FARGO, Season 3, Ep. 9: “Aporia”

Gloria Burgle gets real as Fargo’s third season nears conclusion. (screenshot)

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.

Aporia

(Original air date: June 14, 2017)

Never has the spray of an automated sink meant so much.

Throughout Season 3 of “Fargo” we’ve been wondering what is real and what isn’t. *Who* is real? Is anyone real?

Well, Gloria Burgle is real. And she finds that out not through a shootout with the bad guy, but rather after an awkward but earnest hug with a friend who cares.

The madcap action of “Fargo” gives these stories their texture, but these tales always come down to the value of human relationships. The stories always exalt love as an outcome, one that not only defeats evil, but that was the real goal all along.

We know that Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) confessed to killing his brother Ray after turning himself in. This seems to be a good thing for Emmit’s soul. Emmit tells Gloria a touching story of what really happened between he and his brother. Emmit appears genuinely contrite. “Thirty years I’ve been killing him (Ray),” says Emmit. “That was just when he fell.” Heartbreaking. Ewen McGregor’s best performance in this series.

However, Emmit’s incarceration becomes most inconvenient for Varga and his organization. Varga (David Thewlis) needs Emmit to be the public face of his shell company. He makes their multi-billion dollar illegal dealings seem like part of a legitimate local business.

As we’ve already learned, organizations with limitless resources can make guilty men innocent. Varga sets up an alternative truth. Emmit didn’t kill Ray. Maurice didn’t kill Ennis Stussy. Some guy named Donald Woo did all of that. He’s a serial killer who alternates between two different ways of killing guys named Stussy. Yes, these happen to be the ways that Ennis and Ray were actually killed. A little truth to make the lie go down smooth. Meemo does the killing. The rest is logistics.

That plot underway, Varga suddenly experiences his first genuinely unexpected obstacle. Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) escaped with Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) three months ago. We are told they went to Canada. Wherever they went, they’re back. And Nikki isn’t done playing bridge.

In an audacious raid, Nikki throws a hand grenade into the truck cab, causing Meemo and another Varga henchman to scurry from the vehicle. Meanwhile, Wrench appears from out of nowhere to gun down another truck full of bad guys. But it’s not a hand grenade, just a paper weight. Nikki and Wrench steal Varga’s truck, loaded to the hilt with the most valuable commodity of all: Stacks and stacks of digital ones and zeros representing the truth.

Some great acting here. Meemo (Andy Yu) looks genuinely afraid of Varga’s reaction. And Varga looks shaken for the first time. It’s a ransom job. Nikki calls Varga demanding $2 million.

Meantime, to no one’s surprise, the Asshole King Sheriff of Meeker County, Moe Dammik (Shea Whigham) fully buys into Varga’s serial killer lie. He follows the fake clues all the way to the fake perpetrator, who even mutters “It’s about time” when they arrest him. Enjoying the back slaps and congratulations, Dammik informs Gloria (Carrie Coon) that the case is closed. That’s a fact.

“I’ve got different facts,” says an exasperated Gloria. Fingerprints. A confession. She even has the Widow Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell) in her office for a follow-up interview, suspecting that she’s covering for Emmit. (Side note: Goldfarb has an angle on this, too, one that probably plays a role in next week’s finale).

Doesn’t matter. Dammik says to cut Emmit loose, which is also Emmit’s worst nightmare.

We go back to the hotel where Nikki and Ray played bridge. She’s meeting Varga in public to exchange the data for her ransom. And not coincidentally, the meeting rather feels like a game of strategy.

For starters, Varga doesn’t really bring the money and Nikki doesn’t really bring the hard drives. Varga puts Meemo in a hotel suite with a high powered rifle to take Nikki out. But Nikki expects that and deploys Wrench (Russell Harvard) to check him. The whole lobby is full of people wearing the same clothing as Varga, sent to confuse any witnesses. Varga says he’s just a middle manager, but Nikki doesn’t buy it. Somehow, Nikki plays Varga to a draw. Her ransom stands and she walks out safe. Varga offers her a job.

“I want to hurt, you not be your pet,” says Nikki, revealing her actual motives in this little plot. And that is not a bluff.

Back at the station, Gloria releases Emmit, against his will. Gloria tells a melancholy story of her life and marriage. “You think the world is something, then it turns out to be something else,” she says, reminding of Sy’s powerful speech last week.

However, Gloria knows this story isn’t over for Emmit. She knows that he’s under the sway of Varga, wants to know more, maybe even help. But Emmit isn’t able. He’s too scared, the unpleasant image of Varga’s chewing maw superimposed over the shot.

Meemo’s sly smile at Gloria as Emmit gets into Varga’s car seals the deal. Varga has a speech ready for Emmit, and it’s short:

“The problem is not that there is evil in the world,” he says. “The problem is that there is good. Otherwise, who would care?”

In a direct connection, we then open on Gloria, alone at a bar. She’s good, but it’s killing her on the inside. Her friend Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) shows up. They’ve become close. We get another amusingly inappropriate retelling of Winnie’s attempts at getting pregnant. “Like two lumberjacks chopping at wood. Thank God for KY.”

Gloria tells her that she doesn’t feel real. She identifies with the MNSKY robot from her stepdad’s book. He wanders the universe saying “I can help,” but never does. Gloria floats her theory, practically ripped from fan discussion of this season, that “I don’t actually exist.”

What happens next is lovely. Winnie pokes Gloria, showing her she’s real. Then she tells her to stand up. Winnie hugs Gloria. It’s a long, beautiful, awkward Minnesota hug. “I like you,” says Winnie. “I like you too,” says Gloria. This is how Minnesotans actually form meaningful friendships. (early OH YA!) And in a glorious sequence akin to the rain that ends a drought, Gloria suddenly finds that her hands do make the automatic sensors work. She does exist.

The episode closes on Larue Dollard (Hamish Linklater), the IRS investigator we met a few episodes ago. Someone left him a package on his office chair. Most likely it was Nikki given the “manila envelope with a name on it” strategy used to effect against Emmit.

Inside: the *real* books for Stussy Lots.

As we learned years ago with Al Capone, when the wicked meet justice it often comes in the form of tax crime prosecution. Varga may think he has the upper hand on Emmit, but Nikki, Wrench, Gloria and the taxman are coming.

EPISODE GRADE: OH YA! My only ding on this one is that so much of this complicated story seems to come together so quickly and cleanly. But it had to. Only one episode remains.

Notes on the Minnesota details:

Let me tell you about March in Minnesota. March is the V.M. Varga of months. What is it doing? What does it want? Good God, what is it capable of?

Anything.

A Minnesota March accomplishes evil deeds by lying to you. Raising and crushing your hopes. Pleasure through pain. The suffocation of hope.

So when “Aporia” opens on the scene of a sprinkler going off in the month of March, Minnesotans let out a collective banshee cry of indignation. That shit would be frozen. I know “Fargo” thought that by putting some cosmetic piles of wet snow in the shot they’d be covered, but they were wrong. INTERESTING

Also, sprinklers in Minnesota? Anyone who installs a California-style sprinkler system in St. Cloud deserves to die at the hands of a criminal syndicate. There are no innocents here. INTERESTING

Additionally, the St. Cloud newspaper has been restored to full color, addressing a concern we raised several weeks ago. In fact, the paper appears to have advanced through decades of typographical design technology since Emmit first read of Ennis Stussy’s death just three months ago. Let’s just call it a metaphor instead of a continuity error. PRETTY GOOD

Gloria offers the Widow Goldfarb a pap (pop) and leads with Sprite as the top option. OH YA!

As Emmit sits in the holding cell, a burly prisoner walks up to harass him. “Nice sweater,” says the looming figure. “It’s a cardigan,” replies Emmit. UPPER CLASS MINNESOTA OH YA!

And we must not forget The Hug. Gloria’s limp yet sincere reaction to Winnie’s hug validated my entire life. Carrie Coon deserves an Emmy FOR THAT. OH YA!

One show left. Are you ready?

Read more at the Fargo Review page.

Previous Episode: “Who Rules the Land of Denial

Next Episode: “Somebody to Love

Comments

  1. Pat Schoenfelder says:

    What can I say? Aaron has covered the waterfront. Masterful writing, directing, and acting in the scenes with Emmit and Gloria, Varga and Meemo, Varga and Nikki, Emmit and Varga, Gloria and Winnie, and even by Shea Whigham as Sheriff Moe (playing a character like that without lapsing into actual slapstick is harder than it looks.)

    “Aporia” itself refers to an unanswerable conundrum, a statement that contains its own contradiction within itself, preventing sensible interpretation. A Frenchman tells you “Frenchmen never tell the truth.” So is that true?

    Varga is, of course, the ultimate liar hear. From earlier episodes we know that almost everything he says is a lie. Of course we know he is lying to Nikki — if she agrees to join him she will get a shallow grave, not a multi-zero salary. She knows that too. Her first hand experience has taught her that Varga has only pain to offer, then more pain.

    Since Varga always lies, we know that his statement that the problem is not evil, it is good, is another lie. He is turning one of the main questions of Western philosophy and theology, why is there evil, on its head.

    Mr, Wrench is back to answer the question Aaron posed several shows back, what would happen if villains from earlier seasons fought villains from this season. So far, Wrench 3, Meemo, Yuri, and friends 0.

    Who sent the envelope to the IRS? I agree that the first guess is Nikki, but there is one problem with that: Nikki could certainly send the data to the IRS in general, but she should not know the name of the agent assigned to the Stussy case. That makes me think this one more play by Emmit to break free from Varga and to cleanse himself of wrongdoing. Or maybe someone just opened the envelope and checked the computer to see who was handling the Stussy case, and sent it along.

    We are obviously heading for one more apocalyptic “Fargo” ending, with four sides converging: Varga and his henchmen, NIkki and Wrench, Gloria and law enforcement with the moronic Sheriff Moe tied to their tails like a can, and the most fearsome and powerful of all: the IRS. Nothing is certain but death and taxes, and my guess is that Varga’s empire is about to go down in an orgy of both.

    And we have at least two, perhaps three, Old Testament angels with flaming swords coming after him: Nikki making her repentance, Gloria showing that good really is more powerful than evil (and stupidity,) and perhaps Emmit, doing his own penance.

    Looking forward to next week with both eagerness and sorrow. We will finally wrap this plot, but unfortunately “Fargo” is going dark.

    On the Minnesota notes, I add my vote for the “Fargo” writers, directors, and crew not understanding Minnesota March, even in the relatively balmy climes of St. Cloud. Add to the sprinkler thing (any normal Minnesota householder with a sprinkler system would be dashing to the cut off valve if he saw his sprinklers running in March with snow still on the ground) the proposal by Gloria to take her son “up north” for “boating” in March. “Up north” we’re still wondering if we can drive the pick-up out on the ice, and the only boats are the dark house fisherman in Lake Superior dragging their kayaks and canoes in case the ice flow breaks up or starts to blow to the Sault.

    I have seen sprinkler systems installed in lawns in Central and South Minnesota, where being lawn proud is a more common psychosis and where a dry late July and August can burn out a $3000 sod job in a few weeks, so i don’t find that quite so bad, although the house seemed a bit modest for that. But dentists can be pretty compulsive.

  2. Lynda Ruud says:

    Bit behind on my episodes. Just watched this one. Couldn’t help thinking of The Velveteen Rabbit when Gloria became real after the hug.

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