*Minor Spoilers, Major Spoilers for Seasons 1 & 2*
Back in 2014, an announcement was made that the classic Coen Brother’s film; Fargo, was being made into a TV series. Originally I thought that this was a terrible idea as the film is pretty self contained story following a man with money troubles who hires a few crooks to kidnap his wife in order to get the ransom money off of her dad, but of course it all goes wrong in a dark and humorous way, and by the end the story is done and dusted. I thought that there was not much wiggle room there, unless they had decided to remake the film into a TV series, similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, but again there was not much there, certainly not enough for an entire series with multiple seasons.
Thankfully I was wrong and what they had decided to do was recreate the feel of the film, but give it an entirely new storyline. The link to the film was great (the briefcase in the snow), and the story of Martin Freeman as he plays a man who killed his wife and got away with it, as well as Billy Bob Thornton as the bizarre hitman, worked really well. The tale was dark and funny, completely with the silly over exaggerated Minnesota accents, as well as some enjoyable twists and action sequences. By the end of it I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Season two rolled around a year later and I was surprised again. This time it was (at first) because of the fact that Fargo was now an anthology series, similar to True Detective, where each season was a separate story to the previous one. Thankfully, unlike True Detective, Fargo did have a nice link to the last season in the fact that Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) played a younger version of Keith Carradine’s character from season one. This was a nice touch for me. As it felt as if the expanded universe of the show was growing.
The season followed the events of a policeman trying to bring down a family run criminal organisation, as well as focusing on the family themselves and a few other characters who were caught up in the middle of it all. The underlining UFO theme that was subtly thrown in (subtle until the penultimate episode in a fantastic scene) was done excellently and overall, I found this season even better than the previous one. It was then that I decided that Fargo was one of my favourite shows, and I would have to watch it the night each episode came out.
So we find ourselves in 2017 and the third season of Fargo has just finished. Like season two, I watched every episode as and when they were released and, although the season was not as good as the previous one at times (mainly due to the finale, which I will cover in a bit), I did really enjoy this years ventures to the land of 10,000 lakes.
The story follows two brothers; Ray and Emmit Stussy, both played by Ewan McGregor. Emmit is a rich and successful businessman who originally made his fortune with his father’s inheritance in the form of a stamp collection. He now runs a parking lot company and is happily married. Ray on the other hand is a financially struggling probation officer who is angry at his brother because when his father died and they had the choice of what they wanted from the inheritance, Ray chose his father’s car over the stamps, but now the car is old and outdated, needing repairs, and Emmit sold the stamps, all but one, to give him a far better life. Ray wants the last remaining stamp, which Emmit keeps in a frame in his office as a trophy of his success and hatches a plan with his girlfriend (a parolee with Ray being her parole officer); Nikki Swango, to steal it, but of course in true Fargo fashion, this goes horribly wrong and so begins a journey of mishaps and cover ups that intertwine with the other storylines of the season.
Meanwhile, Emmit, and his business partner and friend Sy, a while back borrowed money from a shady company, which they are planning to give back, however the man who comes to see them; V. M. Varga (played by David Thewlis, the werewolf teacher in Harry Potter), reveals that the company have unknowingly signed an agreement making him a partner. From that the company begins to do disreputable business deals, and it is clear that this Varga character is a dangerous and powerful man. Emmit and Sy desperately to get out of the deal, but this proves to be impossible.
Varga is my personal favourite character of this season and I will go into more of this in a moment.
The final main plot follows former Police Chief Gloria Burgl, whose step grandfather dies as a result of Ray’s plan. She realises that it is more than a simple break-in gone wrong, and decides to investigate further leading her into the Stussy brother’s feud.
These three stories tie together nicely all throughout the season and really go through some great twists and turns towards the finale, which, although was not the best and definitely not how I would have ended it, does tie everything up at the end… in a way.
Some of the episodes did have a tendency to drag out, but they were still well written and well preformed by the cast, so you didn’t even notice. You think that they are relevant, but upon reflection, they really weren’t.
This was a running theme through this year’s adventure; there was a lot that, once you have finished the season, you look back on and think “what the hell was that all about?” This issue is probably why I did not enjoy the season finale as much as some of the other episodes (or even previous seasons) as I felt that it left you asking the wrong sort of questions. Instead of wondering why in a curiosity kind of way where your brain is left to wonder, you are left confused as to why that happened or what was the point of that. The final scene of the last episode did this to be fair, but I felt it really needed more of a pay-off.
An example of this is the hidden theme of this season. Where season two had the UFO storyline, this year it was a more biblical one. It was only really featured in one episode, and without it, you really do not take anything way from the show. Without spoiling too much, when Nikki arrives in the bowling alley and a reveal occurs, it really didn’t serve any major purpose. Now that I know the outcome of her story, it makes me wonder what was the point of having that particular moment at all.
This could be down to the fact that it is more about the journey rather than the destination, but when previous seasons of this show have had more of a pay-off at the end, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.
The time jump they did at the end of the season did not help as it left me wondering why that particular character did what he did, but years later. Why did he wait five years before doing it? And how much of a coincident was it that the final scene occurred a few months later. It all felt a little unbelievable, but I can’t go into much of that without spoiling it, so you will have to see for yourself.
The actual ending of the season is a cliffhanger. Rather than when Martin Freeman feel into the ice at the end of season one and we are left wondering if he survived, this cliffhanger seems more like we are left to make up our own assumptions as to what happened in the end, but it is incredibly frustrating as we never really feel as if we got any closure before hand. Martin Freeman’s character was done. He was being hunted and everyone knew the crimes he had commited, but then he falls into the ice we don’t know if he survives or not, but the ending this season could easily go one of two ways, and with no real evidence of which way it goes, we will just have to make up the rest of the story in our heads. Maybe this will become more apparent in later seasons if they do choose to relate back to this story at all, and maybe then we will get a little bit more of a closure.
I think the reason that I felt so disappointed by this is the fact that Fargo is an anthology series, so we probably won’t get any resolutions in later seasons.
Speaking of relating to other seasons, this one had a character from season one make a return appearance a few episodes for the end, and then stayed along for the ride. When you first see the character, right at the end of an episode, it acts as if it is a huge deal, but to be honest I had no idea who it was until the next episode when the character’s… key feature is shown and suddenly I remembered. Maybe this is my fault because I couldn’t remember (given that a whole other season had taken place before we saw this character last, as this actor anyway).
This was another part of the show I didn’t like as I felt the reason this character tagged along for the remainder of the season (when the most action occurs) was a little wishy-washy. They had no real reason for following Nikki.
I really felt that up until one of the major character’s storylines came to a close… with a piece of a glass, the season was fantastic. It was smart and dark, really making me want to see more. I loved the relationship between the two brothers (and the differences despite the fact they were both fantastically played by Ewan McGregor) was the best part of it. Especially when both of there personal goals got in the big bad wolf’s (Varga’s) way. I really wanted to see Varga go after Ray, but that never really happened, at least in the way that I wanted it to.
After the turning point, mentioned earlier, the story focuses on a vendetta against a couple of characters, and while I did like it, I don’t think it was done as best as it could have been, now looking back.
I feel that I am giving season three of Fargo a negative review. This is really not the case. Like I said, I was disappointed with the final episode and the outcome of the entire season, but overall it was pretty solid. There was a lot of good here, but unlike other seasons, there was a lot of nitpicking that actually got in the way and spoiled it for me, as well as a lot that really didn’t serve a purpose.
I am going to have to read up what the point of the German interrogation scene at the very beginning of the show, as from where I am standing, that served no point what-so-ever. Maybe I just didn’t “get it”, as sometimes this show can try and be a little too clever and expect too much from the audience.
That being said they do the complete opposite this year. A theme involving Gloria is blatantly told to us, losing all of its magic, where as it would have been so much better to leave it unspoken for people to pick up on if they wanted and discuss in forums.
Another part that, now looking back on, didn’t have any relevance was the whole episode of going to Hollywood. The line “sometimes a story is unrelated and nothing more” turns out to be the truth of it. It really didn’t serve anything at all except introducing Ray Wise’s character, who was barely in it.
Anyway, that’s enough smack talking of the season, as I did have a lot of fun watching it, so let’s talk about some good.
David Thewlis’ character; the mysterious V. M. Varga, is fantastic. The character is truly horrible and not likeable, but in the sense that he written well. The man has no good qualities and serves to be nothing but a well educated parasite. He burrows his way into Emmit’s business and becomes unmovable. He changes the companies financial records and pretty much runs it into the ground, while lining his own pockets (as well as Emmit and Sy’s forcefully) with stolen funds, blackmailing them into following his lead and entrapping them into his shady dealings. If they do not play along, such as when Sy tried desperately to look for a way out of the deal, Varga will send his men (one a wolf-head wearing daunting Russian, and the other a quite Asian headphone wearing henchmen) to do the strong arming.
Although he is the antagonist of the season, we never really seem him doing anything evil. We never see him order the death of someone, or kill them himself, but the thing Varga is that he is intimating in a very intellectual way, using quotes and historical facts to highlight his points in bending the other character’s wills to his own.
It is good when one of the other character’s gets the better of him and we finally see his mask slip off (if only for a moment) and we see him in a situation where he doesn’t have control. It is a brilliantly well written moment.
At first you think that because Varga is British that his teeth are just bad as a little American dig at us. But the truth of it (revealed in the third episode) is that the man is a purger. He will gorge himself (rather sloppily and disgustingly) with food before throwing it all up. He has no concern for his own teeth, as the sick has nearly dissolved them (and when the time jump occurs, why haven’t they got worse? That could have been a nice little feature). Although the purging was a great character trait to have, and one that I have not really seen in anything making him quite unique, as with a lot of the occurrences in this season, I am left wondering what was the point of it. Was it just a character trait to make him even more un-likeable? But I was really hoping that it would somehow link to his undoing. Unfortunately without the purging, you could have easily cut it out and it would not have made any difference.
Another good moment was when Billy Bob Thornton returned to narrate one of the opening episodes, similar to what Martin Freeman did in season two. This time around, Billy Bob told the musical story of ‘Peter and the Wolf’, and the theme of it fit so perfectly into the season’s story.
I really enjoyed this season how true Fargo type situations that occurred. The lost address in the first episode leading to the grand events of the rest of the season was great. One scene, involving a passing car seeing a crime, was taken straight out of the original movie.
Gloria, while being reminiscent of the police officer from the 1996 film, stood out as a great and well driven character. Her eagerness to solve the case, despite the case already being apparently done, was good to watch. Her feeling like the little robot in the animated sequence in an earlier episode, who just wanted to help but really can’t help anyone, was a great character piece that the actress Carrie Coon really pulled off well, if the writing maybe wasn’t a little too blatant in telling us the subtle truths that Fargo normally keeps hidden away for only those will to look able to see them.
Overall I did really enjoy this season other than a few episodes here and there. Unfortunately when the finale is not a good ending for a great story, it can ruin the entire thing. Although the writers had tried to be clever with this, I couldn’t help but feel as if I came away with a sour taste in my mouth.
The characters were fantastic this year, Vargo especially, but also Ewan McGregor and his portrayal of both Stussy brothers, who really did feel as if they were both being played by different actors.
There was enough dark humours moments throughout to keep fans of the series happy, and the whole storyline was interesting and held your attention, if now looking back, maybe some parts were a little dragged out.
Other than a few strange character choices (such as going after a criminal in a prison bus to silence them, even though no one believed them and they were going to prison! Attacking them would only make people listen to their story. As well as Emmit not telling the truth of his apparent “affair” to his wife), the show had me hooked episode to episode.
While it was not as good as previous seasons, Fargo is still one of the best written shows out there. I look forward to see what stories can possibly keep coming of of this quiet and snowy state and I wonder if we will eventually get any answers to the questions that linger on after the final episode.
Here’s to hoping.