DVD Review– Fargo: Season 3
The TV series Fargo has always argued that to be a hero, one does not need to be superhuman, just humane. That sentiment is at the heart of the series, which shows that though a significant portion of the evil in the world is caused by deliberate malice, a great deal of destruction is also caused by poor decisions and plain bad luck.
The TV adaptation of Fargo has been lightning in a bottle. A television miniseries, let alone three miniseries, based on a classic movie as beloved as the original source material has the deck stacked against it from the start. Yet Noah Hawley has succeeded spectacularly, not once, not twice, but three times, due in part to expanding on the original themes and settings of the original movie, but also by assembling stellar casts and never losing sight of the moral compass that guides the series through its ever-twisting plot.
The third season centers around the fallout caused by the long-standing feud between two brothers: Emmit and Ray Stussy, both played briliantly by Ewan McGregor. Notably, there is no purely “good” or “evil” brother in this relationship. Both brothers have the potential to be very decent men given the proper guidance and personal introspection, but as the story opens and unfolds, weakness, poorly thought-out plans, quick tempers, and connections to the wrong people lead to destruction. Emmit is the prosperous brother, the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” who seems to have everything one could want from life. In contrast, Ray, the younger brother, is stuck in a dead-end job as a parole officer, and blames his lot in life on a Biblically-inspired fraternal feud based on their inheritance from their father, consisting of a Corvette, a stamp album, and a switch that may have set them both down the roads to their respective fates.
Ray is engaged to one of his parolees, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a clever and scheming competitive bridge player who begins by dragging Ray down a dangerous path, but midway through the series sees the importance of saving her own soul, though her way of doing it may not as wise as she thinks. In turn, Emmit’s financial empire is threatened by both the poor advice of his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), and by the rapacious hostile takeover led by the mysterious businessman V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), who uses the strings attached to a massive loan to completely take over Emmit’s business… and his life.
Previous critics have described Varga as an embodiment of capitalism, but I argue that this is a misreading of the character’s role and economic metaphors. Varga is the embodiment of corruption, a greedy, grasping figure who, like the harpies of Greek mythology, steals from others and leaves what remains so befouled as to be unusable. Varga’s primary joy comes not from the acquisition of money, but from taking what matters most from other people, be it their wealth, their reputations, or their lives.
Fargo has always balanced out its villains with salt of the earth types who earn the mantle of heroes not by a single act of valor, but by doing what is right and decent every day at every opportunity, even when it would be easier or more advantageous to do something crooked, or nothing at all. While the first two seasons had an entire family of lovely people and their friends to balance out all the wrongdoers, Fargo’s third season has but one major exemplar of virtue, though two minor characters, her son and a friend she makes over the course of the investigation, also count as figures on the side of virtue. Carrie Coon plays Gloria Burgle, a dogged law enforcement official, whose tenure as police chief is coming to a close due to the merger of her department with another one. Gloria is consistently nonplussed by twenty-first century technology, ranging from Internet-capable computers to the electric eyes that activate doors and public restroom sinks, and she’s recovering from the emotional fallout of her husband leaving her for another man. While other people are willing to accept the easy solution or safe escape, Gloria consistently puts her job– and personal safety– on the line because justice is more important than career advancement.
On Fargo, the forces of virtue tend to come out on top, but they never triumph without casualties, and they never win in a rout. As the ambiguous ending of season three indicates, sometimes evil can only be temporarily checkmated, not utterly eradicated. At numerous points in the narrative, the bloodshed and crime could have been thwarted if certain characters had only had the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing, rather than go with the flow and hope for the best, or dig themselves deeper into the mess.
Fargo differentiates itself from the pack of dark crime dramas by its unique integration of humor and whimsy with the carnage. An animated sci-fi tale that serves as an allegory for the events of the storyline, a supernatural sub-subplot featuring a waiting place between worlds and the legendary Wandering Jew, and callbacks to earlier seasons, Fargo differs from the prevailing noir by arguing that darkness is an inherent part of the human experience, but it is not the most powerful force in existence, nor is darkness fated to triumph.
Fargo: Season 3
20th Century Fox