FARGO, Season 3, Ep. 7: “The Law of Inevitability”

Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) brokers an awkward dinner and utters the words we all feel in “The Law of Inevitability,” the seventh episode of “Fargo” Season 3. (FX)

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.

The Law of Inevitability

(Original air date: May 31, 2017)

You can’t help but think of Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” during the opening scene of “The Law of Inevitability.” We see the prophet of falsehood, the invisible wolf, V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) methodically opening the presents under Emmit Stussy’s Christmas tree. Varga peruses the consumer goods. Contemplates keeping Emmit’s tie. Smells Emmit’s estranged wife’s perfume.

Varga doesn’t need to steal the gifts. He doesn’t even seem to want the things. He’s just doing it because he can. Later in the episode we see he wrapped everything again, as though nothing happened. Yet we know that he laid his grubby hands on everything. What else has he touched?

Last week’s cliffhanger of Gloria (Carrie Coon) and Winnie (Olivia Sandoval) converging on the crime scene was another misdirection. No conflict transpired with Meemo or Varga; rather, those guys wanted our intrepid investigators to find Ray’s body. And local police, coupled with loathsome Sheriff Moe Dammik (Shea Whigham), quickly fall for Varga’s false story that Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Windstead) was the one who killed Ray. In a painful scene, given Nikki’s recent beating at the hands of Varga’s goons, we see the sheriff haul her out of the motel window trying to escape.

The sheriff interrogates Nikki, but not really. Mostly he lectures her and tries to badger her into agreeing with his assumptions about the case. She keeps her mouth shut and asks for a lawyer. The sheriff refuses (illegally, I might add), again lecturing her on what a guilty person should do in this situation.

“Mash your potato, know what you get?” asks Dammik. “Mashed potatoes.”

It’s a nonsense line from a character who only sees the world one way: his way.

Gloria and Winnie share their investigation notes with Dammik and the St. Cloud Chief. But the two men dismiss the ideas out of hand, even though the women’s conclusions are both logical and, as we know, entirely correct. Winnie is sent back to traffic enforcement by her boss.

Gloria is protected by the fact that Dammik isn’t her boss … not yet. She has eight days until the county takes over Eden Valley police operations. She quickly sends Winnie to inform Emmit Stussy about his brother, to assess his reaction. Gloria then sneaks into the bowels of the St. Cloud police station to try to interview Nikki on her own.

Back at the Eden Valley P.D., Officer Donny Mashman (Mark Forward) scrolls through an early version of the dating app Tinder on his clunky 2010 phone. He narrates his swiping choices, including one woman who Donny concludes is way out of his league. (I found it funny that I could tell she was out of his league even in the abstract view from my living room chair). Donny leaves his phone (and gun) on the desk after getting a quick routine call. He locks the door of the police station/library to check it out, then realizes he left the gun behind. Returning, we learn that Yuri is there.

The exchange between Yuri and Donny was a remarkable scene. It was like a clinic in Yuri’s school of thought. Donny tells him he needs to leave. Yuri lies to him. He’s not there. But he is there. No he isn’t. Your eyes lie, says Yuri. Yuri uses the blunt force of an obvious, outlandish, indisputable lie to threaten and control Donny. Leave, he tells Donny. Take your gun. And Donny does what he is told, seeing the fact that Yuri didn’t take his gun or try to kill him as a “win.” Yuri leaves with Gloria’s file on the Ennis Stussy murder. One wonders if it’s the only copy.

Then we get another great scene in an episode full of them. Emmit Stussy (Ewen McGregor) shows up late to a dinner meeting with Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) and the widow Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell). Here we see a desperate, erratic Emmit. Out of character. Spewing the same pro-oligarchic rhetoric as Varga. We know he’s late because of the scuffle that led to the death of his brother Ray. Manslaughter at least. Quite likely murder. Emmit sets into an Old Fashioned and tries to get a spot of blood off his shirt. The widow — a former mortician who probably knows blood when she sees it — wants to buy Stussy Lots, not knowing that the company is leveraged to Varga’s criminal network.

Winnie shows up, interrupting the dinner. Sy is stunned to learn of Ray’s death (though not terribly sorry), but Emmit proceeds to implicate himself. Before hearing of the death, Emmit elaborately describes his alibi. “I got here at six.” He then assumes that its a murder before being told it was a murder, already pinning the deed on Nikki as Varga suggested. Sy sees that something is up and quickly ushers his friend and business partner out of there. That leaves Winnie to talk to the widow Goldfarb, no doubt ascertaining Emmit’s actual time of arrival and perhaps even learning of the spot of blood on his shirt. (We’ll learn that next week).

More great scenes. Sy drops off Emmit at his house. Emmit, spouts more bile. He seems to have adopted the distrust of Sy implanted by Varga. Sy is clearly hurt, and Emmit does seem to feel a faint sense of remorse. He enters his house to find Varga. Shadowed by the giant stuffed bear in the sprawling entryway, Varga offers a rhyme that his mother taught him, a familiar one:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

I’d heard this before, but hadn’t researched its meaning. Folk lore connects its origins to Sir Alexander Leslie, the Scotsman who negotiated the “crooked” border between England and Scotland. “They all lived together in a crooked house” refers to the fact that Scotland and England co-exist peacefully and share a government, despite their continuing cultural and political resentments. Perhaps that refers to Varga’s relationship with Stussy as well.

Then we get my favorite scene of the whole series so far. Sy returns home to his loving wife in their comfortable upper middle class home. She talks about her day while helping him remove his parka and dinner jacket, even helping him into a house jacket. Then she realizes that Sy is crying.

“What’s wrong?” asks the earnest Midwestern voice of Mrs. Feltz.

“The world,” blubbers Sy. “The world is wrong. It looks like my world, but everything is different.”

That line, delivered in a fantastic performance by Michael Stuhlbarg, may well prove to be the thesis statement for the entire Season 3 storyline. Something dark and sinister has permeated Sy’s world, and the scariest part is the realization that much of this evil was already there, lying in wait. What is the truth? Not what we thought, apparently.

Meantime, the craziness of the Nikki case accelerates when a mysterious man (D.J. Qualls) posing as a police officer enters her cell with the intention of injecting her with some kind of substance. Poison? He’s sophisticated enough to know how to turn off the surveillance cameras and obviously eluded security to get in. Gloria has somehow found her way into the cell and tries to stop the man. In a taser vs. gun showdown, the man escapes untouched while police officers briefly detain Gloria.

The St. Cloud police chief now starts to see that Gloria is on to something here. He lets her interrogate Nikki with the lout Dammik. Nikki still isn’t saying much, but she lets on that there are bigger forces at play than just she and Ray, Emmit and Sy. “Follow the money,” she tells Gloria.

Hey, that’s what Deep Throat told Bob Woodward during Watergate.

Dammik revokes Nikki’s parole and has her transferred to the state prison. She climbs onto the scary-looking bus full of lecherous male prisoners and the guard seats her next to man in the back.

And who does Nikki sit next to on the prison bus? It’s Mr. Wrench! You might recall Wrench (Russell Harvard) as the deaf henchman for the Fargo syndicate in Season 1. We learned in Season 2 that he and his late friend and partner Mr. Numbers were recruited into that syndicate by Moses Tripoli, formerly known as Hanzee Dent. Hanzee was the Dakota man who grew up as the hired gun of the Gerhardt crime family, principles in Season 2, ultimately killing most of them. This gives us our clear connection between the three seasons of “Fargo.” We can expect that Wrench will play a role in next week’s action.

The casting of recognizable character actor D.J. Qualls as the mysterious would-be assassin also indicates we’ll see his character again. Is he with Varga? Or someone else?

Ultimately, the episode ends when the bus rolls over trying to avoid a humanoid figure walking on the road. It’s Meemo and Yuri, quite literally dressed as a wolf. One surmises they are there for Nikki, who we see survived yet again.

The slow burn of the first five episodes is starting to pay off. Episode grade is a big OH YA!

Notes on the Minnesota details:

Gloria and Winnie discover the crime scene. As we look down at Ray’s body, we see a fly crawling on his face. Again, we seem to have a normal Minnesota December. It’s Christmas Eve. The fly contributes to a compelling shot, but this isn’t fly season. COULD BE WORSE

I saw a snowflake cutout hanging on the back of the St. Cloud police station interrogation room. I saw another in the Eden Valley police station. These are the kind where you fold up a piece of paper and then cut shapes out of the outer edges. When you unfold the paper, it’s a beautiful snowflake. Usually kids do this. Not sure who’s making these in the cop shops. Nevertheless, these are common December sights in Minnesota. PRETTY GOOD

Donny Mashman putting out the “back in 15 minutes” sign on the local police station is spot on for small town Minnesota. My grandparents live in Keewatin, which often has one officer on duty at a time. Walking back from a spaghetti feed one time, I waited while my grandpa, himself a former town cop, popped his head into the police station. “Did you find my coat?” he asked the cop. “No, where did you leave it?” asked the cop. “I think some guy picked it up by mistake when I was at the gas station.” “I’ll keep my eyes open.” OH YA!

Emmit’s front door has jingle bells for Christmas. Whose doesn’t? OH YA!

It’s time to make a general comment about parkas. This week, I got an e-mail from a reader asking why Sy Feltz always seems to be wearing his parka, even indoors. Gloria Burgle and Winnie Lopez also wear their parkas nearly all the time. Isn’t that overkill? That must be Hollywood exaggeration, right? My ruling is no. That’s authentic.

The show does a good job of distinguishing which characters move frequently between indoors and outdoors. In Minnesota you lose a lot of time to taking your parka on and off. Plus, when it’s off the coat becomes a big poofy pain in the ass thing to carry around. Is it a little warm inside with a parka? Yes. But it’s cold outside and in 30 seconds you can vent off the steam. Sy, Gloria, Winnie, along with henchmen Yuri and Meemo, for that matter, are too damn busy to worry about taking their coats off. OH YA!

NOTE: This week, media reports circulated that “Fargo” showrunner Noah Hawley might never make a fourth season. He says he will only come back if he is inspired by a particularly compelling story idea, a position that FX seems to support. That would be heartbreaking, but not terribly shocking given Hawley’s foray into other successful projects. If this plays out, we have just three more episodes here at the MinnesotaBrown Fargo Review.

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “The Lord of No Mercy

Next Episode: “Who Rules the Land of Denial

Comments

  1. Pat Schoenfelder says:

    I was out of town for a bit, and just watched this episode tonight, catching up.

    The structure of the episode was very different from most of the earlier shows in that it played out as a series of set pieces, almost like a stage play, broken up into short segments in the earlier parts of the episode to interleave the plot elements, but then allowed to play out more completely as the show progressed. I felt that the structure contributed to the success of this episode, which I would agree was at least the second best this season (last week was strong also, and the death of Ray at that stage of the series caught me completely by surprise.) This week there was a lot more feel of forward momentum of plot and character and less feel of characters floundering.

    This season “Fargo,” as Aaron has noted, is changing up writers and directors episode by episode. I have been watching to see how this works as far as continuity of the feel and character of the show, and this is the second time the feel has been somewhat different. Interestingly, the other outlier, episode 3 with Gloria in LA, was written by the same writing team. This time the episode is written by them but worked on separately by show runner Noah Hawley (for anyone who doesn’t know, in writing credits — this is actually specified by the Writers’ Guild contract — if two or more writers are separated by an ampersand that means they worked together, if separated by an “and” written in letters it means they worked separately. So this episode was either conceived and roughed in by Hawley then finished by Wolpert and Nedivi, or written by Wolpert and Nedivi and then re-written by Hawley.) I felt that although the feel was different, the episode was very successful, very strong dramatically and with a strong feeling that the plot is moving toward its climax.

    I agree that Sy’s “the world is wrong” scene is a tour de force of writing, acting, and directing. It starts out with patented “Fargo” semi-comedy with the scene of Sy’s wife undressing him, but then catches fire. In particular, the choice of Michael Stuhlbarg delivering the key soliloquy in a high pitched, breathy, almost childlike falsetto was a great one, adding extra emphasis to the five star writing in the scene.

    I also found myself feeling that Ewan McGregor has finally been given a chance to open up the gates in his acting in this episode as well. Emmit is coming completely undone, gets drunk at the table at dinner, blunders through his interaction with Winnie and with the widow, turns on Sy, and generally falls apart, but for the first time I felt that McGregor was getting a chance to really act, instead of being held in by the accent and the general foolishness of both Stussy brothers.

    The scene with Donny and Yuri is also masterful, with Donny ending up completely unmanned by his encounter with the powerful and dangerous Yuri. I especially liked that Yuri actually tells him to pick up his gun. Yuri knows he owns Donny so completely that even holding a loaded gun in his hand he is no threat.

    The supervisors of Gloria and Winnie continue to be record breaking numbskulls, although the St. Cloud chief is actually at least slightly capable of learning, making Moe Dammick seethe at seeing Gloria be given her head for a moment. Moe — good illusion to the notion that he is a stooge — is very important to the plot in that without him Gloria would have solved the whole thing by no later than episode four, since she has a clear and correct working thesis as to what is going on.

    Is Nikki going to be killed? I hope not, since I think she needs to have a scene of revenge before the season is done — otherwise she is too much the abused woman. I can’t figure out what Meemo and Yuri are planning to do with her, however. That leaves me wondering if Nikki is going to actually kill — or perhaps have one of the men on the bus kill — either Yuri or Meemo. Probably more likely that she is going to pop up conscious and get away, perhaps while still with her hands cuffed, leading to a chase through the woods, with her in her high boots she has been wearing all season gaining an advantage in deep snow.

    As far as Minnesota notes go, I continue to be annoyed by the obvious error in handling Nikki by the prison system. No way a female prisoner, heading to Shakopee, is on a bus with a load of males, heading to Stillwater or Oak Park Heights. IMO it is undoubtedly too big of an error to not be deliberate — Hawley wants Nikki being menaced by the presence of the men, and also is having fun reintroducing a thug from season one, obviously serving out his time.

    I mostly agree with Aaron on the parkas — Minnesotans do not shed their parkas for short periods of time indoors, since it is way too much work to get dressed up again, plus the short toasting actually feels good after being outside and warms up the air that is trapped in the insulation for when you go back out. The thing we do do is unzip them, at least part way, if we are in longer, as well as unzip them briefly when you go back outside if you have gotten too hot.

    Three more episodes before “Fargo” rides into the sunset permanently — oh no! But Hawley is too hot and too busy to want to keep going on a project that he is likely getting sick of and that probably pays him a lot less than he commands these days, due to a contract negotiated when he was less successful. I would not be shocked to see another season in a few years, if Hawley has room in his schedule and FX will pay the bucks, since the way the series is structured would allow them to create another season at will, with no need to have the audience get caught up.

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