Wednesday, April 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'Fargo' - Ray and Emmit Sit Down to Make Amends but Escalate Things Further in 'The Principle of Restricted Choice'

FX's Fargo - Episode 3.02 "The Principle of Restricted Choice"

Gloria deals with the aftermath of a crime. Varga makes a move. Ray and Nikki move on to Plan B.

The central story of Fargo this season is the war brewing between the Stussy brothers. This episode especially offers the sense that if they got along fine or made up for past mistakes now then no more people would die. Things wouldn't escalate as much as they are clearly going to. It's clear that the brothers both want to make up but find it difficult to let go of the past. It's an interesting character dynamic. It's important to the season even though Ray and Emmit Stussy are the least engaging of the characters so far this season. They both appear dim but in different ways. They are alike even though one has a successful business and the other is constantly being peed on. They both need the support of other people in order to move forward in their lives. Those other people - Nikki for Ray and Sy for Emmit - may ultimately escalate this war much more so than any action that the brothers actually do. But the root of all of the problems that will happen this season is the animosity between Ray and Emmit. Any time they try to mend fences, things will only get worse. It's only after something serious happens that they might see the error of their ways. Even then, it will probably be too late to change anything.

Of course, it already feels too late for the Stussy brothers to change course and be friends now. The season premiere already killed someone. This war between the brothers already has a casualty. It was a case of mistaken identity where Maurice killed Ennis Stussy by mistake. He has no connection to either Ray or Emmit. This episode makes it clear that that death is somewhat self-contained. Nikki's quick actions basically put an end to any worries to be had about an official police investigation. There is nothing about Ennis' death that can connect back to Ray. If it leads anywhere, it will go back to Maurice and he's already dead. So, it seems like a closed case. It's probably not because of the amount of screen time Gloria is getting as she starts up the official investigation. She'll likely find a way to link her stepfather's death back to Nikki and the Stussy brothers. But right now, things are still relatively sane for Ray and Emmit. They still have the potential to sit down claiming to forget the past and move forward as supportive brothers. They can still do that and have it feel genuine. After this hour though, that will no longer be the case.

It's all ultimately because of Nikki and Sy that things get so bad so quickly. A miscommunication once again fuels the actions of so many characters. Nikki believed that Ray was just distracting Emmit so that she could break into the house and steal the stamp. She didn't think he genuinely wanted to end this feud. And thus, she reads into things that just weren't there. She sees Emmit as this master manipulator. And yet, he is just as oblivious as Emmit. She thinks he's one step ahead of them. So, she makes sure her presence in the house was known by leaving behind a used tampon and writing a message in blood. That's essentially an opening shot in this war. It's then up to Sy to make it clear that things will never be friendly or civil again between the brothers. It's a role that he likes to fill as well. He likes coming across as the smart lawyer who can enforce things. He feels confident when he delivers an ominous message to Ray and then deliberately hits the corvette. And yet, he's overly confident as well because he hits a waitress' car as he leaves the lot. It's a humorous scene but one that shows just how personal this war is going to get. It's all over a stamp too. Lots of people are going to die this season because of a stamp.

Meanwhile, V.M. is continuing to make his presence known in Emmit's business. So, Emmit has to be worried about two things right now. He has to manage his brother who is seemingly coming after him as well as this criminal operation that he is now trapped in. He still wants to believe he can work his way out of it. He believes that's still a possibility. And yet, it only leads to the quick death of another character - all because he does a Google search of V.M. Varga. Of course, this criminal is still such a mysterious guy. It's not abundantly clear what he's doing in this city. But he is interested in an actual partnership with Emmit. He presents the idea and it does seem tempting. It should be fascinating to see if Emmit ultimately accepts all of these new risks for even larger payday. He might simply because his head isn't on straight because of Ray. He's still just getting a grasp of the situation with V.M. And yet, V.M. is already moving in. He's taking over an entire wing of Emmit's office space and has brought a mysterious truck to town with an unknown cargo. It's largely just left Emmit and Sy guessing over what it all means. They are trapped and they now know it.

Elsewhere, Gloria's story still largely feels disconnected from everything else. All of the other characters interact with a Stussy brother in some way or another. Gloria does as well. Her path will eventually connect with them. But right now, she's off dealing with her own problems that are completely separate. She's trying to make sense of who her stepfather actually was and why someone would do this to him. She discovers that he was actually a successful and awarded author. Those paperback books he kept hidden were actually written by him. She had no idea. He's a complete mystery to her even though she wanted him in her and her son's lives. All of this also comes at a time when Gloria's losing her job and having to deal with a new boss. She feels like a relic of a different time. It's clear that this season is interested in the dangers and failings of technology. That's what got Irv killed by V.M.'s goons. Plus, technology continues to fail around Gloria. She likes doing things the old-fashioned way even though that clashes with her new boss. That should be a compelling dynamic. It also probably makes her a very smart and capable detective. She's already doing fine police work in finding the phone book Maurice used to track down Ennis. That's a solid first step in a story that will hopefully become more important later on this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Principle of Restricted Choice" was written by Noah Hawley and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
  • Between this show and The Leftovers, it appears to be a running joke this spring that technology fails characters played by Carrie Coon. It's definitely an amusing similarity between the two shows. She plays frustrated in some fascinating ways. It feels more important for her character here though.
  • One of V.M.'s goons is named Yuri Gurka, which also happens to be the name of the man from the East Germany scene that started the season. That can't be a coincidence. This season is seemingly about the power of names and the close connections they can build amongst communities. 
  • Of course, I got a laugh out of Emmit's investigator not knowing how to track down V.M. Varga even though Emmit and Sy gave him a ton of information. Plus, it's clear that V.M. has been in this business long enough to ensure that no one can track him down on the internet. If they do, he has a well-crafted bug to infiltrate their computers.
  • Nikki believes that if the police are able to figure out everything that happened to Ennis that they'll ultimately chock it up to "unfathomable pinheadery" by Maurice. First of all, that's just an excellent phrase. But more importantly, it's Nikki continuing to be very confident and smart but probably underestimating Gloria.
  • It seems fitting that Gloria is investing the death of a published author and the police precinct shares space with the town library. Again, that can't be a coincidence. Though this one seems like a strong thematic connection than something signaling more importance.
  • The number of shots this season that include both Ray and Emmit in the same frame are going to be limited. And yet, the technology of the present does allow that to happen and make it appear seamless as well. When the two of them go out to discuss things at 10:30 at night, it's a beautiful shot that has some remarkable symmetry to it.