After a week trying to find itself and maybe get a little sun out on the West Coast, Fargo returned to the Midwest and some of its roots. Most obviously, the fourth episode of the season got a narrator. This isn’t the first time the show has picked up the device mid-season, and it’s not the first time that the voice has come straight from Fargo‘s first season. Where last year we got Martin Freeman telling us about the history of crime in the country’s midsection, this season brings back Billy Bob Thornton, Lorne Malvo himself.
The narration that Thornton contributes is the opening explanation for Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and the corresponding roll call of instruments plays over a rundown of the cast. You’ve got Emmit as the bird. Ray is the duck. Nikki is the cat. Sy is Grandfather. The Eastern European guy (who is probably the missing Yuri Gurka) is the sound of shotgun blasts. Varga, naturally, is the wolf. And Gloria, of course, is our Peter.
Besides being a supremely Fargo-ish thing to do, the episode leaves us no clear connection between the musical composition and the many Stussys. The History of True Crime in the Mid West was immediately an exciting and unexpected framing device for the season and added context to the series as a whole. It told us that every horrible thing we were watching unfold was just another chapter in a larger book — a book that only covers a few states within the country. Hanzee killing Dodd Gerhardt might be a shock in the moment, but to history, it’s a detail. That perspective is in line with how Fargo has contextualized every aspect of its “true stories.” These are life-changing, life-breaking, and life-ending moments that will eventually be resigned to the pages of a forgotten book. Peter and the Wolf just makes you go, “Huh. That’s cool.”
But that is, of course, with only one episode of the device. Two weeks from now, we all may be marveling at the genius of the Peter and the Wolf parallel. That’s part of the problem with discussing a highly serialized, highly stylized show on a weekly basis. We’ve only got part of the picture.
The part we’re seeing, however, may point to a resolution not unlike Peter and the Wolf, because by the end of the hour, Gloria is significantly closer to understanding why her sorta beloved stepdad, Ennis, died. What’s interesting for this season’s mystery is that there’s no direct justice to be had. The crime was only committed out of sheer stupidity on behalf of someone who has since had his head crushed by an AC unit. All Gloria can hope to achieve is an understanding of Why? At the very least, she can nail Ray for initially hiring Maurice to steal the stamp and possibly pin some accessory charges on him. But will that be enough?
Gloria’s big breakthrough comes from an unexpected source, but one the perfectly fits within the universe of the show. In fact, Officer Winnie Lopez, a spunky female law enforcement professional, fits into the Fargo we know slightly better than Gloria. In the midst of a department absorption and a continually annoying problem with automatic sensors, Carrie Coons’ character has struggled to find her place in the world or even solid proof that she does, in fact, exist. She’s chief, but she isn’t chief. She was Ennis’ step-daughter, but only for a little while. And her husband ignores plans for when to give their son an Xbox.
And then here comes chipper and sweet Winnie Lopez, looking into a seemingly straightforward crime and connecting the dots, not only between the Stussy brothers, but then Ennis’ murder. This is the exact kind of gumshoeing that Marge Gunderson or Molly Solverson might have done. Fargo has never been about the audience solving a mystery, but watching the characters sort out the chaos. The role has been handed out to a minor character, so we’re in uncharted waters here. With Gloria playing the role of Peter, it’s still her case to solve (and her wolf to catch), but I wonder how differently her story will play out.
Suffice it to say that this season of Fargo has been a bit of an odd duck in a number of ways. (Remember, the oboe is the sound of the duck.) While some of the story elements have fallen flat, what has remained consistent with the show’s legacy is the stellar performances. This week saw both David Thewlis and Michael Stuhlbarg really shining. (The scene of Sy pointing as he struggles to get into his Hummer may be a high point of the season so far.) But also, Ewan McGregor as Ray disguised as Emmit and then being torn away from Nikki finally has something to do, even if the dog ashes gag was pretty lame.
No one tries to eat the powder first.