Fargo: Season 3
In recent years there has been a revival of a TV format that was wildly popular during the dawn of the age of television, the anthology series. Each season is a reset introducing new characters and situations. In the fifties, these series produced some of the finest dramatic moments in popular culture. Currently ‘American Horror Story’ has become a phenomenon that consistently garners extraordinary ratings from the critics and acceptance by the fans. Over in drama, one series has excelled, ‘Fargo.' Loosely based on the film of 1996 film of the same name written and directed by the Coen brothers. It is an example of a true crime parody that infuses it with a delightfully wicked sense of dark humor. The Brother Coen have moved from direct involvement as showrunners to the exalted position of Executive Producers. The three-season currently completed are all interconnected in ways that are frequently subtle and expertly constructed. In this third season, the level of the trademark dark comedy brought to a near-existential level. At times the plot twist is so completely outrageous that you have to fight the urge to consider it a plot contrivance and realize it is a cleverly crafted farce. This is the brilliance infused in every moment of this series. It consistently challenges the preconceived expectations that a lifetime of watching television has conditioned you to anticipate. The story closely emulates the true crime drama to the extent of posting a faux disclaimer at the start of each episode regarding names changes out of respect for any still living characters. The creator and showrunner of the series, Noah Hawley, has a remarkable understanding of the founding genres. This enables him to infuse his satiric content and black comedic elements with such skill you barely notice the changes from actual stories of this type. The story for the third season built upon a foundation of one of the oldest motivations humanity has encountered sibling rivalry. Specifically, a pair of fraternal twins brought to odds of lethal proportions by an old postage stamp.
Each season has a specific point in time but always located in the frequently bitter cold environment indicative of the state of Minnesota. This is the only season not to feature the eponymous city of Fargo centering most of the action in the towns of St. Cloud, Eden Valley, and Eden Prairie. The contentious twins hare the Stussy brothers Ray and Emmit. Both men are played by Ewan McGregor who utilizes amazing makeup to create two completely different appearances. While the extensive makeup provides the immediate and overt means to differentiate the brothers the creative nuances that spring from Mr. McGregor incredible talent is what brings this season to the heights of entertainment it achieves. Mr. McGregor exhibits the ability to understand what motivates each of his characters. He pervades each of the brothers with distinctive personalities. What differentiates his performances from so many other instances of an actor undertaking dual roles is Mr. McGregor eschews the usual inclination to maximize the differences in personalities. That is what the audience expects. The insightful twist this actor brings to the process is the understanding of the fraternal relationship. Ray an Emmit grew up together competing all their lives for the attention and favor of their father. This demands some commonality to exist between them derived from a life of shared experiences. This aspect of the performances resonates with a plot point taken from Genesis. Like how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew leaving the mantle of leadership to his brother Jacob. Ray decided to forego ownership of their father’s extremely valuable stamp collection in favor of a vintage Corvette muscle car. Emmit sold the collection using the proceeds to start a business, a string of parking lots. He held back one special stamp, an inverted bi-plane. Emmit keeps it in a frame in his office as a trophy celebrating his victory over his brother.
Years ago, Emmit needed a quick influx of cash, so he arranged for a loan with a benefactor. Now that the business is lucrative Emmet and his best friend and best friend, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), are finally able to repay the loan and clear their debt. V.M. Varga (Goran Bogdan), a representative of the investors. He announces that the money was a not a loan, but an investment and they are now partners. Varga is a reprehensible character devoid of any redeeming qualities. Backed by a pair of ruthlessly efficient hitmen he makes it clear that Emmet’s business is now a money laundering scheme. Under his control, the business rapidly expands to more lots to process greater sums of illicit cash. The effects makeup specialists are fantastic. Besides the look given to Ray with the stringy hair and beer belly, their work creating Varga is brilliant. The most noticeable and revolting feature being his rotting teeth that go in a myriad of directions. They seem to visualize the duplicitous nature of the man with his rotten to the core motives and disgusting personality. What is quite incredible is Mr. Bogdan is currently known for his role as Aries in the hit film ‘Wonder Woman.' This is further proof of the quality of talented actors that are drawn to participate in this exceptional series. Emmet may have taken advantage of his brother’s lamentable lack of business acumen, but he is not criminal by nature. He and Sy are rightfully concerned about being inexorably pulled into figuratively making a deal with the devil. The business they devoted their lives to is now a pawn of an organized crime syndicate.
A significant part of the show’s success can be attributed to the interconnected story arcs on a collision course. While Emmet is occupied with being used by a crime syndicate Ray has found himself in his patch of moral quicksand. Ray is employed as a probation officer, the official charged with monitoring the behavior of convicted felons released early on parole. He is supposed to maintain a professional relationship with his clients, but that regulation disappeared from his mind when he was assigned Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). This beautiful young woman is exceptionally cunning and driven by self-preservation. Crossing the line with Ray began with them teaming up to play in competitive bridge tournaments. The relationship soon became romantic. When Ray decides to propose, his lack of funds forces him to approach Emmet for a loan which is flatly refused. Blinded by love Ray blackmails, Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy), a parolee who just failed his mandatory urine test. Ray will cover the results if LeFay steals the trophy stamp. LeMay is not too bright and has an impaired short-term memory resulting in him breaking into the wrong house. Instead of Emmit Stussy in Eden Prairie, he invades the home of Ennis Stussy in Eden Valley.in a trademark moment of bizarre happenstance LeFay is killed when Ray’s window air condition fall on him. Both brothers are deep in criminal activities separate from an unknown to the other. What is required now is for law enforcement to become involved?
At first, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is the chief of the Eden Valley Police. Her life is in a state of flux as a newly divorced mother who is about to be demoted. Her department is being absorbed by Meeker County making Moe Dimmick (Shea Whigham) the new chef. In a Fargo mandatory coincidence, her step-father was Ennis Stussy, the mam mistakenly murdered by LeFay. When Gloria encounters Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval), a police officer in St. Cloud. In casual conversation, Gloria notices the name Stussy has come up in both cases. Although forbidden to investigate the matter by her new boss, Gloria, aided by Winnie continue to consider the suspicious coincidence. One constant throughout the series is a female police officer, usually with some rank, underestimated and offhandedly dismissed by her male supervisor. Gloria is smart, intuitive and relentlessly determined. The theme of strong-willed women is echoed with Nikki. Despite being a criminal, her con-woman skills were honed by years of thinking on her feet and exploiting being underestimated by men.
As with the other seasons, the third season is not casual viewing. It demands and deserves your full attention. Each episode is packed with nuances and subtitles that may be missed during a single viewing. While you might still be able to follow the story, the clever crafting of the narrative requires experiencing each moment more than once for full enjoyment.