, to live with Ray. In death she seems a fallen angel lying on the pavement. Perhaps that’s what she really is. Nevertheless, she could not shed the wickedness of this world.

Emmit flees. His car starts now for some reason. (?) Gloria arrives later to assess yet another grisly scene. She’s just as disturbed as the viewer. She pulls over the school bus to see her son Nathan. They eat popsicles on the side of the road. Gloria implores him to enjoy his time as a kid. There will be time enough for the confusing world of adulthood later. It’s a sweet scene, one that reminds that the “Fargo” series always glorifies the virtues of honesty, family, balance and patience. Everything else is sin, and sin is punished.

Meantime, Emmit’s first stop is his estranged wife’s house. He falls to his knees in tears. She takes him back.

And then we flash forward five years — the present. (Or pretty close. 2016ish). Emmit and his wife are back together. The family is happy. They celebrate thanksgiving with their old friend Sy, who has awoken from his coma, though brain damaged. The titles inform us that Emmit declared bankruptcy and was convicted of minor tax crimes, though he retains $20 million in hidden sums. Emmit goes to the refrigerator to retrieve something, gazing upon the timeline of happy family pictures affixed to its front.

Then, in an instant, Wrench appears and shoots Emmit in the back of the head. Just as he appeared safe, enveloped in domestic bliss, the unremitting hand of justice appears in an unlikely form. For me, it reminded of the final scene of Martin Scorcese’s “The Departed.”

Gloria now works for the Department of Homeland Security. She appears authoritative and confident. They’ve caught Varga, now going under the name Daniel Rand (perhaps a tribute to Varga’s Ayn Rand style beliefs). She interrogates him. He tries to lie, but again Gloria is not having it.

Varga says that the Russians have a saying, that the “past is unpredictable.” It’s another of his attempts to make truth seem impossible to know.

“I’m pretty sure you made that up,” says Gloria. She remains the only character in this morality play to see Varga for what he really is.

Gloria explains that he’s going to prison, to eat mashed potatoes from a box. She, on the other hand, will go to the Minnesota State Fair with her son. They will eat deep-fried Snickers bars and enjoy the promise of American peace and stability.

Varga disagrees. He says within five minutes an authority figure will burst through the door and let him free. She argues, but he refuses to listen.

Will Varga’s network of corruption and lies burst through the door to extract him? Or will this be the end for him? Will the forces of truth, perhaps God Himself, finally rule that the eagle Varga has flown too high?

This becomes a question of faith. For the story ends on the closed door of the interrogation room. Above, a clock ticks away the minutes. The door is closed. We do not learn if it ever opens. We only hope it doesn’t. Gloria is right. Varga is wrong. And yet we know evil like him walks among us still.

Episode Grade: OH YA! This season finale was riveting from start to finish. But it was imperfect. It shed the mystical themes of “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” for a much more modern, more complicated conclusion. Perhaps that will go down as this story’s legacy, what sets it apart from previous Fargo tales. In any event, you all know I started as a skeptic about this season. I end the season churning over the meaning, my mind afire. That’s art.

Varga (David Thewlis) and Meemo (Andy Yu) become predators caught in a trap.

Notes on the Minnesota details:

Varga’s town car has Minnesota plates now, a quiet demonstration of how long he’s been here. OH YA!

The license plate imagery is right, but I think they have the font on the numbers wrong. COULD BE WORSE.

The first part of this episode remains in the month of March, something we talked about last week. This episode, however, is much more plausibly March-like. Dreary, overcast skies. An unseen cold mixed with hints that spring might come, someday but no time soon. OH YA!

Tinted windshield on Nikki’s early 1980s brown F-150 pickup? Not sure who’s paying to have that done. INTERESTING

Not sure about Gloria and her son eating popsicles while sitting on the trunk of her prowler out on some country road. I don’t think many Minnesotans actually do that, but eating a popsicle in cold weather is something we would do if we felt like it. So that becomes a plausible character detail. And it was a great scene. PRETTY GOOD.

Speaking of food, Nikki asked Gloria for a pie a few episodes ago. Too bad they never got to eat it. Nikki did deliver a critical clue, however. COULD BE WORSE.

I think most every viewer wanted Varga and his goons to off Sheriff Moe Dammik in the finale. Instead, we don’t even see Dammik. For all his bluster, he is forgotten. Is this not the true fate of men like him? PRETTY GOOD.

In the five-year time jump, we learn that Gloria has completed the short hair phase of Minnesota motherhood. This signifies that she finally has time to deal with conditioner again. OH YA!

Fitting that the story ends on Gloria’s craving for normalcy and decency, exemplified by deep fried Snickers bars at the Minnesota State Fair. The most Minnesota-centric detail of them all, delivered correctly in proper context. OH YA!

In conclusion

Showrunner Noah Hawley indicated that he has no plans at this time to make a fourth season of “Fargo.” He said he only would if the right story came along. So if this is the last time we should discuss this series, thank you so much for reading these reviews. My work continues at MinnesotaBrown.com and I’ll be writing my own stories — some true, some not — for as long as possible.

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “Aporia

Comments

  1. Pat Schoenfelder says:

    Start with the mistakes:

    I don’t think any rich person like Emmit would have a gravel driveway in Minnesota. Too hard to plow, messes up the lawn, gets sloppy looking, etc. This is Central Minnesota, not Yorkshire.

    The body of the Highway Patrol officer is not the body of a person shot from three fourth’s of a car length away with a sawed off shotgun: he should be shredded. A huge wound in his chest and abdomen would be about right.

    Rikers Island, where Gloria says Varga is going, is a New York city prison, not a federal prison.. It is an iconic prison, but the feds don’t use it. When it comes to prisons, the writers have goofed up consistently in ways that about five minutes with Google would have fixed up. It may be possible that they are portraying Gloria, as a person who has just flown in from Minnesota, as ignorant of the situation, but I don’t think the Gloria we know and love would be ignorant of that sort of thing as a federal officer.

    I agree that the look of the countryside — presumably in Alberta — is great for March in the region around St. Cloud. It is a bit flatter than most of Central Minnesota is, but that’s just picky.

    Oh, and Aaron, I can tell you for sure as a farm boy it is “bales” of money, not “bails,” which is what parachutists leaving airplanes and women being hit on by unattractive guys do.

    I kept noticing throughout that Emmit and others were using Blackberry phones. That is a tiny bit out of step for 2011, but not terrible for someone who is not really completely electronics literate and does not want to surrender a tool they were comfortable with just yet. Also, up until 2011 the iPhone was married to ATT, so some people did not use it due to network and range issues.

    A technical note: the scene with the IRS room where the agent is analyzing the files for Stussy Lots is a direct quote from the great 2016 thriller “The Accountant.” I urge you to see that film if you have not.

    Also kudos to the make up staff for Gloria’s look in the last scene. Not only has she let down her hair, but her look has aged appropriately — if you have tape, look at her neck in that scene, which is certainly make up on an actress actually in her mid-thirties.

    I love that the stamp that set off the whole chain of violence and death is abandoned like trash, even if it is on an incongruous gravel driveway.

    Why does Nikki die? She departs from her mission of righteousness in two ways: first she takes off after Emmit rather than completing the job with Varga, putting her own agenda ahead of the mission. Second, when she kills the Highway Patrol officer, she goes way off the rails, killing an innocent. That breaks her chain and sentences her to death. The show changed her make-up very strikingly in the scenes after she began her mission, and I was wondering if it was supposed to invoke mortuary make-up, indicating that she was already gone. I do hope she and Ray are enjoying life as cats, though.

    Why does Emmit die? Yes, he has not done penance for his relationship with Ray, and yes he carries the burden of his cowardice with Varga, which led to the death of several innocent bystanders, as well as the disability of his friend Sy and the death of his not innocent brother. But the big thing is that he is continuing to commit a crime. Not only has he escaped with only a slap on the wrist for all the havoc that he participated in as a pawn of Varga, and for the treatment of his brother, but he is sitting on at least $20 million in secret overseas accounts. That leaves him on the wrong side of the ledger, and makes his death at the hands of Wrench, which completes Wrench’s path of penance and avenges Nikki, appropriate.

    Love the Minnesota Jello mold as “salad” touch at the end. That is right out of Prairie Home Companion.

    And I love the touch of leaving Varga and Gloria awaiting the answer as to how the universe will deal with Varga and just how corrupt the system is, and leaving that for us to answer on our own.

    • More wonderful observations, Pat. I have corrected “bales.” In the heat of a 2,500-word post one does slip. 🙂

      I am most upset that I didn’t comment on the “salad.” Only in Minnesota would a sugary dessert pumped full of artificial coloring be called a “salad.”

      • Pat Schoenfelder says:

        Thanks for the shout out, Aaron. I am just a humble grasshopper following the Sensei.

        All that was missing from the “salad” was tiny marshmallows, but we can’t expect West Coasties to get everything exactly.

        One thing I failed to note is that this episode was given a solo writing credit for Noah Hawley, the show runner. Although there have been some great episodes this season (especially episode 8,) I think the skill of Hawley shows through here, especially in the suspense evoked in some scenes, the added touches like the little Latino and the dropped stamp, and in the great closing scene.

        More critically, this season of Fargo was much, much more concerned with philosophical and ethical discussion than earlier ones. Earlier, the ethical considerations were implied by the plot, but this year we got an extended overt debate on the topic. Varga takes one side, as the voice of the idea that power and wealth are all that matter in the world, that the powerful and wealthy have the right to do what they want, up to and including rearranging the truth to suit themselves — something that Varga introduces in the first episode with his three historical lies, each one successively more obviously false than the last, until he ends with a totally preposterous lie that the people sucked in by the first two may be willing to swallow. On the other side there are Gloria, Winnie, and Marrane, who argue steadily that kindness, humanity, family, justice, and love are important and that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. Thinking more about Sheriff Moe, I have concluded that he is a representative of the ordinary gullible public, easily swayed to swallow the most preposterous stories if they seem to make his life easier and make at least some superficial sense, even as he boorishly knocks progress off the tracks with his stupidity.

        The great ending has Varga and Gloria waiting to see which of them is right, at least in this instance, and we are left to make that decision ourselves.

        For the reasons I cite above, I think that this is the best season of “Fargo” — not saying that the others were at all weak, but this one takes the show up a whole level. Definitely leaving on a very high note.

        • Pat Schoenfelder says:

          Varga actually offers one last argument that evil can use power and money to change the very substance of the truth, when he informs Gloria during their last scene that the history of the “Stussy murders” is now irrevocably the lie he concocted, not the actual facts.

  2. Why does emits car start after it breaks down…big mistake here

    • Pat Schoenfelder says:

      I agree with that. However, since it is obviously deliberate, I am forced to believe that the car has been affected by magic, in the same way as Yuri in episode 8 is forced to confront the evil he and his ancestors/previous incarnations have committed, and is destroyed for it.

  3. Emit ducks a blast from a sawed off shot gun and doesn’t get a scratch. Everything in front of it would of been hit.

  4. Pat Schoenfelder says:

    Emmy nomination lists are out, and Coons, McGregor, and Thewlis all get Emmy nominations, as well as “Fargo” itself.

    The show itself will benefit from the notion that it is in its last season and has a history of strong reviews, but it did win the Emmy its first season, which may work against it. I have to say that personally I would rate it above both “Big Little Lies” and “The Night of,” which I have also seen, but that is just me, not the Academy voters. I have not seen the two other shows that are nominated.

    I think McGregor probably has a good chance of actually winning, and may be the pre-voting favorite, since the dual role will impress a lot of voters. His big problem is that Robert De Niro and Geoffrey Rush are in his category, both actors with tremendous reputations and previous Oscar wins. TV people are always excited when major movie actors descend from their thrones to participate in TV shows, and tend to vote that sentiment at award time. De Niro especially is a legend.

    Thewlis also has a good chance, I think. His part is a lot larger than most “supporting” actors. People love weird parts, especially if they are accompanied by make-up effects, like Varga’s teeth. He is in against two different well known movie supporting actors from the show “Feud; Bette and Joan,” which I have not seen. Stanley Tucci in particular is an extremely good actor, while Albert Molina is always cast in oddball roles, which are award bait as well. However, his main problem may be Alexander Skarsgaad, who had a tour de force in “Big Little Lies,” and had the advantage of being on stage with the outstanding female drama performance of the year in most of his scenes.

    Coons is probably going to get run over and squashed by Nicole Kidman, the aforementioned role of the year. Kidman has the benefit of being a legit big movie star and best actress Oscar winner — see above. But she also did an absolutely spectacular job in her part, which was a part full of flashing lights and loud sirens as opposed to the understated role Coons was working. In addition, there was a lot of publicity put out about how hard her part was in terms of emotional stress and how physically demanding and painful it was, which also is always a magnet for award votes. The only thing in Kidman’s way is the nomination of her co-star (and primary show producer) Reese Witherspoon, which may split some of the votes and leave an opening for someone else. There are also nominations of two fairly big film actresses for the aforementioned “Bette and Joan,” which I can’t comment on this time either, since I didn’t see it. I have to say that even with all the other factors removed, I would still tend to vote for Kidman if I were a voter, since she did an absolutely spectacular job and made everyone else in the show look like minor leaguers, despite having some pretty heavy hitters in the cast. Basically like watching Michael Jordan play ball — even though Scottie Pippen was very good and the opposing teams had some outstanding players, Jordan was always clearly in a league of his own.

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Nikki) is not nominated, which I think is not fair. I can say without a doubt that she did a better job than Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley from “Big Little Lies,” but they benefit from the “big time movie actors slumming” thing I discussed above, plus the spillover from the good job of other actors in the show. I have not seen any of the other shows that the other actresses on the “Best Actress in a Limited Series” list were in, but Michelle Pfeiffer is certainly a big hitter, if a bit past her big era, and Judy Davis is always outstanding.

    We will have to see what happens.

    • I agree that the big omission for “Fargo” was Mary Elizabeth Winstead for supporting actress. Your analysis on the “lay of the land” for all these categories seems right. Would hate to see the show skunked on its probably last season, but it’s possible. McGregor is more likely than Coon, which doesn’t seem fair. Thewlis proved to be an excellent villain, so I’ll be pulling for him as well.

      • Pat Schoenfelder says:

        Coon has the misfortune of being in the same category as Nichole Kidman. There is no way that “Big Little Lies” is as good a series as “Fargo III” (and I read and loved the book “Big Little” is based on,) but if you saw both performances there is no question that Kidman turned in a landmark piece of work that deserves the honor. When I say that I am not taking anything away from Coon’s wonderful work in “Fargo,” and I am acknowledging the greater intellectual depth of “Fargo” and of the ideas that Coon was called on to voice and convey. However, as I said earlier, this is Clyde Drexler against Michael Jordon, or Jim Kaat against Sandy Koufax, or whatever. Not only do the tea leaves favor Kidman, but in this case she deserves it. If you have not seen “Big Little,” you might want to, or at least watch the last three episode, which is when Kidman really gets into gear.

        I really hope Thewlis wins, but he is against some more recognizable names, and I have the feeling that “Big Little Lies” Skarsgard may have the momentum. He does a very good job in another villain role, although IMO not in the league with Thewlis, but is going to benefit from the fact that almost all his scenes are shared with Kidman, and some of the heat and light is going to rub off on him.

        Wnstead got robbed. In particular she was way better than the two women from “Big Little Lies,” but the wind is blowing strongly in that direction this year, and both of them have bigger names than Winstead.

        As far as McGregor, it will be the technical tour de force of the twin role versus the fact that Robert De Niro is — well, Robert De Niro.

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