Photo Credit: FX

Fargo Season 3 Premiere Plot Summary:

Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) seeks the money he feels his brother Emmit Stussy (also McGregor) owes him from their father’s inheritance so he can buy a nice ring for his girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Emmit finds himself unexpectedly indebted to a mysterious organization that bailed out his business the previous year. Police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) begins to investigate a robbery.

In some ways, Fargo has an even harder task this year than it had in its last two seasons. The first season needed to establish itself, to prove it was a worthy successor to the movie it was based off of without just being a carbon copy. After passing that test with flying colors, the second season needed to show that it could recapture that same magic. And now that we know that the first season wasn’t just a fluke, we move on to a season that has the expectation, rather than the hope, of being brilliant. Its near complete reinvention was part of what made last season so excellent, but now we’re even more aware of the recurring ideas, themes, and motifs that go into this show. With increased pressure and the diminished ability to surprise, can this season hope to match its storied forebears?

Anyone who feared that Fargo would lose its almost mystical sense of symbolism was assuredly relieved by the opening scene, a (thus far) entirely unrelated vignette of an East German man accused of a murder he clearly didn’t commit by a bureaucracy that refuses to admit any error. Trapped in an interrogation room, he finds himself in a nightmare straight out of Kafka as he is quietly, relentlessly hounded by a Soviet official. Nothing, not his age or his nationality or his obviously alive wife, can dissuade the official across from him from insisting that he must be the man who committed the crime, dismissing these facts as mere “stories” in the face of his dubious evidence. This sets up an interesting thematic contrast to last season, where the focus was on the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives and how they can lead us astray when they clash with reality. Here, we instead have a tale of how the truth itself can be utterly powerless against the force of a reality that has been decided upon.

This is not just left as a major theme for the season, but recurs in a myriad of small ways throughout the episode. Ray and Emmit still feud over their respective inheritances from their father, Ray insistent he was swindled out of their dad’s priceless stamp collection while Emmit claims it was a fair trade. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever discover the truth, and moreover, it’s beside the point. Regardless of what they think to be true, the fact remains that Emmit got the stamps and the money and success, and Ray did not. But Emmit does find himself in the similar situation of being told that the loan he took out from a shady organization was not a loan but an investment that allows them to use his company as a front. He and his lawyer/business partner Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) can issue all the halting protests they like; they are powerless before the quiet implacability of the unquantifiably foreign V.M. Varga (David Thewlis). Both are small but pointed reminders of how reality is often shaped more by our perceptions than by truth, and they are far from the only examples.

Thematic resonance has been a key part of this show’s success, but far from the only one that this episode demonstrates. The show’s stark visuals, the bleak emptiness of its midwestern snowfields highlighting the isolation of its characters, continue to be utterly top-notch, and make even the most staid conversation (not that any of the snappily written dialogue could be described as staid) a treat for the eyes. And the show continues its streak of taking high profile actors and wringing career-defining performances out of them. You could be forgiven for not realizing that Ray and Emmit Stussey are both played by Ewan McGregor, so successfully does he inhabit both the timid yet discontent demeanor of Ray and the careful confidence of Emmit. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, meanwhile, is immediately captivating as Ray’s girlfriend Nikki. The character could easily seem suspicious and duplicitous in her relationship with her parole officer, but the sheer force of Winstead’s charm makes us believe, as much as Ray does, that there is something real to their relationship. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen, if it does not end up another unresolvable mystery.

Of course, if an otherworldly sense of strangeness is part of Fargo‘s charm, then the fact that we are now on its third season can’t help but take away some of that luster. With two other seasons to compare it to, we can begin to sift out the recurring patterns and themes that bind them all together. The kind but determined cop, the mysterious and powerful criminal organization, the hapless male-and-female duo in over their heads, the desperate and self-involved man pushed to the brink: these are familiar shapes, slotted into unfamiliar designs with unfamiliar faces yet nevertheless sparking a vague sense of recognition. This early, it is impossible to tell if this familiarity will veer off into something refreshingly and intoxicatingly new, twist these shapes into intriguing patterns that more than make up for their similarity to past efforts, or if it is simply an inevitability that the show would eventually lose the ability to surprise. Regardless of which it is, those who have seen the past two seasons of Fargo (as well as Noah Hawley’s stellar work on Legion) will likely have the utmost faith that it will be an incredibly compelling watch.

Rating: 9 out of 10

FARGO AIRS WEDNESDAYS AT 10 ON FX

Chris Diggins is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.

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