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‘Fargo’ Season 3 Serves Up More Coen Brothers-Style Cold, Black Comedy

The quirky crime comedy/drama has yet to lose its steely edge
by Karl R. De Mesa | Jan 28, 2018
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It's the kind of explosive but offhand comment that perfectly encapsulates the surreal and dangerous nature of our times when Sy Feltz (played by the protean Michael Stuhlbarg) returns home to his wife, embraces her, and declares with utter sorrow: "The world is wrong! It looks like my world but everything is different."

For two seasons now, the Fargo series has been serving up the kind of delicious and utterly compelling stew of strange things happening to ordinary people that's was the stock-in-trade of series creator Noah Hawley by way of the Coen Brothers.

With Season 3, they finally got the chance to unmoor from the formula of the original movie with a more rambling but no less entertaining (and damn hilarious) storyline, and it’s the only season to not feature the titular Fargo, North Dakota, with events instead occurring in three small Minnesota towns.

The pilot's opening scene foreshadows all the weirdness of the new season.

It's 1988 in East Berlin, and the confused Jakob Ungerleider is mistaken for a Ukrainian immigrant named Yuri Gurka and called into a police investigation. He's charged with murdering his girlfriend simply because they both lived at the same address, with Jakob being the current occupant. Despite his empathic denials, the State identifies him as Yuri because the alternative would have to be that the State is wrong—and the State is never wrong!

This tone of cosmic jokes delivered in thick Minnesotan accents, furry hats, and fringe characters behaving badly in bizarre circumstances set in the provincial and often snowing landscapes of Minnesota is sustained throughout 10 episodes.

There's feuding brothers Emmit Stussy and Ray Stussy, both played with comic profundity by Ewan McGregor, whose whole point of contention is the fortune bequeathed by a vintage, and very valuable postage stamp, that their father had left them.

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Emmit is the curly-haired and even tempered "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" who has made a fortune leasing out spaces and buying more parking lots, while Ray is the fatty, dirt poor brother, a classic impulse-deficient man who now works as a parole office with that Coen Bros long-hair-but-also-balding Minnesotan.

The comedic value of two Ewan McGregors playing out this ridiculous brotherly brawl cannot be overstated. Many times all that carried the day was how much thespian prowess this guy brought to the Stussys, that are essentially same-same, but different, but still same.

But wait, it wouldn't be Fargo without the equally fringe supporting characters orbiting the main players. There's David Thewlis starring as the cunning and abhorrent villain V.M. Varga, who gets deeply involved in Emmit's business through a loan snafu. This bulimic and yellow-toothed mafia figure has no redeeming qualities and yet, in every scene, I marveled at the efficient and charismatic manner he placated his principals until he eventually made it seem that whatever he was proposing had originally been their idea.

Varga’s love for storified monologue and curated aphormisms are at turns terrifying and creepy. They also range from illuminating to the downright WTF, from “Things of consequence rarely happen by accident” to "A chicken is an egg's way of making another egg. You see, it's all a matter of perspective. The chicken sees it one way, the egg another."

Supporting props must also go to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, slimmed down and glammed up here, who plays sexy parolee Nikki Swango, Ray's girlfriend, their ill-fated but nonetheless pure love becoming the reason for Ray wanting to better himself. She can steal scenes with her big eyes and long legs, and her skills at competitive cards are equally sharp.

Carrie Coon is amazing as the signature small town female police officer Gloria Burgle. This is, after all, the Coen Bros universe where detection, common sense, and dogged intelligence work are possessed only by the enterprising woman in law enforcement.

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Burgle is a tad past her prime looks-wise and a single mother, too. She is also the brains and heart and the literal chief/sheriff of the Eden Valley Police. She is the third end of the triangle that bears this season’s storyline aloft.

While events spiral out of control and are threatened by the overwhelming tangle of narrative threads, like the deepening dispute of the Stussy Brothers, the encroaching darkness brought by the thuggish VM Varga, and the mystery of who killed Burgle's father-in-law becomes clearer and links back to the other characters, it is Burgle’s keen insight, propensity for low-tech procedural, and her determined provenance to make a mark on the world that brought me back, again and again, to sane territory.

Burgle's character handicap is a touch of screenwriting genius. She is, through some mysterious affliction, rendered undetectable to any motion sensor, and thus her trouble with similarly activated doors and faucets drives her crazy.

"I got this theory, in private, that I don't actually exist," Gloria confesses in one scene. Because of such accumulated frustration, she bites down and soldiers on in her ubiquitous trapper hat, renewed in her determination to impose order to the farcical chain of events around her.

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Season 3 is set in 2010, and the usual caveat of the series is flashed at the start of each episode. That "this is a true story" and that the names may have changed but the veracity of the events have not. The nonfictional, "it might be true, heck it IS true!" frisson creates an added layer of viewing joy.

With minor problems dealing with an ensemble cast and thus a kind of epic storyline that opens up too many stray, rogue branches, the season gives up narrative tightness in exchange for keeping a philosophical, musing atmosphere that cajoles us into the snowing North Dakotan/Minnesotan mysteries, full of pathos for the wonderful, starkly quirky characters in the mold of the Coen Brothers’ black comedy as envisioned by series creator Noah Hawley.

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Or, as the erudite and loathsome criminal VM Varga would say: "The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care?"

 

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