You’re finally going to tell me what “Fargo” Season three is about. I can feel it.
[Won’t dignify the comment] Ewan McGregor plays two brothers, Emmit and Ray Stussy. Emmit is handsome and successful. He owns his own dynasty; he’s the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” in a town called Eden Valley (“Fargo” has been set in the ‘80s and ‘70s so far, but season three jumps to 2010). Ray, on the other hand, is homely, ineffectual and a two-time loser. Ray’s a low-level parole officer and playing the victim card always, blames his brother on his misfortunes. He is the black sheep twin that his brother has to always carry.
Both of them have schemes in the midst of backfiring. Emmit and his lawyer/right-hand man, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), are smart enough to have become rich but are thick enough to have borrowed money from people they haven’t at all vetted. In turns out they have borrowed money from a criminal organization, represented by middle management hood as V.M. Varga (David Thewlis). Varga and co. have no interest in being repaid with interest. They want ownership of the company. Emmit and Sy are in trouble.
Ray Stussy is a loser, but he’s lucky enough to have a loving girlfriend in Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). What she sees in him lord knows. She’s a brilliant little con artist (and his parolee) and the two of them, fueled by Ray’s whiny entitlement, hatch a plot to steal a priceless stamp from Emmit that Ray feels he’s owed. They are in trouble.
The last triangle point belongs to Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), the pragmatic chief of police in Eden, Valley, and a single mom. Ray hires a local idiot (Scoot McNairy) to steal the stamp in question from his brother. The plan is botched from the get-go and an innocent man is murdered. This, of course, is the plot point that will lead Gloria, not only to Ray but through connection, to the dire problems and crime collusion that Emmit is inadvertently mixed up in.
Do you know basic geometry? There are four points here. Isn’t this a square?
Technically it’s two rubes on one end of a point, the moral force of the law on the other point and the third point is the criminals.
Season two had rubes, the law and two sets of bad guys. That’s a square.
What happens next?
The collision of all these disparate characters of course.
Ewan McGregor is the highlight of the show. Unfortunately, McGregor can’t do a Midwestern accent for shit.
So, it’s bad.
It’s a terrible accent, one that somehow only serves to amplify his native, Scottish accent. He’s stronger with a “regular” American accent. But, once you get passed it, or ignore it, it’s a joy to watch him juggle these two characters, both of which he inhabits with full dimension. You especially really understand and empathize with Ray. He’s a total loser; ultimately the character we’ll root for the most.
The entire cast is excellent. Aside from McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the scene-stealing MVP. Her character is a sexy, slinky thinker, three steps ahead of her thick boyfriend. The fact that she adores his has-been ass makes her all the more endearing. She’s a firecracker and it’s arguably the best role that Winstead’s ever had. Unless you consider that to be “Smashed,” in which case this is her most deliciously arch and chewy role. Michael Stuhlbarg can do no wrong, neither can Scoot McNairy. Carrie Coon is routinely excellent, but she hasn’t had much to do yet. I assume we’ll witness a terrific performance out of her soon. David Thewlis is a bit of a larger problem.
Is he an issue?
The way the gangster characters are written is slightly problematic if we’re going to level some kind of criticisms at the show and we should. They’re both really complex, but also a bit cartoonish. It’s an issue. If you’re devotedly following the “Fargo” template, which Hawley and his writers are, they’ve drawn the wrong bad guys. Sort of.
Hear me out. “Fargo” was wise enough to know that if God is laughing at those who have plans he is laughing at everyone — the villains included. One of the genius points of “Fargo” the movie is that even its bad guys are knuckleheads and they are the engineers of their own mistakes and fate too. The antagonists of “Fargo” on FX are different. They simultaneously lean into and amplify the Peter Storemare character and they borrow from the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men.” Many of the bad guy characters are philosophy-spouting Terminators that can’t be stopped — see Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) or Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon), the uncommunicative Native American in Season Two. On the show, those rubes are always on a collision course with the ruthless expertise of the bad guys tracking them down, whereas, in the movie, extraneous forces threw all these boobs together on a journey that would eventually collide. It’s slightly more of an Anton Chigurh dynamic if Chigurh was less taciturn and liked the sound of his own voice a little bit too much. That said, Hawley’s baddies do meet cruel fates too; they’re just not as idiotic and inept as the original adversaries, usually.
Gee, you’re a fucking stickler for the “rules,” huh?
I’m just trying to articulate some of the grander issues of the show. The bad guys tend to be a little bit annoying in the manner in which their waxing-poetic dialogue is overwrought. It’s a little precious and flowery. The heavy of this season, V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), also has this problem.
So you’re in for the long haul?
Yes, the mini-series anthology form of “Fargo” works extremely well. This season is only seven episodes. That means beginning, middle, end and concise economic storytelling. You know what else this means? Little room for the bane of current television existence: plotblocking. With more episodes, there’s a lot stretching out of the narrative to justify, say thirteen episodes (the current Netflix problem). “Fargo” reboots every season which keeps things fresh, but the familiar story formula is enough to keep the audience returning. I love the mini-series, I loathe plotblocking and I hate superfluous episodes that are essentially just snakes and ladders; episode 7 or 8 is generally when you slide back to your original position on the grid and start all over again. This is a highly irritating, essentially just stalling, plot technique. Fewer episodes generally force you to move forward, not idle.This is one of my chief pleasures in the “Fargo” storytelling. I obviously have mapped out where this season is heading, but it’s intriguing nonetheless and it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
As it stands, B+. Sure, that’s only based on two episodes given to the press, but “Fargo” has earned the right for the audience to give the show the benefit of the doubt. I think many, like myself, questioned the existence of the show early and the show has proved itself and more than justified its existence so far.
“Fargo” airs on FX on Wednesday nights. We’re thinking about doing weekly recaps of the show, but we’re probably too tired to do so.