This Fargo review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 3 Episode 2
Either I’m in a better mood this week or Fargo Season 3 really kicked it up a notch in episode two. Regardless, I may have been too quick to judge. Though I conceded last week that the new installment of FX’s anthology series wasn’t necessarily doing anything wrong, I was quick to conclude that things were feeling stale in year three.
I mainly had gripes about how the 2010 setting, that was an integral focus throughout the press releases and interviews about the new season, served as almost an afterthought in the first hour. I was hoping that the modern setting and a running thread about our digital age would infuse new life into the quirky true crime dramedy with the silly accents. Luckily, that sort of material rears its head in “The Principle of Restricted Choice.” Between Gloria’s resistance to use new technology at her tiny, freshly absorbed precinct, Varga’s Black Mirror-esque Google search snapshot, and the season’s organized crime caper hinging on the low-tech nature of the parking lot industry in a high tech world, Fargo is starting to look like maybe it has some new tricks up its sleeve after all.
The black comedy hits harder in this second episode as well. Fargo is at its best when it’s peppering its thrills with comedy of errors, scenarios pitting salt of the earth people against eccentrics or dead beats, or pointing out absurdities in seemingly polite everyday conversations. Gloria’s meeting with an insensitive funeral parlor owner is a highlight of the episode, along with Sy’s faux-tough talk and parking lot demolition derby at his meeting with Ray. The inclusion of two off-beat thugs Yurki and Meemo as V.M.’s muscle checks off another Fargo stock character box, but that doesn’t make their presence any less fun. Add all of that to Mary Elizabeth Winstead continually livening up each scene with a palpable sense of energy and an intense focus on bridge, and the laughs fly easily and at a clip.
While Gloria is dealing with guilt over the loss of Ennis, exposing her son to the crime and the style clash of her new, no-nonsense boss, she still is easily able to track down the most obvious piece of evidence from episode one, the torn phone book page from the gas station. As focused she is on solving the crime, she’s also surprised and curious by the fact that Ennis was hiding a past life as a successful science fiction author, Thaddeus Mobley. Last season had an odd little UFO subplot, could there be further science fiction elements ahead on Fargo?
Emmit is preoccupied as well. He should be squarely set on dealing with the mysterious corporation that could be using his business as front for drugs, human trafficking, or god knows what, but is instead dealing with the first shot of a war between brothers. Failing to obtain the stamp and foolishly thinking that Maurice’s death is a closed case, Ray decides to fake a truce with Emmit while Nikki breaks into his home to steal the stamp. Having moved the stamp due to a broken frame, Nikki isn’t able to steal it, but instead discovers the safety deposit box information for the money that Emmit is looking to return to Varga. She also perceives the stamp’s disappearance as a slight (funny enough, Sy actually did suggest Emmit move the stamp predicting Ray would try something criminal), and leaves a very “womanly” message. After Sy claps back by bashing up Ray’s Corvette, it looks like the blood feud is official, though it’s unfortunate because Ray really loved reconnecting with his brother, even if it was under false pretenses.
Though his accent can be spotty, Ewan McGregor is very impressive in his dual role. Sometimes an actor playing two parts can feel fully like a stunt or novelty, but McGregor’s casting feels warranted. Ray and Emmit totally feel like two distinct, different people, though I suppose prosthetics and makeup help quite a bit. The scene where the brothers “patch things up” features some moving, genuine emotion. You wouldn’t believe that the actors were delivering their lines separately, let alone to themselves.
All it took was one episode, but my knee-jerk reaction to the premiere now feels a little foolish. Not only does Fargo successfully start to flirt with its modern setting in its second hour, it also takes those familiar elements from past seasons and executes them so skillfully that they feel more like a revamped cover of a favorite song more than a tired retread. That’s not to say that the show cannot slip back into being formulaic and merely passable, but it certainly feels like this could be going somewhere good.