In what has become typical Fargo fashion, last week’s premiere opened with a curveball and then set the machinations of its larger crime story into motion. There were accents — some of which sounded a little Scottish — and skulduggery. The mysterious V.M. Varga (DON’T GOOGLE IT) materialized in front of the Parking Lot King of Minnesota with vague hints at a money laundering plan. And there was a fair amount of murder: the killing of Ennis, Gloria’s alcoholic (but not all bad) stepdad, and Maurice, the parolee who blew a piss test and was roped into a stamp-stealing scheme. During the premiere, we watched as drops of blood fell into the water. Now, we’re seeing it spread and waiting for the sharks to arrive.
And it doesn’t take long for David Thewlis’ jagged grin to show up. The curtain around Varga and the shadowy organization of clicks and buzzers he represents is beginning to pull back, and what we can see is not nice. Fans who predicted that Varga would play a role similar to last year’s standout Mike Milligan were probably nodding their heads in self-congratulation listening to the him V.M.-splain his way onto a Stussy parking lot. He’s got a semi with him, and we’re left to surmise what he’s up to.
Sy has an idea. “Slave girls,” he tells Emmit. But the heads of Stussy Lots have trouble dividing their attention at the moment. For the time being, they decide to put their lawyer, Irv Blumkin — whose name, I assume, was found by paging through Urban Dictionary — on the case of Varga, while Emmit and Sy take a more active approach to handling Ray. But knowing what we do about Varga and his lackeys — one of whom may have a connection to the East Berlin prologue for the season — there’s no question about which deserves more attention.
Watching Emmit and Sy try to rein in Ray while Varga invades their offices reminded me of seeing the various families of Westeros fight amongst themselves while the White Walkers are barreling down on all of them. Petty grievances and familial issues ride shotgun while manifestations of death and destruction are forced down the priority list. The kind of evil that Varga represents — organized, technologically savvy, and merciless — is inconceivable to Emmit, Sy, and Irv, most unfortunately. He’s death itself. Anton Chigurh with Wi-Fi. In their world, a dastardly deed is letting your more immature brother take a Corvette as inheritance rather than the more valuable stamp collection. They are just not equipped to take on someone like Varga. Maybe that’s why telling off Ray in a diner seems like a more manageable task.
The ballad of Nikki and Ray continues ambling along toward what seems like inevitable doom. With Maurice’s death labeled “accidental” — for now, at least — the couple seems to be in the clear. There’s just one problem. Ray’s ch’i is all blocked up. Nikki, as a believer in these kinds of things, insists that the brotherly dispute must be settled, one way or another, in order for this whole messy affair to end. That means either making peace with Emmit or finally getting the stamp. Given the choice between the two, Nikki and Ray decide “both.” Well, Nikki decides.
While Ray is off making nice with Emmit, in a moment that was honestly pretty touching, Nikki breaks in through the back. The stamp is gone, and in its place is a painting of a donkey. Ray’s fiancée takes this as a personal attack and deploys feminine hygiene as a weapon. More specifically, she writes a message in period blood on the donkey painting. Armed with a vendetta and the info that Emmit recently rented a safety deposit box, Nikki is ready to start a war, which provides some nice momentum for the season, but the whole story line feels a bit forced. We’re supposed to buy Ray’s ch’i as a compelling motivator for Nikki, who in turn influences Ray. That gets us into Emmit’s house. But then, Nikki takes great offense to a silly mistake. Yes, I understand this is Fargo and that on Fargo, the characters make dumb decisions. Nikki just seems so disconnected from normal human behavior or even her own consistent internal logic (wasn’t she a precise and patient tactician last week?) that she’s taking me out of the show a little.
Where is the show working? Would you be surprised if I said that it’s the part involving TV’s current MVP Carrie Coon? The second episode provided more insight into Gloria and further distinguished her from Marge Gunderson and Molly Solverson. As the new chief — the never not great Shea Whigham, making his first appearance — lays out the plan for integrating the departments, Gloria outs herself as someone stuck in the past. Her struggle against modernity may help her crack the case of Ennis Stussy, a.k.a. Thaddeus Mobley, but it could very well cost her a job. That’s a real, believable struggle that will likely be the heart of the season going forward.
Now, back to reading the new Thaddeus Mobley book, Organ Fish of Kleus 9.