Fargo Season 3 Episode 1 Review: The Law of Vacant Places

Fargo is back on FX with all of the elements that we love, but are things starting to be too formulaic? Read our thoughts here...

This Fargo review contains spoilers.

Fargo Season 3 Episode 1

Spring may be here, but it’s the dead of winter in Minnesota on FX. Fargo, the anthology series based on the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film, has returned for year three and creator/showrunner Noah Hawley hasn’t altered his formula for success; snow, funny accents, quirky characters in way over their heads, and unfortunate happenstance abound in yet another fake true crime saga. I guess if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

However, and it may be too early, I’m not sure this year’s addition has anything new or exciting to offer. Year one bobbed and weaved through the template created by the source material and offered one of the more memorable TV villains in recent memory, and the second season provided a period setting for a change of pace. The big news on this year’s model was that it would be set in 2010 and incorporate ideas about how technology has changed the way that we communicate, but in this premiere the only moment that truly ties us to the current decade is a brief look at two characters spending a romantic evening in the tub on their Blackberries. I’ll wait longer before calling this time jump a wasted opportunity, but it certainly doesn’t factor into this episode in any meaningful way (hell, a main plot point involves a character using a phonebook, like it’s the Stone Age or something).

Familiarity is just keeping me from raving about this first episode. I’ve seen those wideshots of a barren snowy road, I’ve laughed at Midwest politeness, and if I squinted hard enough, I’d mistake Carrie Coon’s Gloria Burgle for Molly Solverson or Marge Gunderson. As exciting as Fargo has felt in the past, it just feels weird that the season three premiere is going down like comfort food.

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Maybe I should quit worrying and trust Hawley; both of the prior seasons were spectacular, and Hawley just swung for the fences and hit it out of the park with his X-Men adjacent series Legion. This season premiere puts many moving parts in place, seemingly casting a wider net than usual and Hawley has proven he can weave all disparate threads together. Between competitive bridge, Sisyphus stamps and old sci-fi novels, the blue-collar idiosyncrasies we’ve come to expect and admire are on full display and the cast seems just as stacked as previous installments. Ewan McGregor is top-notch in his dual role, simultaneously charming and pompous as Emmit Stussy, and dowdy yet endearing as younger brother Ray. Mary Elizabeth Winstead lights up the screen as Ray’s firecracker girlfriend Nikki Swango, and Michael Stuhlbarg is a real scene-stealer as Emmit’s yes-man lawyer Sy Feltz. Oh, and after The Leftovers, I’ll watch Carrie Coon in anything.

Just like AMC’s Better Call Saul, season three of Fargo is a battle between brothers, but made messy by both of their dimness. After an unexplained accident in their childhood, the Brothers Stussy were left with a choice for their inheritance; an old stamp collection or a Corvette. As older brothers do, Emmit swindled his younger brother into taking the car, keeping the lucrative collection for himself. Now middle-aged, Ray is a modest parole officer looking to acquire a prized Sisyphus stamp from his well-off brother to pay for his girlfriend’s engagement ring. When Emmit turns him down, Ray hires one of his less-than-capable parolees, Maurice, to steal the stamp, but the moron tracks down the wrong Stussy, police chief Gloria’s step-dad, and kills him. When Maurice returns to Nikki’s apartment, extorting Ray for $5000 for the confusion, the pair drop an air conditioner on poor Maurice’s head. Meanwhile, after borrowing money from a shady associate, Emmit finds his company being used as an illegal front for the mysterious V.M. Varga.

The show is still incredibly stylish. The camera imitating the air conditioner’s fall was a great touch and the soundtrack remains killer, featuring an eclectic mix of Heart, Nathaniel Ratliff, and throat singing. That said, I’m not as immediately grabbed by this new story, despite all of the great ingredients and a chef that I can trust, but I’m open minded about this season’s potential and hopefully a signature Hawley curve ball shakes off this feeling of déjà vu.


3.5 out of 5