Sunday 17 December 2017

Fargo review: 'I was desperately hoping to be proved wrong - I was gloriously, gratifyingly wrong'


FARGO -- Year 3 -- Pictured (l-r): Goran Bogdan as Yuri Gurka, David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas, Andy Yu as Meemo. CR: Chris Large/FX
FARGO -- Year 3 -- Pictured (l-r): Goran Bogdan as Yuri Gurka, David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas, Andy Yu as Meemo. CR: Chris Large/FX

Pat Stacey

Sometimes it’s really nice when you’re proved wrong about something. I was desperately hoping I’d be proved wrong about Fargo. And I was, gloriously, gratifyingly wrong.

It seemed to stall around the midway point, leading to fears that series creator Noah Hawley might have run out of ideas. Looking at the 10-episode whole, however, it’s clear that any misgivings were misplaced.

This wasn’t a Fargo struggling to live up to its predecessors. This was a Fargo doing things differently from them. Yes, the elements we’ve come to expect were all present and correct: the shocks, surprises and sudden, violent reversals of fortune — the “I didn’t see that coming”  moments. But they were arranged in a different pattern.

This was a slower-paced season (although it picked up a fine head of steam in the final few episodes) with a simpler plot and fewer characters. We’d had plenty of time to get to know them, so we cared all the more when they came to a bad end.

Which most of them did (this is Fargo, after all) in a fantastic finale that was both taut as piano wire and melancholy. Poor Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), of course, didn’t even make it this far.

He checked out two episodes earlier when a stray shard of picture-frame glass punctured his neck artery during a to-and-fro struggle with brother Emmit (also the magnificent Mr McGregor, who’s surely in line for some awards) over the valuable stamp at the heart of their feud.

David Thewlis in Fargo
David Thewlis in Fargo

It was freakish, shocking and blackly comic too, in the best Fargo tradition, yet also genuinely sad.

The stamp, which sparked the very first murder — a case of mistaken identity — and was responsible for the pile-up of bodies later, ended up discarded by Emmit, stuck on a rock in the Minnesota snow, a worthless rectangle of paper.

Emmit himself was discarded by the villainous VM Varga (David Thewlis), who’d invaded and taken over the business he and partner Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) had spent their lives building up.

Forced by Varga to sign form after form, Emmit finally snapped and pulled a gun. But he was overpowered and woke up to find Varga and his goons had cleared out.

It turned out that Varga and his associates weren’t running a vast money-laundering operation after all. This was a perfectly legal leveraged buyout, whereby a parasitic entity attaches itself to a successful company, borrows and pockets millions, and then sells the debt-ridden company for a pittance — in this case to the widow Goldfarb (Mary McDonnell), who’d been working with Varga all along.

One person got the better of Varga: Ray’s girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Windstead). Having wiped out Varga’s entire crew with the help of Mr Wrench (Russell Harvard) — a brilliant scene, this — Nikki gave her new ally the three million she’d extracted from Varga, who escaped from the scene of the carnage.

So Nikki — who exposed Varga by passing his dodgy accounts to the IRS — wasn’t the gold-digger she seemed to be at the start; she really did love poor, paunchy, balding sad sack Ray as much as he loved her.

What Nikki wanted was revenge on Emmit, and she almost got it when she caught up with him on a lonely highway and had him at the point of a shotgun. Emmit was ready to be punished for his sins, but then a passing cop stopped, there was shooting, and the cop and Nikki ended up dead.

Nikki eventually got her revenge, by proxy, in a flash-forward to five years later when Emmit, now reconciled with his wife, went to the fridge to fetch dessert. Mr Wrench turned up and put a silenced bullet through his head.

But what about our heroic police chief, glorious Goria Burgle (Carrie Coon), who fit all the pieces together despite her idiotic male superiors? Did she see justice done?

Fargo ended ambiguously with Gloria, now working for Homeland Security, facing Varga, who’d been nabbed after all this time while passing through an airport under a fake name, across a desk.

She promised him, with a confident smile, he’d soon be eating mashed potatoes in Rikers Island prison. He predicted someone powerful would walk through the door in the next few minutes and spring him. As the wall-clock ticked away, the camera settled on the door. Then... fade to black, and that was it.

This was a superb season and, earlier reservations swept aside, probably the Fargo I’d be most inclined to watch again.


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