We spend most of the episode’s runtime with Ray and Nikki, who apart from the burgeoning semi-professional bridge career, have been wrapped up in their own criminal scheme. After striking out with his brother, Ray enlists Maurice (beloved character actor Scoot McNairy), a parolee of his who just flunked a piss test, to go steal the remaining stamp from Emmit. Naturally, things spin out of control from there.
(If you’re looking for nods to the original film, Norm Gunderson produced paintings to be used on postage stamps. His painting of a mallard was used for a three-cent stamp, which is terrific because whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.)
The threads of the season come together after we meet the season’s most logical hero, Gloria Burgle (peak TV first round draft pick Carrie Coon), a cop with a son, an alcoholic stepdad, and some uncertainty about her future on the force. The area in which she’s chief is being absorbed into a larger department, meaning that the title is going with the autonomy. But she’s got bigger problems on her hands.
After her son, Nathan, forgets the birthday gift Gloria’s stepdad, Ennis, gave him, the chief turns around to retrieve the figurine. The scene Gloria finds is a mess. Ennis is dead, and he left some scuff marks on the floor, reminiscent of the misfortunate deputy in No Country for Old Men. Maurice ransacked the house searching for the stamp, but he happened to miss the stash of old pulp novels hidden beneath the floorboards. (For those of you who didn’t feel compelled to pause, the books are called The Dungeon Lurk and The Planet Wyh, and no, I don’t know what they mean.) There does seem to be some larger significance to the books, however. Ennis appears to be a bit of a sci-fi nerd. When Maurice came a-knockin’, he was waking up after falling asleep in front of a UFO movie that very well may have been footage from Fargo season 2’s climactic shootout. Also, the figurine he gave Nathan looks like it was modeled off of the Dungeon Lurk cover.
This confluence of bad things might be enough to start the engine of a normal show, but Fargo‘s got one more kink to toss in. Maurice drops in on Ray and Nikki celebrating their third runner-up placing in the Wildcat Regional bridge tournament — which is bronze at the Olympics — and informs them of how the burglary went down. (The title of the episode is a reference to a bridge theory, if you want to read up.) Because a murder was necessary and Ray laid hands on Maurice, the little errand to Eden Valley is going to cost the parole officer $5,000.
That is, unless Nikki drops an AC unit on Maurice’s head first.
The sidewalk splatter is the extra twist that’s going to complicate things for whoever tries to piece this all together, just like Rye Gerhardt ending up in the windshield of Peggy Blumquist’s car. But that’s all the more fun for us, as we head back into another season of Northern naughtiness.
The premiere brought the series action back to the recent past, and with the era shift comes a feeling of familiarity. Maybe that’s why most of the episode felt like a bit of a retread. Obviously, we’ve got many, many hours to go, and the seeds of the drama — as well as the performances — are uniformly strong.
Maybe I got too used to watching Legion, and it came as a bit of shock when no one got fused into a wall.