As usual, Fargo Season 3 Episode 1 has only just begun to tell this chapter's story, but I'm already hooked.
While "The Law of Vacant Places" isn't quite as gripping a start as either Fargo Season 2 Episode 1 or Fargo Season 1 Episode 1, I find myself invested in these characters and their stories, an wondering where this season will manage to spiral out to.
Of course, if Fargo is anything, it's unpredictable and has a tendency to go against the grain. So your guess is as good as mine where Fargo Season 3 will end up nine episodes from now.
The major story serving as this season's lynchpin centers on the two characters played by Ewan McGregor – brothers Ray, a slovenly parole officer, and Emmit Stussy, a successful businessman and the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" (whatever the hell that means).
For Lester, that mess was implicitly allowing hit man Lorne to murder his rival and later impulsively killing his nag of a wife. For Peggy, that was accidentally hitting Rye Gerhardt with her car and covering it up. Ray's mess is sending one of his parolees, ex-con Maurice (spectacularly played by Scoot McNairy, in all his greasy glory) to rob his big brother of a single vintage stamp.
The exact nature of Ray and Emmit's sibling rivalry hasn't been explored quite yet – we're only one installment in, after all – but we got enough of it in the premiere to get the gist.
In Ray's view, Emmit cheated his younger brother out of his inheritance (a collection of vintage stamps) after their father died.
In Emmit's telling of it, Ray practically begged him to swap the stamps for the Corvette (now a rusty old thing that Ray hung onto all this time, likely on principle). That stamp collection, it seems, got Emmit the money he needed to found his company and jumpstart his success.
Ray is, understandably, resentful. Because, well, his life of watching parolees pee into cups sucks in comparison.
It's not clear whether Emmit is being transparent about whether he did or didn't intend to trick Ray out of the money. I'm already inclined to believe that Ray's reading of the situation is the correct one – Emmit strikes me as a sleazeball, based purely on what we've seen of him so far.
But it's also not clear just how much older Emmit is supposed to be and when, exactly, their father died and this inheritance switcheroo went down. So time will tell on that front.
Ray's initial plan forms after he hits his brother up for money (invoking the ol' "You stole my birthright" thing) at Emmit's 25th wedding anniversary celebration with his wife, Stella, and Emmit refuses to play ball. Ray wants the money so he can buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Nikki, one of his parolees.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Nikki with all the effortless swagger and shadiness the role demands, and I already love her.
Nikki: Ray… There’s a man in my bathroom.
Ray: Let’s not jump to any conclusions.
Nikki: Are you saying he’s not a man or that he’s not in my bathroom?
She's just phenomenal, and such a brilliantly weird character. I particularly love that Nikki is convinced that she and Ray will get rich off of competitive bridge. I didn't even know that competitive bridge was a thing.
Their weird, unbalanced relationship (Ray adores her and she's way out of his league, occasionally seeming like she's only humoring him) is very compelling from the word go.
But Nikki has other skills beyond bridge playing – like swiftly covering up crimes by straight-up murdering dudes.
How brilliant (and ruthless) was her quick-thinking plan to jimmy loose her air conditioner, staging the "accidental" death of Maurice and taking care of the issue with him blackmailing Ray for his role in Ennis' death?
It was clear from the moment dim, drugged-up (but still, weirdly, sympathetic) Maurice was introduced that Ray's hastily cobbled together plan would not go off as he was hoping. A simple gust of wind blowing Emmit's address out the window set Maurice on a different path – to rob the wrong house.
Unfortunately for Maurice (and for Ray and, by extension, Nikki) that "wrong house" belonged to Ennis, the stepfather of the Eden Prairie police chief, Gloria Burgle.
Now, is that a great character name or what?
There are resonances of past characters all over this season of Fargo (the Lester/Peggy comparisons are too clear to ignore with Ray).
Gloria calls to mind shades of other "lawful good" characters like Molly Solverson and her dad Lou (in the first and second seasons, respectively), but Carrie Coon brings a softly confident air to the role all her own.
Much like Molly, it seems that Gloria will be the one whose season-long mission it is to track down the person who caused her stepdad's death, if the closing shot of the premiere is any indication.
The beauty of this show is that, while there are distinct character "types" that keep being repeated year after year, every single one still manages to feel unique, complex, compelling, and unpredictable. That's thanks to the strong writing and strong performances.
Meanwhile, while all of this Ray-centric drama was going down, Emmit was otherwise occupied with issues of his own. Specifically, the shady loan he took from a shady company the year before came back to bite him right in the ass.
V. M. Varga is a menacing character, much in the same vein as Lorne Malvo and Mike Milligan. He's not *quite* at their level of creepy yet, but I have faith. Also, his disastrous teeth are a great character touch. It's painful to even look at him.
Varga broke the news to Emmit and Sy that the "loan" he gave them towards Emmit's business was actually an investment – and now, he intends to collect by using Emmit's company as a cover for his own illegal business dealings.
I'm certain that Emmit's troubles will wind up intersecting with his brother's plot-got-wrong at some point or another.
Finally, there's the question of the opening scene, which for all intents and purposes was completely unrelated to the rest of the premiere. It took place in East Berlin in 1988, as an official questioned a mystery man about the murder of a woman, insisting that the man was someone named Yuri Gurka despite the poor guy's repeated denials.
It remains to be seen whether this scene will tie into the rest of this season's story in a literal way, or if will just be a thematic connection – the official's insistence on "the truth" instead of telling stories did seem rather meta.
Because, well, Fargo is all about blurring the line between "truth" and stories.
We are not here to tell stories, we are here to tell the truth.East Berlin Official
- As usual, both the original score and soundtrack are flawless.
- Fargo (or rather Noah Hawley) is known for inventive cinematography. Perhaps my favorite example in this particular installment was the shot from the falling air conditioner's toppling POV. That was brilliant.
- Leave it to this show to make a montage of derelict convicts peeing in cups look so damn artistic.
- Ewan McGregor is great in both roles, but his natural Scottish accent does have a tendency to slip out, particularly as Emmit, for whatever reason.
- Gloria finds a secret box of books (the cover of one of which matches the figurine Ennis made for Nathan). What's that all about?
What did you think of the season premiere? Share your thoughts by commenting below and remember that you can watch Fargo online here at TV Fanatic to relive the entire show anytime.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.