A Look at Fargo- Season 3, Episode 4: “The Narrow Escape Problem”

With Gloria’s vacation to California now over, it’s time to return to Minnesota and follow up on the one lead so far in this murder case.  And follow up we shall with some help from a new friend.  Meanwhile, Ray and Stussy’s feud goes from bad to worse and Varga makes another unexpected move on Emmit.

The episode begins with a narrator- is that you, Lorne Malvo?- explaining that each character will be represented by a different instrument  Emmit is the bird, represented by the flute.  Ray is the duck, represented by the oboe.  Both get ready for the day, though Ray gets some extra help from Nikki, the cat, represented by the clarinet.  This help involves helping him dress up as Emmit.

Over at Emmit’s office, we catch up with Sy, who is the grandfather, represented by the bassoon, and we see him playing around with his miniature parking lot set.  As Sy enjoys his toys, in enters another player: the blast of the hunter’s shotgun, Yuri, represented by the kettle drums.

Varga, the wolf, accompanied by the French horn, has himself a large breakfast before heading to the bathroom to heave it back up.  Once he’s done purging, he sprays his mouth clean. Ah, so that explains the teeth.

Gloria would be Peter, accompanied by the string, and she’s all set to continue the investigation.  Are you comfortable?  Good, because it’s time to begin.

Nikki and Ray arrive at a bank, figuring that Emmit put the stamp in his safety deposit box. Though Ray doesn’t have the key, Nikki’s cover story for him is that he lost the key while redecorating the study.  Before Ray leaves, Nikki reminds him that they have a meeting later with a high roller by the name of Burt Lurdsman, who works in plumbing supplies.

As Ray heads in, Buck brings him into his office.  After small talk with Milly, who just came from Bemidji, Buck- unaware of the brother switch- brings Ray into his office.  Ray explains that he needs to get into the box today.  That leaves two options: Buck can get someone to drill the lock or he can have a new key in a week.

But when Ray threatens to close his accounts and transfer to Chase, Buck tells a clerk to call Mike.  Now the problem will take a mere two seconds.  Ray would also like $10,000 in cash and a dollar in quarters for the meter.  Problem is withdrawing more than 10 grand activates a trigger, but Ray isn’t interested in Buck’s explanation.  If he wanted to an opinion from an asshole, he’d ask his own.  Fair enough.

Ray soon gains access to the box, but all that’s inside is a sack with ‘Luverne’ written on it.The box is soon opened and Ray finds a sack with ‘Luverne’ written on it.  Inside the sack is a powdery substance that he dumps it into a nearby trash can.

Outside, he tells Nikki that he didn’t find the stamp, but took the sack.  To learn that Emmit has over $1 million in the account, but Ray only took 10 grand doesn’t do Nikki any favors. But Ray believes that’s just Nikki’s old criminal mentality talking.  What he did was fair, given the market value of the stamp is $10,000.

Sy and Emmit soon learn about Ray’s actions, and it’s revealed that the powder was actually the remains of a dog- named Luverne.  Huh.  The two are still wary of Varga and realize that they’re getting pulled into something sticky, so Sy wants to talk with the Goldfarb widow since she’s cash-rich and looking to buy in.  Emmit watches Yuri and Meemo heading out and wonders what the hell they’re doing.

Yuri tells Meemo and Varga about how Putin, even when young, always knew he wanted to be FSB.  During his upbringing, Putin ruled the school yard with his fist.  In Russia, there are two words for truth: Pravda is man’s truth and Istina is God’s truth.  But there’s also nepravda: untruth.  This is the weapon that the leader uses because the truth is whatever he says it is.

As this happens, Gloria heads to a morgue to examine Maurice’s LeFay’s corpse.  During her investigation, she goes through his wallet and finds a card for the St. Cloud Parole Board.

Following this, she updates Chief Dammick, who sees this as a pretty open and shut case.  Black and white.  One or the other.  To Dammick, Gloria’s problem is that she over-complicates things.  As far as Dammick is concerned, Maurice’s death is cosmic justice and good riddance.  As such, he wants Gloria to close this case so everyone can move on to the calm transition of power.

Gloria hears Chief Dammick and assures him that she doesn’t want to stir things up, but Dammick feels that she is since she has to answer to someone else.  Either way, she heads off spend a few more days on the case.

Indeed, she heads to the St. Cloud Parole Board- and walks past an unsuspecting Nikki- while still having troubles with automatic doors, and asks an employee- busy on her Facebook page- for the name of Maurice’s parole officer.

Gloria then pops by the ladies’ room and as she exits a stall, someone in a neighboring stall asks if Gloria has any putter-inners or a pad.  But regulation forbids Gloria from having a purse with such items and it’s not her time of the month anyway.  It’s not a huge deal, as the woman finds a way around this dilemma.

By stuffing tons of toilet paper down her pants.  Emerging from the stall is Officer Winnie Lopez, played by Olivia Sandoval.  Because Lopez is just a nice person, she shares that she and her husband, Jerry, have been trying for months to conceive, mostly through missionary.  Jerry pops faster from the back, but in Lopez’s opinion, it’s important to look each other in the eyes when it comes to making babies.  She at least hopes for a girl.

So Lopez is here because she’s here in a 10-30, but the victim in the hit and run doesn’t want to press charges.  With that, she leaves while Gloria is unable to get either the sinks or soap dispensers to work for her.

Gloria heads to Ray’s office to discuss not the accident, but Ennis Stussy’s murder.  Upon seeing his nameplate, she wonders just what in the heck the odds are of Ray and Ennis having the same last name.  Evidence shows that Maurice broke into Ennis’ home, and the investigation isn’t over since Maurice is dead.

So why would a fella drive 30 miles without knowing where he’s going, find Ennis in the phone book, and search his home like he’s looking for something in particular?  It’s unusual.  Ray blames it on the reefer and says that he was going to inform Maurice that he failed his last drug test, but now he can’t.  Gloria then gives Ray her card in case something else comes to mind.

When Ray notes that Gloria’s card refers to her as the chief, she tells him to ignore that because of upcoming restructuring.  Ray gets that, as someone always finds a way to screw you.

When Gloria heads back to her cruiser, she finds a note from Lopez.

Scotty pulls Ray into a meeting with him and the deputy director, who shows Ray some photos of him together with Nikki at Emmit’s party.  Scotty can’t have Ray intermingling with the clientele.  Don’t bang the cattle- it’s against the damn law.  If Ray says that this was just a one time thing, he may get suspension or slap on the wrist.

But Ray admits that he loves Nikki.  Scotty and the director theorize that Nikki is using her poontang to hoodwink and bamboozle.  They propose sending her to Stillwater for a few months, but Ray is willing to take any and all punishment since, in his mind, Nikki’s problems are in the past.  He has future ambitions with her.  Fine, he has 10 minutes to clear out his desk and sign the papers that he won’t sue for wrongful termination.

Once Ray clears out, he leaves and finds Sy waiting for him outside of his truck.  After some intense pointing, Sy struggles to get into his vehicle, but soon drives off, revealing that the wheels on Ray’s Corvette has been fitted with boots.

Sy arrives at Emmit’s office and is surprised to find Officer Lopez waiting for him since no one called the police.  He brings her to a separate office so Yuri and Meemo, also at the office, don’t overhear them talking.  She reveals that Ray isn’t interested in pressing charges, so she asks if there’s any relation between him and Emmit.

Furthermore, when Lopez ran the plates, on the Humvee, she found that it’s registered to Sy’s parking lot, but nothing specified who drove the vehicle.  Sy, feeling some pressure, offers to look into it, and Lopez would prefer he do that now if that’s not too much trouble. Except it’s after hours, so he’ll have it run through in the morning.

Even though Ray isn’t interested in pressing charges, there’s still the second complainant-a waitress whose car was hit when the Humvee made its way out of the lot.  Sy figures this is an insurance matter, but the driver fled the scene of the accident, so that makes this a police matter.  Even still, Sy promises to get the information to Lopez.  Tomorrow.  When Lopez leaves, Sy makes a call.

As Ray drinks his sorrows away, Nikki has her arranged meeting with Burt Lurdsman and tries to explain why Ray isn’t present.

That evening, Varga pays Emmit an unexpected visit at dinnertime of all times.  How dare he.  Emmit doesn’t want Varga’s help since he’s fine with his wealth as is, but Varga disagrees.  So Varga joins the family for dinner and tells Stella that he has a tendency to drop by unannounced, but he had to talk about Emmit’s big opportunity.

He reveals that he considers himself not English, but a citizen of the world that wants to broaden this partnership.  He learns something new from Emmit every day and brought the contract that Emmit apparently wanted Varga to draw up.  Emmit flips through said contract it while Varga heads off to the bathroom to purge.

Later, Emmit refuses to make Varga a partner.  As Emmit goes to call Sy, Varga taunts him, saying that he thought Emmit was in charge.  He rails on the horrors of mass migration, as we’re living in the age of the refugee.  People are buying houses they can’t afford, only to end up on the street soon after.  85 percent of the world’s wealth is controlled by a mere one percent of the population.

What would happen, then, if people woke up and realize that someone higher up has their money?  Varga notes that Emmit makes no attempt to hide his wealth.  By comparison, Varga is wearing a $200 suit and second-hand tie.  Varga informs Emmit that there’s an accountant coming soon.

Emmit, who sees that he can’t make Varga take back his money, needs to do what’s necessary to protect his family, as he has no idea what rich really means.  Varga lays out some action items:  one- the accumulation of wealth, not money.  Second step is to use that wealth to become invisible.

Varga approaches one of the framed photos and asks if this is where Emmit hid the stamp.  He’s not a fan of this feud between the two brothers and recalls that, in the Bible, there are 25 chapters in the Book of Genesis alone that are about feuds between brothers.

All the while, we see that Varga researched Ray and Emmit on Facebook of all places.  He hears and sees things because he listens and watches.  That includes emails and phone calls.  You can never be too careful.  That’s Varga’s motto.  As he sits in Emmit’s chair, he tells Emmit that they have great plans.  Emmit is in the frying pan, and after that, you go into the fire.  Pitchfork peasants are coming and Varga is the guardian angel.

That’s why Varga, now acting as Emmit’s agent and partner, went to the Minnesota National Trust this morning and got the trust to agree to increase Emmit’s line of credit by $25 million.  He gives Emmit some forms to sign and lets him know that he’s not in the parking lot business anymore, but the billionaire business.  However, Varga needs to know if Ray will be a problem.  Emmit doesn’t think so, and same goes for Nikki.

Then, the narrator tells us, Grandfather came out and he was angry that Peter had gone into the meadow.  It’s a dangerous place, but Peter paid no attention because boys like Peter aren’t afraid of wolves.

As Gloria gets Nathan ready for bed, a car pulls up- it’s Winnie, who informs her that she ran the plates on the Hummer involved in the hit-and-run and found that it’s registered to a corporation in Saint Cloud.  After her bathroom encounter with Gloria, she went to meet a fella that works there and something struck her odd.  Turns out that one of the victims has the same last name as the fella who owns the company that leased the car.

Upon further research, Winnie found that the two are brothers.  Then she remembered that Gloria was at the Parole Board for a murder, so she looked it up.  Turns out that Eden Valley’s had one death by foul play in 16 months.  The victim’s name?  Ennis Stussy.  With the same name as Maurice’s parole officer and his brother.

And that officer’s brother owns a company that leased the Humvee.  Where’s that brother live?  Get this: Eden Prairie.  What are the odds indeed?

I hated biology in school, so I’m not about to wax on how the ‘narrow escape problem’ relates to biology or biophysics.

So we’re back from California as Fargo brings things back to Minnesota and continues to escalate the feud between Ray and Emmit while also upping the stakes for everyone else involved, including newcomer Winnie, who I think might be the most Minnesota character this show has had since the original film.

Speaking of the film, this episode had its fair share of references to previous seasons. I’m fine with that and didn’t expect them to appear as soon as they did, but these nods and references were subtle.  Of course, having Billy Bob Thornton as our narrator was a nice touch and reminiscent of Martin Freeman narrating during Season Two’s “The Castle.”

Buck’s employee, Milly, just came over from Bemidji, which is where Season One took place, and the name Luverne, on the ashes, is a nod to Season Two’s setting. References like this, sprinkled throughout without being shoved in your face, are nice, simple ways to have nods to previous seasons.

And like those past seasons, Hawley manages to do so without being overt or on the nose.  Rather, the moments are underplayed and feel like great payoffs to those who do pick up on the references.

Though I’m even less familiar with Peter and the Wolf, I did like the idea of matching the characters with various creatures and musical cues.  It’s like we’re turning Fargo into a stage performance and each player comes out to a various score that gives hints to their character.

It’s here that I find more similarities between Varga and Malvo.  As far as their backgrounds go, they’re ghosts.  They prey on the unassuming and though a bird like Emmit may be wary of the wolf’s approach, Varga lowers Emmit’s defenses by providing him with a huge cash influx and just being plain unpredictable.

This is what made Malvo and Mike Milligan so memorable and the same applies to Varga. I’m not a screenwriter, but I believe that if you want a great antagonist or villain, you want someone who is great to watch, but you also don’t want that person to take focus away from the protagonists.  At the same time, David Thewlis has a great presence and I could listen to him monologue for hours.

I’m curious about his approach.  He’s infiltrated just about every corner of Emmit and probably Ray as well, so he seems damn near invincible for the time being.  But his bulimia shows that he’s far from a perfect being.  Rather, he masks his wealth and flaws by blending into the crowd, unlike Emmit, who makes no qualms about his wealth.

Varga’s focus looks to be on the one percent versus everyone else, but what I can’t get a sense of yet is whether he does have this anti-migrant take or if that’s just stuck with him the most as a well-traveled citizen of the world.  Hell, he doesn’t even consider himself English, as if he needed to make himself even more ambiguous.  But again, comparing him to Malvo, it’s the mystery of his character that fascinates me.

While watching this episode and thinking about it in hindsight, I think I clung most to what Yuri said about truths.  Like Ray and Emmit having their versions of their pasts and who should own the stamp, we craft our own narratives that we deem to be true, but if you’re living under a ruler or higher power, your truths may not matter anymore.  You have the truth of God, Istina, or the untruth- nepravda.

This truth, I feel, best describes Varga as he twirls Emmit and Sy around his finger.  They may see themselves as well-off, but Varga says otherwise and, in his mind, knows otherwise, more so after he’s wormed into their operation.  Doesn’t matter what they want from him because so long as he’s around, his word is law and the truth is whatever he says it is.

That’s something that past characters like Jerry or Lester have grappled with: the truth. They know that the truth will get them into trouble, so they’ll invent some version that fits their narrative until someone like Marge, Molly, or Gloria unravels the truth.

But Ray doesn’t abide by the truth that his boss tries to create, even if it means he won’t get in trouble.  I want to believe that Ray does care for Nikki, and I see no evidence that he doesn’t, but he knew going into this that association with her could be dangerous.  Now it’s cost him his job while Nikki, the unassuming cat that no one would suspect, avoids justice and can continue her endeavors.

That said, I’m not calling Ray noble just because he didn’t throw Nikki under the bus.  He had every reason to turn on her and it’s been her suggestions that have escalated the feud between him and Emmit.  The fact that he doesn’t join Nikki to meet with Burt Lurdsman, I feel, shows that he’s contemplating his future with her.  But he left his job to keep her out of trouble, and he’s got $10,000, so he’s not completely down yet.

By the way, I did like the moment he had with Gloria when he pointed out that someone higher up is always trying to screw you over.  Gloria and Ray know what it’s like when a superior tries to keep you down or maneuver you out of something that you feel is yours. While I don’t know if Gloria has any resentment towards Dammick in the way that Ray has with Emmit, it was a nice little connection the two had.

It’s more of a connection than she’s got with her boss.  Between Boardwalk Empire and Agent Carter, Shea Whigham is great at playing a hard-ass police chief, and this is no exception.  Like Varga, the truth is whatever he says it is, but it’s more because he just wants an open-and-shut case.  He’s a simple person, and while most folks in Minnesota also have a simplistic outlook, something like Ennis’ death shatters that view.

It’s why Gloria can’t just consider this case closed and accept that she’s being marginalized.  The case doesn’t add up and in typical Fargo fashion, the puzzle pieces start to come together, but there’s still little sense yet of why this random murder happened.

Luckily, she’s got great backup in the form of Officer Lopez, who has that Minnesota niceness to her, but not to the point that she becomes annoying.  Yet.  She’s quirky and fun, but also good at connecting the dots and doing some real police work.

The scene with her questioning Sy was very tense for a number of reasons.  For one, it felt reminiscent of Marge questioning Jerry, but unlike back then, Sy doesn’t lose his cool- he just dances around the truth.  Second, it shows the repercussions of Sy’s involvement with the brother feud.  We did get the payoff of him revealing to Ray’s boss that he was dating Nikki, but now we the consequences of his actions at the restaurant.

Him crashing into the waitress’ car could have been a throwaway moment and Ray did say he wasn’t interested in pressing charges.  That could’ve been the end of it right had there not been a second victim and if Sy hadn’t fled the scene, thus turning this into a police matter.  Plus, Yuri and Meemo are no doubt going to pay more attention to him now just by virtue of him being seen talking to an officer.

But it strengthens Lopez’s introduction and reveals that, despite her open talk of missionary positions in order to conceive or stuffing toilet paper down her pants due to lack of a tampon, she’s still a good cop.  And she can get electronics to work, so she’ll no doubt be a great counterbalance to Gloria and I look forward to the two working together.

After a trip to California, Fargo returns to the familiar with more escalation between the Stussy brothers, who have even more on their plate now that Gloria is getting closer to a connection between them and Ennis’ death.  The episode balanced the tension with some good, comedic moments and the introduction of Officer Lopez should help ramp up the investigation.

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