Fargo season 3 episode 5 review: The House Of Special Purpose

The mask slips and the gloves come off in the latest episode of Fargo season 3...

This review contains spoilers.

3.5 The House Of Special Purpose

The question of authenticity has hung over this season like a cloud heavy with snow. It appeared at the very beginning, in the East German cold open (which was also the first mention of Yuri Gorka, of whom more later) and the official’s laboured distinction between ‘truth’ and ‘stories’. It’s there in the hidden former life of Gloria’s stepfather (did he end his life as Ennis Stussy or was there still some Thaddeus Mobley in him?). It’s the entire business model of V.M. Varga’s outfit, which uses a legitimate business as a front to hide its unpleasant truths. The contrast between truth and fake or, more accurately, their lack of contrast is particularly prominent this week.

Firstly, and most obviously, it’s the device through which Ray and Nikki, though mainly Nikki, seek to further their revenge against Emmit. Their sex tape plan is the pinnacle of the episode’s dichotomy. Its power lies in the ‘truth’ of the tape; it matters because it is real, indeed only because it is real. The figures have to be genuinely doing it for the video to count (sex tapes, like terrorist videos and ransom demands are among those items of media that can be ‘authenticated’). And yet, it is of course fake. It’s Ray again, wearing his dodgy Emmit disguise. It’s a piece of cheap fakery that works because it seems real. The fact that their blackmail plan was conducted with characteristic ineptitude only serves to deepen the theme. His wife having seen the tape (contrary to Nikki’s plan) Emmit is now trapped with his only solution being for Nikki and Ray to confirm that it was fake all along. It is the question of authenticity, weaponised.

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Which is a fair summation of Varga’s methods too. As his claws sink further into Stussy Lots, we see more of his character and tactics. He can be a charming dinner guest. He converses eloquently on a wide range of subjects. He even maintains fake accounting books to fool the IRS, which suggests an impressive depth to his fakery. By his own account, he glides around the world, mixing in rarefied and nasty circles without every gaining any personal notoriety. Any veneer, no matter how well formed, can only run so deep. As Varga’s sinister question about whether the IRS auditor is married or has children suggests, more traditional approaches are not closed to him. His treatment of Sy reached also new depths this week, with the humiliation of being forced to drink a steaming mug (a ‘World’s Best Dad’ one at that!) of piss amid a horrid smattering of anti-Semitic abuse. This abuse of Sy’s background was repeated to Emmit which suggests that, for Varga, the sentiments are genuine.

This, then, was the episode in which the mask slipped and the gloves came off. This was most dramatically portrayed in the brutal beating of Nikki towards the end of the episode. Conducted, thankfully, off screen, it was nevertheless a traumatic sequence and was made all the more powerful by seeing it reflected in Sy’s terrified face (this was made more powerful still through Michael Stuhlbarg’s terrific performance). The violence was of a calculated sort (note that they left her face alone) and seemed to be done for Sy’s edification, a further warning of the power that he faces. Which is doubtless no comfort to Nikki.

Again, this all seems cunning and calculated. Varga’s approach is to sow discord between Emmit and Sy, seducing the former with dreams of avarice while terrorising the latter with humiliation and brutality. Varga is, at heart, a colonialist. He identifies a target and conquers it through division.  He will probably succeed.

The only other character who is likely to succeed is the tenacious Gloria, whose battles with Sheriff Dammik continue. She, naturally, falls on the ‘authentic’ side of the equation, pursuing her case thoroughly and with due regard to truth and evidence. Her fault is to fail to see that the truth is not among Dammik’s targets. Her belief that he doesn’t have to like her work ‘because it’s factual’ seems troublingly naive but her commitment to her cause will see her through, particularly now that she has Winnie Lopez on side. They make a curious double act, neither one looking as though she is much threat to the criminal community (particularly Winnie with her easy manner and sing-song Minnesotan accent) but each one confident and capable in her own way. It’s that question again, what is real and what is fake. They may look relatively harmless but look again. Appearances can deceive.  

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode here.