Whenever I think of Fargo nowadays — in this meaning, the original Coen Brothers film — I can't help but imagine the horrified reaction of former presidential candidate John Kasich when he first saw the infamous wood chipper scene. It was something so disturbing to him that he demanded his local Blockbuster remove the film from its shelves. And yes, he's been mocked since, from none other than Steve Buscemi, the man whose character was at the receiving end of said wood chipper treatment in the movie.
But Kasich's reaction, in a way, is the perfect amalgamation of what makes Fargo such a delight: It's that evil force making its way into that friendly, Midwestern, "Minnesota nice" philosophy of life and how people react to it. In Kasich's case, that force unexpectedly made its way to his living room. Obviously, he didn't like it — but the point is, others are drawn to it.
While the FX series Fargo from showrunner Noah Hawley does drop the occasional reference to the Coen Brothers film, it hits the reset button every season and presents the same quandary anew. There's the evil force (in season one, Billy Bob Thornton's Lorne Malvo), the good Samaritan gone bad (Jerry Lundegaard in the film, Lester Nygaard in season one), the righteous law-bringer (the Solversons in seasons one and two) and a ton of collateral damage. Plus, it's all a "true story."
Season three of FX's Fargo is cut from this mold, but Hawley spins a tale that feels the most disconnected from its counterparts, and that's not a bad thing. Where seasons one and two shared the Solverson thread, season three — at least, from the first two episodes provided to press — bears no immediate callbacks to earlier years. If anything, it's the most Fargo-like season of Fargo, which hinges on a smartly chosen period in American history ripe for parody.
Season three takes place in 2010, and at the heart of the story is the contentious relationship between two brothers, Ray and Emmit Stussy, both played with wildly contrasting haircuts by Ewan McGregor. Emmit is, as everyone loves to say, the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota," and he has a beautiful home and a long-lasting marriage to boot. Things are pretty good for Emmit. Not so much for his brother, Ray, a balding parole officer with a rusty (little) red Corvette. Ray's bright spot comes in his girlfriend, Nikki Swango (an amazing Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a parolee of Ray's who has a penchant for competitive bridge. The tension between the brothers resides in, of all things, the trading of a valuable stamp from their childhood. Ray believes that Emmit is indebted to him; his successes, in part, are the result of gaining this precious stamp, which Emmit keeps framed in his house.
It's this standoff between Ray and Emmit that instigates the big crime of the season (season one's being the murders in the Nygaard home, and season two's Waffle Hut massacre), the details of which shan't be spoiled here, because I'm not a monster. It does, however, bring police chief Gloria Burgle (The Leftovers' Carrie Coon) to the fore. In a season that takes place closer to the present than any other Fargo property, Gloria is desperately clinging to the past. She's technology-averse — she doesn't use a computer for her job, and automatic doors don't open for her, as if she's invisible — and is a single mother, taking care of her alcoholic stepdad. Suffice it to say, she'd be better suited in 1987 alongside Marge Gunderson than in 2010.
The time period is key, too, as the calamitous presence of season three is the result of the 2008 financial crash. You see, Emmit's mantle as the "Parking Lot King of Minnesota" was, like many American businesses during the crash, in jeopardy. So he took out a loan from the mysterious "true capitalist" V.M. Varga (The Big Lebowski alum David Thewlis, with really bad teeth), who wants to make use of his "investment" in ways Ray wasn't expecting. Soon enough, trucks are rolling into Ray's parking lot — who knows what could be inside, though one suggestion is "slave girls" — and new workers show up to his offices. Does it look bad for Emmit? You're darn tootin'!
That's not a far cry from what instigates the bloody chaos of the original film, as police chief Gunderson laments in the film's waning moments after apprehending Gaear Grimsrud (this, of course, following the scene that caused John Kasich to lose his marbles). Just how far will it go this time around?
To say anything further would ruin the compelling thread Hawley is piecing together for this season. The writing, characters, setting and pacing are all expertly crafted, and if the first two episodes are any indication, it's another masterpiece in the making — you betcha!
Fargo season three premieres Wednesday, April 19 at 10 p.m. Eastern on FX.
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