REVIEW: 'Fargo' Season Three, Episode One: Law Of Vacant Places
Oh, boy. There is a lot to unpack here with the third season's premiere episode. But first, I want to say it is great to be back reviewing/recapping "Fargo" once again. It truly is a wonderful, bloody good time each year for me.
Now, let's get to it. The third season's first episode is certainly a slow burn that is establishing who these characters are and some of their motives. There is not a lot of action and violence, in fact it reminded me more of the subdued nature of the film than the the first two seasons' openers.
Our first scene is in East Berlin in 1988, where we see a communist military figure interrogating a man over the murder of a woman. The lines are blurred as to whom is lying about the situation, when the man — either "Yuri Gurka" in the government's eyes, or "Jakob Ungerleider" according to the suspect — claims his innocence as the government contends that if what he is saying is true, that would mean the government is wrong. An idea that just doesn't work under oppressive regimes.
We then get a cut to 2010 Minnesota (I liked how they used the barren winter photo on the official's wall as a transition here) where we are greeted at the 25th anniversary of Emmit and Stella Stussy. Also attending this event is Emmit's twin brother — and holy hell it looks like he has seen some dark days — Ray, who is with his girlfriend Nikki Swango. Which, we learn later, Ray is her parole officer in St. Cloud, Minn., because Ray is a class act like that. And, because this is "Fargo," people always seem to justify their questionable actions seamlessly.
Is Emmit glad to see his brother on this special day? The answer seems to be no. Ray is the person almost every family has that is always asking for money, thus making most holidays and awkward dance of musical chairs because nobody wants to sit next to them. And that's exactly what Ray wants, money for his jailbird love.
Emmit and his right hand man, Sy Feltz, are wary of giving Ray more money, seeing as they apparently pay for a lot of random crap for the guy. But in this exchange, we are offered a glimpse into the brothers' divide: A years-long argument over who got their late father's Corvette and who got the priceless stamp collection. One is a millionaire and the other collects piss samples from parolees. You guess who got what.
Emmit lies to his brother about times being rough financially (just prior, we learn the Parking Lot King of Minnesota is doing well money-wise and is trying to pay back a debt, only to find their calls being answered by "clicks and buzzes").
We find out why toward the end of the episode.
And in classic "Fargo" fashion, this sets of a series of events which can be described as "unfortunate."
But before we get into that mess, we are also introduced to Gloria Burgle, her son and the son's grandfather they call Pops. The kid works with his grandpa at the Red Owl Market. This is very brief, but these three come back into play later.
Now, Ray decides to bribe one of his parolees, Maurice, with a clean slate (his drug test came back positive) if he goes to his brother's place and steals the last stamp of the priceless collection. The problem is Maurice is a stoner and an ex-convict and this is ultimately a terrible idea.
As Maurice is heading in some direction, Emmit gets a call that the source that they borrowed money from is at the office. This is a nice plot point that gets Emmit out of the house to build suspense.
But Maurice, driving and talking to his shrink on his cellphone while smoking a joint — which could be a cautionary tale in of itself — loses the address as he swerves on the road and it flies out the window. After a brief search, Maurice decides to rely on his THC-riddled memory and thinks he knows where he is going.
Is he? Well, he sees a sign for Eden Valley — and to be fair, it is somewhat close in name to his real destination of Eden Prairie — and heads in the wrong direction.
A quick google maps search shows me that Eden Valley is a solid one hour and 27 minutes from Eden Prairie. So yeah, way off course.
As this is going on, we have Gloria Burgle and her son Nathan celebrating the child's birthday at Pops' place. Pops makes Nathan a nice little sculpture of a child and his grandfather fishing. We also find out Gloria's ex-husband is now dating another man, which seems to rub Pops the wrong way. After dinner, Gloria and Nathan hit the road, where we see she is the chief of the Eden Valley police — the area Maurice is toking his way to.
But Maurice doesn't remember the street address, so he hassles some poor guy at a gas station for a phone book and finds a Stussy in the area, which he assumes is the Stussy he is looking for.
Assumptions. They make an ass out of everyone. It turns out Pops' name is Ennis Stussy, and Maurice heads toward his place.
Nathan realizes he forgot his statue Pops made and they turn around and head back. A classic recipe for intensity.
Well, Gloria finds Ennis' place ransacked and poor Pops is tied —with duct tape, this is Minnesota after all — to a chair and is dead. She hears the floor upstairs creek and has her son call the authorities as she storms through the house with a gun.
She doesn't find anyone, but does find Pops had a secret compartment under his floor with old pulp science fiction magazines, one in which the cover looks like the thing he made Nathan. This is one of the callbacks to the UFO stuff from season two.
Ray and Nikki, after scoring a sweet, sweet third place in the Wildcat Regionals for the card game Bridge, are sharing a bath together while they stare at their phones, because that is where we are at in society. But they have company as Maurice shows up, stoned and shaken by what he has just done, demanding a whopping $5,000 from Ray for his troubles. Otherwise, he will go to the police — which is such a bald-faced lie. Good thing Nikki is great a counting things (maybe her abilities with numbers and her greatness at bridge might go hand-in-hand, I don't know I have never played the game) and times it out as to when Maurice is outside the apartment.
Why? So she and Ray can drop a (REDACTED) air conditioner unit on his head. I admit, I laughed out loud at this. It is a scene I could see in a Coen Brothers film.
Back at Stussy Lots, Ltd., Emmit meets a mysterious figure with questionable dental hygiene named V.M. Vargas, the person whom he had gotten a "loan" from the year before. It turns out that it wasn't merely a loan, it was as Vargas states an "investment."
Seems that if you borrow a million dollars from a shady source that doesn't ask for collateral, you might be getting in business with some nefarious people. And it seems like Emmit's parking lot empire is now a source for Vargas to launder money or something like that.
The end of the episode we see Nathan being picked up by his father as Gloria is about to get to work.
• I like the callbacks to the UFO from last season. Pops watching the UFO film and the fact he hides his pulp magazines under his floor.
• What the (REDACTED) was up with that cold open?
• I have a feeling Nikki has dropped an AC unit on someone's head before. Because she is really good at timing people in such a situation and also has no qualms with first degree murder.
• Ray's customized license plate says "Ace Hole." Take what you will from that.
• This episode made a game of Bridge seem exciting.
• "You saying he's not a man, or he's not in my bathroom?"
• "Robbing your brother, that's just low."
• Vargas' teeth. Wow, something out of the Big Book of British Smiles.
• "Clicks and buzzes."
• Who talks to their shrink on the phone at night? Apparently Maurice does.
• Also, RIP Maurice. You went out like a champ.
• It is weird seeing Michael Stuhlbarg from "Boardwalk Empire" with that goofy mustache and Minnesotan accent.
• Speaking of, I'm not sure what to think of Ewan McGregor's Minnesotan accent.
• Love the use of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats' "S.O.B." at the end of the episode.