This review contains spoilers
It’s not enough, sometimes, to be clever. Each of Fargo season 3’s principals – Emmit, Gloria, Nikki and Varga – are not lacking in inventiveness or brains. Their use of them, however, differs. And, as the events of this episode show, they are not always enough to solve your problems, get you out of a hole or fix your whole damn life.
Emmit was a smart kid. He admits as much in his heartbreaking confession, at which he intends not only to escape the greasy clutches of VM Varga (even if this means prison) but also to atone for a lifetime of sin against his brother.
‘I’d been killing him for thirty years,’ he says, weakly, ‘this was just when he fell’. Like a Minnesotan Prometheus, his original sin was cleverness; preying on his tubby younger brother’s anxieties to convince him to take the Corvette in place of the far more valuable (and business-igniting) stamp collection. He even made Ray think it was his idea all along.
Smart work, if not exactly brotherly. Emmit’s testimony set several of the season’s previous events in a more emotional, biographical context. The desperation of Ray to acquire the stamp and his insistence on the ‘justice’ of winning it back. The constant, accusing presence of the Corvette, and Emmit’s traumatised response to seeing it after his brother’s death. That death was, strictly speaking, an accident. But Emmit insists that it was murder. You don’t have to agree with him to sympathise.
Emmit was freed from jail and returned to the ‘custody’ of VM Varga in the manner of a man making the opposite journey to jail. For him, this absence of punishment is ‘punishment’. Denied the opportunity to absolve himself, he’s more trapped now than he was when he handed himself in. It’s tempting to consider that this was all part of Varga’s calculations. Not least because he is himself a rather clever man.
His method for freeing Emmit from jail bore all the hallmarks of cleverness and audacity that we’ve come to expect from him. Recognising that most cops want a straightforward solution to a case, he provided one, means, motive and miscreant all. Once he was presented with Donald Woo and the carefully-placed samples of evidence, there was nothing else for Chief Dammik to do but book the ex-con and accept the gleeful back slaps from his colleagues. Oh, and dismiss Gloria’s genuine police work once again.
It was a pretty smart day’s work, all told. He understood the positions and motivations of the pieces on his board and made the necessary moves. Any strategically-minded player of games could do it, had they only the nerve. But Varga, by his own admission, doesn’t play games, which meant that when he came across a genuinely clever player, he came unstuck.
Nikki may only be semi-professional standard at bridge but she understands the combination of factors that pave the way to victory. Of these, the most important is the human factor; the ability to understand both your opponent and your partner. Varga underestimated her, but she made a thoroughly effective assessment of her. Of course, he wasn’t completely unprepared. The multitude of Varga-alikes and Meemo on sniper duties show that he’d done his homework. He just hadn’t done it thoroughly enough, and was outsmarted by Nikki and Wrench. It’s not a situation with which I imagine he’s too familiar. It showed.
Gloria’s obvious and privately effective cleverness is no match for the practicalities of the real world. She has intuitively understood the events of the Stussy case from the outset, absurdities and all, and has pursued them with admirable determination. It doesn’t matter. A simple answer is preferable to a complicated one, even if its correct.
‘I have this theory,’ she admits to Winnie, ‘that I don’t exist’. Between her failed marriage and the conspiracy of automatic doors and soap dispensers, it’s as though nothing she does really counts. Nothing, except for her love for her son and her burgeoning friendship with Winnie. It’s a minor turnaround, this.
The pattern of Gloria’s development up to now has hinted that this would be one of those instrumentalised (though no less genuine) friendships in which two strangers bond in pursuit of a common crime-solving goal. Seeing the friendship flourish once the investigation has been stripped away (at least in this penultimate episode) was wonderfully touching, as was the late detail that Gloria has finally started to ‘exist’ (at least in the minds of those temperamental taps). It’s not enough, sometimes, to be clever.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode – Who Rules The Land Of Denial? – here.