A Look at Fargo- Season 3, Episode 2: “The Principle of Restricted Choice”

Unfathomable pinheadery.

The episode begins with Gloria going through Ennis’ box of books and other items when she’s soon joined by her partner, Donny, played by Mark Forward, who tells her that the new chief wants to gather the department, since Donny and Gloria are the department.

As Gloria looks over a newspaper clipping, Donny asks if a fella named Thaddeus Mobley had anything to do with Ennis’ death, and it’s possible since Thaddeus and Ennis Stussy are one in the same person- it’s the name Ennis went under when he won an award.

On the road, Donny asks Gloria if she’s going to Ennis’ autopsy later, but she won’t. After all, the killer glued Ennis’ nose and mouth shut, so not like the cause of death is some kind of cliffhanger.  Gloria calls Ron to check on Nathan, but her connection is spotty and the call soon disconnects.  Turns out this happens every time Gloria makes a call.

Soon, the two arrive at the police station, but Gloria once again is unable to get the automatic door working.  Works fine for Donny, though.  Technology is a dick to Carrie Coon.

Sy and Emmit talk speak with an attorney, Irv Blumkin, played by Hardee T. Lineham, about their dealings with Varga, but Irv isn’t sympathetic since the two borrowed $1 million from a man without even learning his first name.  Any business Sy and Emmit do with Irv will end when they’re arrested for money laundering.  Once that happens, all their business goes to a criminal attorney instead.

Irv has the loan paperwork, so Emmit wants him to do some digging into Varga’s background, even if it means friending him on Facebook.  Anything that will get Varga to take back the money that Sy and Emmit borrowed and forget that he ever met them.

On the drive back, Emmit wonders if he was too hard on Ray and contemplates just giving him the stamp, but Sy doesn’t want Emmit getting soft right now.  He’s certain that it’s been a long time coming that Emmit said ‘No’ to Ray, and if he buckles now, Ray will just ask for more because he’s envious.  After all, Ray is just a loser, but Emmit is the Parking Lot King of Minnesota.  As far as Sy is concerned, Ray wants Emmit’s life.

As Irv goes into Google to search V.M. Varga, we see that he’s not what you’d call an expert with modern technology, so he calls in his secretary, Deb, played by Janet Walmsley, to help him.  Upon entering his name into the search engine, he gets no results, but he checks around and happens upon a link that prompts him to click to download information.

When he does, the computer screen goes from Google to a live photo of both Irv and Deb. The screen takes a quick snapshot before the computer shuts down altogether.  Deb goes to check her computer and it turns out that her computer is down as well.  And it’s not a power issue since the lights are still working.

Varga and some associates driving a fierce big rig truck arrive at Stussy Lots. The attendant can’t allow Varga to park because of the city’s ordinance, so it’s a good thing that Emmit Stussy gave Varga permission that he could indeed park in the lot.

Sy learns of Varga’s arrival, but he won’t the attendant that the order came from Emmit because that would create the implication of foreknowledge.  He heads to Emmit’s office, where Emmit is reading an article on Ennis Stussy’s death and lamenting that this isn’t the Minnesota that he remembers.

But Sy informs Emmit about the call from the Oakbridge Lot- which we learn is a ground lot under the highway.  It doesn’t get a lot of traffic, and the only reason the two bought it is because it could be a long term investment, maybe even turned into condos one day. The two make a note to talk to Stan Grossman about that one day.  Heh, I understood that reference.  And so did you.

Anyway, the big rig parked in the lot is against code and Sy is worried about escalation. Money laundering is one thing, but anything could be in that truck like booze or guns or, as Sy guesses, slave girls.  But Sy doesn’t want to check out the truck, though- they need plausible deniability.  Better to wait and see what Irv finds with his research.

Over at the police station, the new chief, Moe Dammick, played by Shea Whigham, is looking for certain supplies when he learns that the computers are in their boxes. Yeah, Gloria isn’t a fan of computers.  She thinks the old way of using telexes is just fine, but remember that it’s 2010, not 1950, and no one uses telexes anymore, which would explain why Gloria doesn’t receive any responses.

As Gloria prepares to leave so she can interview a potential witness who might’ve seen the perp gas up on his way out of town, Dammick advises her against mouthing off like she apparently just did.  He’ll give her a few days to grieve her stepfather’s death, but the bottom line is she’s being absorbed by the county, so she works for him.  As such, she’s in for a long talk about how things work with this new arrangement.

So Gloria goes to interview the witness, Earl, played by Daryl Shuttleworth, who recounts his Thursday night.  While he watched the Gophers’ game, some twitchy kid came in for a case of orange juice concentrate, and Earl believes you can make meth from that.  Make of that what you will.  Anyway, then a fella came in and asked for a phone book- and Earl surmised the fella was Russian just based on his accent.

Earl showed the guy his phone book, which he keeps on a chain because folks used to steal them, and when the fella looked through it, he tore out a page.  He shows Gloria the book, and she decides to take it in as evidence.  Given what Earl has said, she figures that this fella was searching for Ennis’ home, but didn’t know the address.

Ray asks his boss, Scotty, played by Ivan Sherry, if he can use his computer because some vermin chewed through his cord.  He looks through recent death certificates and sees that Maurice’s death is listed in the initial report as accidental.  He tells Scotty that since Maurice failed his piss test and has yet to show up for his appointment, he figures that Maurice has fled the area.

Scotty, who is far too focused on Nikki and her nutcracker caboose, simply reminds Ray to issue a B.O.L.O.- be on the lookout.

Indeed, Maurice’s blood is still being wiped from the pavement outside Nikki’s place, which Ray heads to as he finds Nikki making plans for a potential sponsor that’s interested in a new team.  Ray tells Nikki to focus.  No one suspects them of what they’ve done, but they’re not in the clear yet.  Nikki slaps Ray twice and tells him that there’s something wrong with his chi and she can’t have all blocked up right now.

Ray’s just fretting and feeling some remorse because he’s never killed before, but neither has Nikki.  Nikki finds that Ray has the soul of a poet.  Ray fears getting caught, but Nikki assures him that they’ll be fine since she gave a fake ID to the cops and the apartment’s rented under an assumed name.

As for the fella that Maurice killed, Nikki figures that the police aren’t going to look into the case of an old man versus a young fella.  Even if the police wanted to solve this case, there’s nothing to solve except for unfathomable pinheadery.

Ray, liking how forward thinking Nikki is, wants to fool around, but she’s on her period, so don’t go getting any ideas.  Keep that in mind.  She advises him that when the B.O.L.O. for Maurice turns up a dead body, he write ‘Case Closed’ on the file and file the papers at the dead-letter office.

When Ray admits that he and his boss spoke about Nikki’s ass and that Scotty asked if Ray still had Nikki as a con, she professes her hatred for the word ‘con’ because it’s so negative.  She figures that Ray’s chi is blocked up because of his blood feud with Emmit.

So Ray shows up at Emmit’s place at 10:30 that evening, with Emmit thinking that Ray showed up because someone died.  Ray apologizes for not calling instead and admits that he felt bad for how things ended and how they’re always fighting.  Emmit feels the same, and with Ray’s chi backed up, he wants to bury the hatchet.

This isn’t easy for Ray, though.  He tells Emmit that he’s proud of how he’s done so well for himself, and Emmit doesn’t owe him a thing for that.  Emmit is glad to hear this, given what an unpredictable week he’s had.  The brothers shake hands and Ray soon leaves.

As this happens, Nikki sneaks into the mansion to find the stamp, but instead of finding it mounted on the wall, there’s a picture of a donkey in its place.  She also happens upon a slip with information on the safety deposit box.  She then starts unzipping her pants.

Meanwhile, Emmit heads back in and hears a noise coming from the office.  He enters and finds two things ready to greet him: the words ‘Who’s the ass now’ written in red on the painting and a bloody tampon in the drawer.

I suppose that’s one way to take advantage of your period.

In a parking lot, Irv gets a surprise visit from one of Varga’s associates: Yuri Gurka, played by Goran Bogdan.  Yuri tells Irv about how his family fled from Cossacks in the middle of the night in the Ukraine,   It turns out that Yuri saw Irv’s name when he searched Varga on the internet.  Whoops.  Irv is then ambushed by the second of Varga’s associates, Meemo, played by Andy Yu, and the two toss Irv from the parking structure.

Nikki meets up with Ray and tells them not to underestimate Emmit because he’s a worthy opponent and moved the stamp.  Ray, though, feels he made some real progress and believes that his chi may be clearing up now.  Nikki believes that Emmit moved the stamp because he didn’t trust Ray, and the donkey is some kind of symbolism about what he feels Ray really is.  Well, two can play that game.

Sy drops by Emmit’s and we learn that the reason the stamp is gone is because the cleaning lady broke the frame, so Emmit is getting it fixed.  Even still, he pieces together that Ray distracted him long enough for Nikki to sneak in and try to steal the stamp.  Sy wonders why a tampon of all things would be left for Emmit, but whatever the reason, the gloves are off now as far as Ray is concerned.

And this is where Sy decides to step in and assure Emmit that he’ll make the problem go away.  When they see Ray again, they’ll rat him out to the police for dating a parolee.  That should hopefully scare him out of doing something else dumb.  Then Emmit gets a call from Deb, who informs him that Irv apparently jumped off of the parking garage.

Gloria and Nathan speak with a man who asks if they’ve notified any family Ennis might have had outside of Minnesota.  Problem is that Ennis wasn’t from the area, and Gloria wants Nathan to have the influence of a male elder in his life ever since his father left. Ennis wasn’t much of a talker, either, except for cursing. Gloria asks if the man has ever heard of Thaddeus Mobley out of Los Angeles, but he hasn’t.  Time to pick a vessel.

Ray’s breakfast is interrupted by a visit from Sy, who informs him that there’s a problem: Ray and his disgusting girlfriend.  He tells Ray that he and Emmit won’t speak again, and this is non-negotiable after the stunt of using feminine hygiene as a weapon.  Ray warns Sy to mind his tone, but Sy just presents a $20 bill, saying it’s the last thing he’ll receive from the Parking Lot King of Minnesota.

Sy leaves just as Ray presents the bird as a parting gift.  However, Sy has a parting gift of his own: he slams his truck into Ray’s Corvette over and over again, but as he leaves, he hits another vehicle in the process.  Not the cleanest getaway, Sy.

Over at the office, Emmit gives Madeline a call, but gets no response.  Turns out she’s distracted by the arrival of Varga, Yuri, and Meemo.  Emmit rushes out to meet the three before Varga can say too much, but he instructs Madeline to call Sy.

Even though Emmit says there’s no more space at the office, Varga is one step ahead, since according to building blueprints, Emmit has just rented an entire wing.  There is indeed a wing of open space and it’s big enough for Yuri and Meemo as a team of workers start bringing in boxes of items to fill the new space.  Emmit is aghast, but he’s not in a position to argue right now.

Sy arrives and is surprised to find Varga there.  Varga likes how Minnesota is so perfectly and sublimely bland.  He asks the two if they’ve ever traveled aboard, as you can find stability even in the brutal nation states.  He instructs the two to call him V.M. now since they’re partners, though Emmit and Sy still want to repay the money.

Varga tells them that they’re partners, so they should just lie back and enjoy themselves. Three things attract them to this parking lot business: it runs on cash, they don’t use technology, and this makes income impossible to verify.  Sy counters that the books shows predictable income from lot to lot, so Varga can buy more lots and maybe branch out to develop commercial residential properties.

Then the inescapable reality settles in: Emmit and Sy are trapped, but worry not- when this is all over, the two of them will be billionaires.  On paper, at least.  He heads off and tells the two that they won’t see much of him, but Yuri and Meemo will be around if needed.  He offers his condolences for Irv’s death, but he can’t have people investigating things.  He heads off and leaves the two dumbfounded as the episode comes to a close.

If part of Hawley’s plan was to get viewers to slowly learn more and more about the game of bridge with each episode title, he’s succeeding thus far.  So in the game of bridge, the principle of restricted choice means that if a particular card is played, this decreases the possibility that the player has an equivalent card.  In Fargo terms, you make one move, chances are your odds of making that same move again lessen.

So do you wing it when your odds are less certain and hope you get lucky?  Well, luck has never been anyone’s fortay as far as Fargo is concerned.  Coincidences, sure, but not luck.  In fact, the odds seem to be against everyone rather than things lining up and working in their favor.

Part of that has to do with who is making the decisions and casting the play for someone else, rather than letting that someone come to their own conclusion.  Ray and Emmit are their own men, sure, but they’re pushed in one direction or another due to Sy and Nikki making helping influence their decisions.  Not to say they wouldn’t have their animosity without someone pushing them, but on their own, they can smooth things out.

As we see during their conversation, even though the two may dislike each other at times, they can come to an accord and be actual brothers instead of adversaries.  In the premiere, all they did was argue about what they felt they were owed from one another, but here, they put their differences aside and manage to wipe the slate clean.  Even if this was just a play by Ray, he did admit that he felt better about opening up to Emmit.

But then you’ve got master planner Nikki throwing a wrench into this not just by claiming that Emmit intentionally moved the picture, but also contaminating the scene.  It would be easy for the police to make use of Nikki leaving her DNA at the crime scene, but as we see, they’re behind on technology and Gloria still uses telexes, so this could be another instance where the pair evade law enforcement.

Whether with his girlfriend or on the job, where it seems like he’s not respected at all, Ray’s just a guy trying to do right by himself and Nikki.  But his gullibility and willingness to accept Nikki making a wedge between him and Emmit keep him from forming some semblance of a genuine bond with his brother.

That’s not putting blame on Nikki.  The lady is smart and good at improvising, as we see when she makes good use of her period blood, but as well as she may think she has her bases covered, I would not be surprised if her actions got either her or Ray killed, whether by the authorities, Sy, or someone else’s unfathomable pinheadery.  Side-note, I need to find a way to fit that into conversation without it feeling awkward.

But it may be too late for that with Sy stepping in and not just warning Ray, but trashing his Corvette.  Much like how Sy was present when Ray wanted to speak with Emmit in the premiere, I see him as a family friend instead of someone who is just present for money matters.  He has his own level of influence with Emmit, not to mention legal advice, and can escalate a situation in instances where Emmit may be more hesitant to act.

However, they’re unable to act at all when it comes to Varga, or V.M., as he’d prefer they call him.  They made one move in getting Irv to dig up any dirt they could find, but that got Irv killed and alerted Varga to their investigation on him.  And much like Lorne Malvo was in the first season, there’s next to nothing online about Varga, as if he was a ghost.

I love how calm and collected Thewlis is in his performance.  He comes off as a well-traveled and intimidating man who has his bases covered.  After all, how prepared do you have to be to have a plan in place if anyone searches your name on Google?  Unlike the other characters, he can make a particular play, but the odds of him making a similar move don’t decrease, given how he swoops in in Ennis’ operation without resistance.

And it can’t be just be a coincidence that one of Varga’s men is also named Yuri Gurka, just like the accused man from the premiere.  I’m curious to see more of Meemo and Yuri, as I get some very big Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench vibes from them.

Still somewhat isolated from the other players is Gloria, but she’s starting to piece together whatever she can when trying not just to solve this murder, but learn more about Ennis, or Thaddeus Mobley, as I suppose we should call him.  But her old timey ways put her in direct conflict with the new chief.  Tradition isn’t the best reason for continuing something, and even folks in unexciting Minnesota should evolve with the times.

Hell, maybe that’s the reason Gloria has problems with modern technology: she’s so stuck in the past that technology comes off as foreign or alien to her.  Though that wouldn’t explain the trouble Carrie Coon’s other character is having on The Leftovers, but I digress.

Though I’m sure there’s no relation, the fact that Ennis had the same last name as Ray and Emmit is sure to put her on a collision course with the brothers and, by extension, the money laundering business Emmit is wrapped up in now with Varga.

“The Principle of Restricted Choice” pushed Ray and Emmit’s conflict further through Sy and Nikki’s actions, but Varga’s escalation will no doubt create greater issues for Emmit, who now has to combat problems on two fronts.  Though with Nikki calling Emmit a worthy opponent and Varga moving into Emmit’s office, these problems won’t just go away by trashing someone else’s car.  That’s just pinheadery.

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