Who’s up for a stroll through the quiet woods? With the reintroduction of Mr. Wrench, let’s see how he and Nikki get out of their current predicament.
The episode begins with Yuri and Meemo unloading and setting a battering ram in the road as the prison transport bus approaches. The two of them, coupled with the cop who tried to attack Nikki, hide in waiting until Yuri steps into the road and watches as the bus hits the ram and veers out of control. It soon crashes on its side.
Inside the bus, the prisoners stumble to life. As Yuri works on the gate, Mr. Wrench tugs at his chain and covers Nikki’s mouth so she can’t scream. The three masked figures make their way into the bus when Wrench finally breaks the chain. He engages the pig masked man in a fight until he and Nikki escape through the bus’ back door and whisk into the woods. The remaining prisoners are all killed.
Before the three can pursue them, they watch a couple drive past by and soon Meemo pursues them in a van. Can’t have any loose ends, after all.
In the woods, there’s a communication barrier as Wrench is only able to sign to Nikki. But the two need to cut their chain, so Nikki starts beating it with a rock until Wrench stops her. Not long after, Yuri and the impersonator arrive at the spot, but find no sign of Nikki or her mysterious helper.
As day breaks, Nikki tells Wrench write their plans in the snow- Wrench learns that yes, these men are after Nikki- while Yuri and the cop watch from a distance. They’re interrupted by an arrow that whizzes in Yuri’s direction.
Turns out two hunters must’ve thought the animal masks were actual animals.When the two hunters approach their supposed target, Yuri approaches them from behind.
As Nikki replays her conversation with Ray about the getaway money, Wrench spots the men hunting them. Nikki and Wrench finally stop to rest as Nikki remembers that she offered to go back and get the money, but Ray insisted that he was fine. As night falls, Wrench and Nikki continue their trek through the woods when they come across a hanged dummy.
They arrive in a clearing littered with beer cans and a convenient axe that Wrench prepares to use it to hack through the chains until he’s struck by an arrow. The fake cop arrives and plants an axe in Wrench’s back while Nikki also takes an arrow through her leg.
The fake officer comes in for another blow, but trips on the chain, giving Wrench and Nikki the opportunity they need to subdue and choke the man until the chain slices through his neck, severing his head.
But Nikki is still bleeding, so Wrench puts some bark in her mouth so her scream is muffled when he removes the arrow. He then pulls apart the chain with his bare hands. Wounded, but undeterred, the two continue their rush through the woods. However, it turns out that the axe Wrench threw into the woods didn’t finish off his target- just took the ear.
When the two at last leave the woods, they arrive at and enter a bowling alley. As the two recuperate, an employee asks Nikki if she wants shoes. She doesn’t, though, just a double whiskey.
And the man joining her ends up being, out of nowhere, Paul Marrane, who begins talking about the Book of Job and how Job suffered. That, he says, is the nature of existence: life is suffering. He believes that Nikki now understands that.
He then pulls a kitten out of a box. The kitten’s name is, of course, Ray. He asks if Nikki is familiar with Ghuilgul- a Hebrew word that describes how an old soul attaches to a new body. Nikki wonders if Ray’s soul is sin the cat, but some souls can’t find a body to join. Then, they become lost.
Paul then talks about Rabbi Nachman, who believed the Jewish victims of the massacre of Uman were lost souls. Thousands were killed by the Cossack, and the bodies of those women and children were dumped in a hole and forgotten. When Nachman first visited Uman, he saw the mass grave and he called it a garden. As such, he told his followers that he wanted to be buried there, as his soul would comfort theirs.
In Paul’s mind, we all end up here to be weighed and judged, same for Nikki and Wrench, who was apparently convinced by Paul that he was on a better path. He then offers Nikki a chance to escape in a green Volkswagen Beetle parked outside.
Before Nikki leaves, Paul gives her a message that he needs delivered to the wicked: “Though thou exalt thyself like the eagle, though thou make thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down,” sayeth the Lord. Right out of the first chapter of Obadiah.
Before Nikki heads off, she’ll have to leave the cat. She asks Paul that, when the Gophers play, put some beer in a bowl and put it in front of the game. She and Wrench leave the alley and head off in the Volkswagen. They exit just as a bleeding Yuri, now missing an ear, arrives at the bowling alley.
He and his crossbow enter and he asks the employee for some napkins and vodka. Paul, turns out, knows Yuri Gurka by name and has a message from Helga Albracht and the Rabbi Nachman. And this is when Yuri begins to have a vision.
Meanwhile, it’s Christmas day with the Burgles as Nathan opens his presents…he got socks. Gloria then gets a call that forces her to leave her family. And on Christmas Day of all things.
She arrives at the crime scene, passing an overturned van in the process, and asks the Marshals what caused the bus to upend. The Marshals inform her that there are some folks dead from the crash, and others from the assault. They figure the drivers in the overturned car tried to be good Samaritans and help after the crash, but figured out what kind of bus they spotted.
The second vehicle, a white van, chased them for two miles, ran them off the road, and executed them. Gloria wants to check the bus to see if Nikki is on it, but since she’s not a Marshal, the actual Marshals won’t let her investigate. That and they didn’t spot a woman on the bus. These guys are dicks.
At Emmit’s mansion, it turns out that he and Sy are supposed to give a statement at the police station, but when Sy arrive to pick him up, he ends up speaking with Varga instead, as Emmit is resting. But Varga has good news: Sy is $5 million richer today due to year-end bonuses.
There’s a round three, but that will come in the next fiscal year. As Varga says this, he hands Sy a meal and tea- a recipe from his mother- that Sy finds bitter, but he downs the entire cup anyway.
When Sy is finished, Varga ushers him out and tells him that Emmit will speak with him when he’s done resting. However, as Sy leaves, he spots Emmit staring at him from an upstairs window.
We stay with Sy, who has an unsettling feeling in his throat, when he arrives at the office. He erupts into a coughing fit until he vomits. Well, that’s not right at all. Sy then passes out.
He’s quickly rushed into surgery and time passes as we soon arrive on March 15, 2011. Sy is still in surgery while Emmit sits at his side.
He soon leaves the room and, of course, Winnie and Gloria are waiting to pepper Emmit with questions about Sy’s toxic shock, Emmit’s business, and how he’s been buying up a lot of properties, but Emmit refuses to answer them. He heads to his parking spot, but instead of finding his car, Ray’s red Corvette sits in his spot instead.
So he takes a cab to the office and heads to his quarters, where he sees the two-cent stamp plastered on every frame. When Madeline enters, she figures that Emmit just redecorated, but Emmit asks about visitor logs or security footage to find out who could have done this. Madeline, though, figures that Varga did some work. She offers to call him, but Emmit just wants her to find out what happened to the old pictures.
Speaking of Varga, we rejoin him in the middle of research when Meemo receives a phone call from Emmit, who tells Varga that he believes Ray is alive and that they’re going to need more men since Yuri never returned. He also thinks that Nikki is alive and screwing with him, but if she is alive, Varga figures that she did what any smart person wanted for murder would do: go to Canada.
Emmit then reveals that Ray’s Corvette was in his parking spot at the hospital. Despite Emmit’s concern, Varga reminds Ray that he won at life. As such, he should sit tight and wait for Meemo to come over with some papers for him to sign.
That evening, while Meemo busts some moves, Emmit awakens and notices that he has a mustache. Fake one, but still.
Varga heads over in no time and tells Emmit that he has to sign the papers in order to get the money, but Emmit doesn’t want to play this game anymore after all he’s done. Varga then tells Emmit that he calls him a hero when discussing him with bankers and hedge fund managers. And how heroes can have setbacks, like the death of a business partner, even though Sy isn’t dead. Yet.
Varga’s point is that heroes can lose sight of what’s real. He gives Emmit a sedative, which Emmit downs without a thought, and describes an island on the South Pacific. One day, in September, 1945, leaflets dropped by the Allied Forces informed the stationed Japanese soldiers that the war was over.
But one man, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, refused to believe. As the world went about its business, Onada battled on and was the last man to die for an ideal…wait, Onada died in 2014, three years after this season is set-oh, never mind.
But Emmit is focused on Ray and begins talking about their upbringing together. Varga asks Emmit if the Bible is a children’s book, as what they’re doing requires feats of strength, not child’s play. Drowsiness soon takes over Emmit, who soon passes out. Meemo takes him upstairs.
At the police station, Gloria, now a deputy, looks over some divorce papers, heads out for the night. Before she can leave, though, Emmit enters the precinct and announces to the officers that he wants to confess as the episode comes to a close.
I’d like to start off by talking about that entire sequence in the woods. So much of Fargo is about creating suspense and providing a satisfying payoff, and the trek with Nikki and Mr. Wrench in the woods is no exception. This is, without question, a perfect example of how to create proper tension, build on it, and lead into a worthwhile conclusion. And director Mike Barker does that in spades on this episode.
This sequence felt like one long game of cat-and-mouse and the setting helped build the tension. We’re in the thick of a forest that Wrench and Nikki probably haven’t explored, they’re being pursued by men in animal garbs, and are racing just to survive, never mind get the drop on their pursuers. What’s better is, while I doubt Fargo would have gone this route, there was no obnoxious musical score in the background.
It’s all silence and the fact that there’s a communication barrier between Nikki and Wrench minimized the amount of dialogue we got. It was tense, made me anxious at whether the two would be captured, and was well paced throughout. I honestly wouldn’t have minded if the entire episode in the woods. It was that stellar of a sequence.
It felt reminiscent of both the Fargo film itself and other Coen Brothers’ works, but the one that came to mind the most was the shootout between Anton Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men. A high stakes, bloody life or death situation, but no music played and the suspense continued to build. The same applies here and this is definitely a sequence I would watch on repeat.
And when it was bloody, boy howdy was it bloody. Fargo has been gruesome before, but decapitation by handcuffs? Not just inventive, but a gruesome sight. It also show the state Nikki and Wrench were in- it’s not enough that they’re both perps on the run, but now they have to avoid getting killed by assailants that they can’t always spot. They’re desperate, so their tactics mirror that.
What’s more, the two don’t walk out of this unscathed. Sure, they manage to kill DJ Qualls, but they both took arrows and Wrench got an axe to the back. Nikki may be able to come up with a plan in a jam, but Yuri and Qualls were able to keep her and Wrench on their toes. It wasn’t a clean getaway. But then, rarely are getaways on Fargo ever clean.
At the very least, they found a sanctuary in the strangest of places. Aside from the obvious Big Lebowski reference of having Nikki and Wrench take shelter in a bowling alley, it felt like a sort of sanctuary. For Paul and the bartender to have no problem with bloody people coming in, not to mention Yuri missing an ear, means either this bar has seen some shit or the blood just didn’t matter.
Either way, Paul came off as some sort of all-knowing being here. He quotes Obadiah, refers to souls wandering in search of a new host, and knows about Yuri’s past. Though Paul may be directly involved with the main storyline, he seems to have a good idea of what’s going on in everyone’s lives. Hell, maybe he has something to do with why Yuri hasn’t returned to Varga yet.
Plus, Paul referred to Helga Albracht- the same Helga who Jakob Ungerleider was accused of strangling in the premiere. Nice connection, plus I’ve been wondering if that cold open would be addressed or referenced at all during the season.
Perhaps Paul could explain the time jump. Luckily, this time jump doesn’t seem to be as big a gap as the one we got in Season One, but like back then, I didn’t see it coming. In that time, Varga’s influence and acquisition of Emmit’s company has just grown to the point where there’s nothing Sy and Emmit can do to stop him. Or they’re just in too deep to back out now.
And with Sy’s hospitalization and Emmit about to confess, Varga is close to removing them from the equation altogether.
Side-note, if Varga had the amount of influence and persuasion that David Thewlis’ character in Wonder Woman had, this acquisition situation would’ve been resolved by the end of the second episode.
But back to the episode, I’m left wondering why Sy would ever again drink something that Varga offered him, but not that he had much of a choice. And as far as we know, Varga didn’t dip his wick into this tea cup.
Still, as far as Emmit is concerned, the time jump hasn’t altered the guilt he’s felt for accidentally killing Ray, but now he’s being haunted from beyond the grave or, more likely, Nikki is just screwing with him. Either way, between the sedative, guilt, and life screwing with him, Emmit may be ready to drop a bombshell when he arrives at the precinct, ready to confess.
In that regard, I’m wondering what progress Winnie and Gloria made during the time jump. They’ve defied their bosses, which I’m fine with, but they’re still asking Emmit questions. I’m guessing Winnie didn’t make much progress with Ruby Goldfarb.
Or maybe any attempts at progress have just been stonewalled. We’ve seen how much Dammick has tried to keep Gloria from pursuing this matter, plus the Marshals weren’t willing to lend much assistance after the crash, so maybe much of the investigation has had to happen under the radar. But with Emmit ready to talk, this case may start coming together.
With all that said, “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” is my favorite episode of the season so far. Mr. Wrench and Gloria’s tension-filled sequence in the woods was excellent, Paul Marrane’s reappearance shows that there’s more to him than I initially thought, Varga continues to be a nuisance for Emmit and Sy, and while Sy is out of commission, Emmit ready to confess could be the smoking gun that Gloria and Winnie need.