Fargo (Season 3, Episode 1: “The Law of Vacant Places” Recap and Review)

FX, Wednesdays at 10 PM

Apr 21, 2017 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't watched the third season premiere of Fargo then read no further unless you want spoilers on the episode's plot.]

There's nothing like an artsy pee montage to signify the golden age of television. Fargo's third season frequently renders the disgusting, the mundane, or the banal into richly cinematic sequences, to gloriously ironic effect. There's those aforementioned golden streams running in the background, under superimposed scenes of Ewan McGregor's protagonist, Minnesota, parole officer Ray Stussy, waiting for his parolees to finish up and hand over their samples. There are quick cuts of plump rear ends wedged in sweatpants plumping down on card table chairs, as Ray and his parolee girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, of 10 Cloverfield Lane) waltz in to count cards and swindle them.

The biggest example of all, however, might be Ray himself, sporting stringy '80s style hockey hair despite the series' 2010 setting and his receding hairline. McGregor's eagerness to dive into such a conflicted role, so void of vanity and reliant on a resilient performance, is made all the more impressive by McGregor's simultaneous portrayal of yet another key character, Ray's dimple chinned, blandly square but wealthy brother Emmit. Despite his posh appearance, Emmit is not so superior to Ray, seeing as he and his partner's unscrupulously secured a too-good-to-be-true "loan" from a mysterious client, who turns around and rebounds the interaction an "investment" that he can use to lord over Emmit. This, in a way, is suitable karma given the way Emmit lords his charitable prior favors to Rayoaning money for various necessitiesduring a scantly stingy five minute meeting that he granted his sibling as if Ray were a two bit client instead of flesh and blood.

All of that is worsened by Emmit's ownership of a seemingly priceless stamp that Ray accuses his brother of swindling him out of in a better inheritance struggle that helped him vault ahead in life. So while Emmit is smug and condescending, Ray is entitled and unwilling to accept responsibility (not to mention an unscrupulous parole officer that is dating his parolee). Then Ray ups the ante of immorally by extorting another parolee named Maurice LeFay into robbing the precious stamp from Emmit.

One problem though: Maurice (hilariously portrayed by Scoot McNairy) is such a lunkhead that he fumbles the address and accidentally breaks into the home a grizzled retired cop named Ennis, who he spars with and ultimately kills.

This brings us to the most remarkable aspect of not only Fargo's third season, but all of its episodes and the protagonist in the classic Coen Brothers' film that inspired it. That, of course, is the strength of its female characters, who stand in sharp contrast to the compelling likes of McGregor and steal every scene they're in with feminine grace and boundless wit. Fargo's season three premiere continues this fine tradition in its climactic moments when Ennis' stepdaughter and police chief Gloria Burgle, played with a stern yet tender resolve by Carrie Coon (of The Leftovers and a Tony Award winner for her performance in a 2012 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? revival). The sweetness she shows her son in prior scenes, followed by the way she deftly pumps and wields a gargantuan shotgun as she searches for Ennis' killer, showcase Coon's vast range in a matter of minutes. And though she never fires a single round, this sure to be superstar actress gives the audience palpable anticipation as she prowls the rooms of her murdered stepfather's home.

And while Coon is captivating as Burgle, she is rivaled by costar Winstead as Swango, who surpasses her initial Scarlett O'Hara cliches and becomes an enigmatic genius of sorts before the episode's end, thanks to her speedy plan to drop an air-conditioner on Maurice from her apartment above at the exact right moment that he walks under it. She shoves that appliance onto the dim witted ex con after he threatens Nikki and Ray in the bathtub, demanding the parole officer pay him because he had to commit murder while running an errand for him.

From its dynamic female characters, to its willingness to turn dashing leading men like McGregor into far more fascinating warts and all character actors, to its exquisite (and frequently hilarious) montages about everyday Americana, Fargo's third season is thus far as strong as any of the sterling preceding tales in this snowed in noir universe. It's funny, it's dark, it's unpredictable andbest of allit's unconventional and subverts our expectations again and again. (www.fxnetworks.com/shows/fargo)

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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