Emmit and Varga
The episode begins with Varga telling a story. Well, less a story, really, than an overview of history as he sees it: a commingling of fate and randomness that leads to death and sorrow for some, and great fortunes for others who know how to extract it. He starts with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which became insolvent “overnight” — when the people’s perception of the bank’s stability vanished. Then he goes back to World War I: The man who shot Franz Ferdinand was only able to pull off his war-sparking act because the Austrian archduke’s driver got lost in front of the deli where the assassin was eating lunch. Also: The moon landing was faked at a soundstage in New Mexico.
If you’re baffled, you’re not alone. “Wait, what?!” Sy exclaims in his office, where Varga is telling him all of this. The point: There tends to be a lot of daylight between perception and reality.
Varga has a lot more to say on top of that: Stussy will acquire $50 million in new loans to buy 16 additional parking lots and double the size of the company, all within three months. Sy, in disbelief, is about to have an aneurism. He looks to Emmit for backup, but Mr. Stussy sides with Varga. “Whether you step off the board with one foot or two, you still end up in the water.”
Varga goes on to lay out the details: give the IRS fake books, and hide any untoward funds in overseas accounts and shell companies in locales like Monaco, Luxembourg, and the Cook Islands. This sounds outrageous to Sy, but Varga cuts him down expertly: “I’m beginning to think that finance is more of a hobby with you.” Besides, it’s all already done anyway.
Shortly afterward, in a conference room nearby, IRS Agent Dollard meets his match: Meemo, dressed up in basically identical fashion, starts dropping some hardcore tax law on Dollard’s head, telling him his services will no longer be needed.
The next order of business: the police. Burgle and Lopez swing by the offices to further inquire about Emmit’s relationship with his “alleged brother” (Varga’s clever choice of words) and how that might relate to the traffic incident — not to mention the Stussy murder.
Varga quickly deduces what Emmit has yet to: Ray tried to target his sibling, but the other Stussy was victimized instead. “Seems like your brother has a backbone after all.” He sends his henchmen out to take care of this once and for all by executing Ray and Nikki.
Ray and Nikki
The morning after Nikki’s attack, Ray looks over her as she regains consciousness in his bed, recalling the scant details she can remember from the violent incident. “Two guys — a Russian and some kind of Oriental.”
One might wonder, why didn’t Yuri and Meemo finish the job and make sure she was dead and gone? As we learn in this episode, they might have been playing a longer game — they beat her senseless, but they focussed on the parts of her body that can easily be covered up with clothes without arousing too much suspicion. This way, they could plant the seed that Ray himself has been the one abusing her. What use could this be? If and when Varga and his men decide to murder either (or both) Ray and/or Nikki, the police can point to domestic abuse as a factor and assume the couple had killed each other during a dispute gone wrong.
Nonetheless, Nikki, perhaps the only smart person in this town, mentally puts together the puzzle pieces: Clearly, Emmit has gotten mixed up with some other outside organization in a quest for a much-need cash infusion for his business, which she and Ray know had been in financial trouble. And since the banks aren’t exactly giving out money right now (remember, Lehman Brothers), that organization must be a rather shadowy one.
Soon, Officer Burgle comes around knocking, and Ray and Nikki get spooked, so they flee for a seedy cash motel to hide out. But as regular Fargo viewers (and maybe just people in regular life) know by now, nothing good ever happens at seedy cash motels.
But, of course, Ray messed up even this simple plan — he left the getaway money back at the house. So they do what you should never do in these situations: They split up. He heads back to the place to pick up the money, leaving her, injured and semi bed-ridden, back at the motel.
When Ray gets back to the house, he realizes he’s not alone. Luckily for him, it’s not Varga’s boys, but instead his brother. The two of them hash out all their brotherly tension.”I’m not less than you,” Ray blurts. “Ray, come on,” Emmit replies, cutting his brother off. “We’ve done this already. Been doing it for 20 years. Enough.”
Emmit gets up and gives Ray what he’s been pining for all this time: that damned stamp. It’s meant to clean the slate, clear the air, reset their relationship. Ray sees the situation differently: Emmit coming down from his high horse and condescendingly appeasing Ray without affording him any respect.
The siblings tussle over the framed stamp, physically pushing it back and forth, until the tussle ends: The glass from the frame smashes against Ray’s face, and a shard lodges itself in his neck. He dies in front of his brother, on the floor of the house his brother co-signed.
Seems like a perfect time to call Varga! Emmit’s overlord picks up the phone and immediately begins babbling a slew of high-culture metaphors, as Varga so often does. “There’s been an accident,” Emmit tells him. “Can you come?” No police, naturally — Emmit is jumping off the springboard with two feet, not one.
Meanwhile at the motel, Nikki gets up and goes out to fetch some ice from the machine, because ice is very useful when you’re covered in bruises. She re-enters the motel room cautiously. She slams open the bathroom door, ready to attack any potential intruders. Yet there aren’t any. They were in fact there, of course, but they’ve already left to clean up Emmit’s bloody mess.
Speaking of which: Varga instructs Emmit to keep his dinner appointment with Sy, but to enter through the back door so no potential witnesses will be able to time his arrival. Varga goes on to tell Emmit what actually happened: Ray was killed by his ex-convict girlfriend, whom he’d been abusing. Fed up, she finally retaliated and cut his throat — “watched him bleed.”
Ray’s battle for the stamp was a battle for respect, for his brother’s love, and it led to his demise. However, his death — his plight as a whole — will not go unacknowledged. With The Leftovers-esqe music playing in the background, Burgle, driving on the highway, makes an impromptu call: She alerts her colleagues that she’s heading over to Ray’s house. “Screw it,” she tells herself. She wants to nail these guys.