"The richest guy in the room is always the boss." So says Nikki Swango in the beginning of Fargo Season 3 Episode 4.
That theme ends up being increasingly relevant throughout the entire installment, and particularly when it comes to Varga and Emmit's later conversation book-ending the hour.
After following only Gloria on Fargo Season 3 Episode 3, "The Narrow Escape Problem" was a welcome return to the rest of our eclectic cast of characters. (Not that the Gloria-centric hour last time was in any way lacking.)
Before delving into the actual plot, I'd be remiss if I didn't address the hour's pleasant surprise for fans of the show's earlier seasons – the return of Billy Bob Thornton. Well... sort of.
While he didn't appear in the flesh as his infamous Fargo Season 1 villain Lorne Malvo (one of television's greatest-ever baddies, if you ask me), Thornton stepped in as a "guest narrator" for the hour.
The nameless narrator imposed the story of "Peter and the Wolf" (a musical composition that "illustrates" a fairy tale with music) on our characters, giving them each a fable counterpart.
Each character in this tale is going to be represented by a different instrument in the orchestra. For instance, the bird will be played by the flute, like this. Here's the duck, played by the oboe. The cat, by the clarinet. The bassoon will represent grandfather. The blast of the hunter’s shotguns played by the kettle drums. The wolf by the French horns. And Peter, by the strings. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I'll begin.Narrator
If you're at all familiar with the story, you're aware that each of the character assignments is incredibly fitting.
I'll give you the cliff-notes version: the duck and bird argue with one another while a sly cat stalks them; the cat attempts to eat the bird but fails; the duck is swallowed by the wolf; and Peter successfully captures the wolf in the end.
If I had to guess, I'd say that this will likely closely mirror the endings each of our Fargo characters will get this season. Thematically, if not literally, anyway.
Aside from Thornton's soothing and kind of hypnotic voice, the hour was a success in a few other ways. For one, it advanced the plot forward in a big way and also continued to develop each of the characters. Emmit, in particularly, took a big step regarding Varga.
But the hour was pretty much all bad for poor, hapless Ray.
It began with Ray impersonating Emmit – complete with a crappy wig and a quick shave – in order to break into the safety deposit box that Nikki discovered during her tampon fiasco on Fargo Season 3 Episode 2.
Surprisingly, that adventure was a success (he didn't find the stamp in the safety deposit box, but he did walk out with $10,000). The ploy only worked when Ray shed his living doormat mannerisms and adopted the entitled, borderline-nasty disposition of "the richest man in the room."
Buck, if I wanted an opinion from an asshole, I'd ask my own. Got it?Ray as Emmit
Brilliant. I can't get over how flawlessly Ewan McGregor differentiates the two characters.
I mean, Ray wasn't exactly doing a convincing take on Emmit (this isn't Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black we're talking about), but all of Ray's mannerisms are so distinct from Emmit's. It was really cool to see him briefly morph into the kind of man that he thinks his brother is.
Later on, Ray was visited by Gloria, fresh off of her visit to see Maurice's gross-looking corpse in the morgue. She'd found the parole office's card in his wallet, leading her straight to Ray.
Ray actually played it relatively cool (better than I thought he would, at least), but it's clear that he's getting nervous that the police might be closing in on his connection to Ennis' murder.
And almost immediately after, he got even more bad news: Sy revealed Ray's relationship with Nikki to Ray's bosses, and he got fired as a result. But not before we were treated to a positively cringe-worthy scene where Ray professed his love for Nikki to his superiors, who clearly believe that Ray is being bamboozled and manipulated by Nikki.
Because of course he is.
Ray effectively gave up his job in order to remain with Nikki, citing their ~true love~ and all that. How pathetic it was to hear Ray stammer about a woman who looks like Nikki loving him and how unbelievable that was. Poor, delusional dude.
On the bright side, Ray's misfortune also gave us the hilarious scene of Sy showing up outside the parole office and just pointing at him silently like a weirdo to indicate that he'd been the one to bust their relationship.
And speaking of Sy, here's my favorite Sy-ism of the week:
Cremains, I think, is the preferred nomenclature.Sy
But it wasn't all good tidings for Sy either. As it turned out, his rash decision to destroy Ray's car with his humvee after their diner confrontation had lingering, larger consequences.
Officer Winnie Lopez was assigned to investigate the hit-and-run after the waitress whose car had also accidentally been hit on the way out decided to press charges (Ray, for his part, knew enough to decline to do so). And seriously, bless Sy for giving us all Winnie Lopez.
Winnie went to see Sy at Stussy Lots after visiting Ray (where she met Gloria briefly). Sy gave an epically awkward, suspicious, and tense interview, which gave Winnie all kinds of red flags.
It was clear that Sy was nervous that Varga's lackeys (who were in the office) might think that he'd tipped off the authorities about their shady dealings. After all, Sy was well aware that they were capable of killing Irv, even telling Emmit that he thought they'd done it.
Somehow, I really don't think Sy will make it through the season alive. Especially given the recent turning point in Emmit and Varga's "partnership."
Varga: There’s an accounting coming, Mr. Stussy, and you know I'm right. Mongrel hordes descending, and what are you doing to insulate yourself and your family? You think you're rich. You've no idea what rich means. Rich is a fleet of private planes filled with decoys to mask your scent. It's a bunker in Wyoming and another in Gstaad. So that's action item one, the accumulation of wealth. And I mean wealth, not money.
Emmit: What's action item number two?
Varga: To use that wealth to become invisible.
Varga finally revealed why he was so intent on working with Emmit, rather than just taking his money back – and it's certainly a doozy of a reason.
If we're to accept what he told Emmit at face value – and, to be frank, I'm not fully convinced this wasn't all some elaborate reasoning he spun to woo Emmit to his side – then Varga essentially believes that the proletariat is coming for the one-percenters.
He believes that they'll attack the rich and, to counteract this, Varga disguises his wealth in a variety of ways, attempting to blend in with the non-ridiculously-wealthy.
His speech consisted of a whole bunch of racist weirdness, but damn if David Thewlis didn't rock the hell out of that entire extended scene.
And the scene was certainly a long one, between Emmit and Varga after the world's awkwardest dinner with Emmit's wife and mute mother-in-law.
Despite its length, the entire extended exchange was absolutely captivating and mesmerizing. Both McGregor and Thewlis gave phenomenal performances, and in the end, Emmit was fully convinced to partner with Varga – he even signed a document making him an official partner in the business.
Part of Varga's convincing involved revealing to Emmit that he'd been listening in on his phone calls and knew all about his feud with Ray – and plenty of other things about Emmit's life.
Personally, that would've been my cue to run in the opposite direction, but Emmit didn't seem to register just how menacing Varga's surveillance is.
Significantly, Varga asked Emmit whether Ray would be an issue. Proving that he must still have some kind of fondness for his younger brother, Emmit assured Varga that Ray was just a loser – but by doing so, he effectively protected Ray from being killed by Varga's willing lackeys.
When asked about "the girl" (Nikki), Emmit also said that she, too, must just be a loser.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I think the two men are probably underestimating Nikki.
The hour closed with Gloria and Winnie coming together to make a big breakthrough in the Ennis murder case. Winnie managed to piece together that Ray and Emmit, whose company the humvee was registered to, were feuding brothers.
From there, she also pieced together that Gloria had visited Ray about a murder – the murder of a man who shared the same last name as the two brothers.
The realization dawning on Gloria's face right before the credits rolled definitely indicates that it won't be long before "Peter" closes in on the "duck" and the "bird" – and comes face to face with Varga, "the wolf."
- Varga is apparently bulimic. I'm not really sure what the larger significance is there, or if it's just a strange character quirk. At the very least, it definitely explains his horrific teeth.
- I loved everything about Gloria's confrontation with the new chief. That guy is such a dick, and I can't wait until Gloria single handedly takes down Varga's criminal empire and makes new chief look like a fool.
- Ray decided to skip out on the meeting with the potential bridge investor, choosing to get drunk after losing his job instead. That will most likely lead to some splinters in his relationship with Nikki.
- She hasn't been around long, but Officer Winnie Lopez might already be one of my favorite Fargo characters ever. That bathroom introduction scene was absolutely genius and so entertaining.
- That Putin monologue by Varga's lackey was scarily relevant to real-life, wasn't it?
What did you think of "The Narrow Escape Problem"? Share your thoughts by commenting below, and remember that you can watch Fargo online here at TV Fanatic anytime.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.