‘Fargo’ Season 3, Episode 2: “The Principle of Restricted Choice”

Reviewing Fargo forced me to learn how to play bridge.

The episode titles in past installments of Fargo have generally been ignored by the majority of critical interpretation I’ve seen. Presumably, this has to do with how aloof they can be in regards to the meaning or theme of the chapter they label. For every title like “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage”, which in the first season directly referenced a conversation held in the episode, there would be a “Loplop”, which in the second season inexplicably referenced a birdlike character from the work of artist Max Ernst. Interpreting the titles can be difficult, and because of this, it is generally ignored.

That being said, this season appears to be holding to more of a pattern, with each title card thus far, both “The Law of Vacant Places” and “The Principle of Restricted Choice”, referring to concepts from contract bridge. This is, of course, the game Nikki and Ray are obsessed with, and a source of Nikki’s vaulting ambition. (She also speaks almost entirely in bridge metaphors.) The partnership of bridge also reflects the theme of pairs and duality that seems to keep cropping up; we have Ray and Emmit Stussy, Ray and Nikki, Emmit and Sy, and the two contract killers (a staple of Fargo), with more likely to arise. Then there’s also the dualism of the recurring mistaken identities, with Emmit and Ennis, Ennis and Thaddeus Mobley, and the man in Berlin and Yuri Gurka, which also happens to be the name of one of Irv Blumkin’s assassins. The meaning of these pairings has yet to rise above being a series of patterns into something more meaningful, but we’re only a fifth of the way through the season yet.

Another relation to bridge is the quartered structure of the narrative, with the story being essentially split between four different parties. In the first corner this week, we have Gloria Burgle, whose relationship with technology is a bit more complex than mere incompetence, because not even automatic doors seem to sense her. This is the first hint at anything supernatural this season (see second season, aliens), although we’ve seen so little at this point there could be a perfectly rational explanation for it. Ironically, there is a nearly identical subplot occurring in The Leftovers with Carrie Coon’s other character, Nora Durst, and the comparison Coon forcibly draws between these roles does not favor Fargo. Carrie Coon is capable of incredible things, and thus far she has been given extremely little to do, aside from being haunted by that wolflike shot of Maurice exhaling smoke. Again, this is only the second episode, and there is plenty of time ahead, but this is a little troubling. Hopefully Fargo didn’t hire a heavy-hitter to do a lightweight’s job.

In the second corner is Ray Stussy, who can’t seem to succeed in any of his schemes to steal his brother’s precious stamp. His relationship with Nikki is by far the most entertaining part of this third installment, though it is unclear how genuine Nikki’s emotional investment in Ray is. The way the show drew attention to her telling him he was the “dummy” in the previous episode might speak a little bit towards this; all she was technically doing was informing him what role he was playing during that round, but in the overall context of their relationship, it seems like a hint that she may be playing Ray. This is compounded by the way everything she does seems to hurt her fiancé, especially when she smears menstrual blood all over Emmit’s room, sabotaging the brothers’ simultaneous communion.

It is no coincidence that while Ray and Emmit have this conversation, the car Ray inherited is always framed between them. This evokes not only the way inheritance tore the brothers apart, but also how it will likely keep them separated. And Emmit, in the third corner, has more to deal with than just his brother, which is why he dispatches Sy to end the relationship once and for all. Sy appears to have plenty of his own issues that will likely be elaborated on in the future, most of which appear to have to do with either women or being in control. Notice how he punches the table when he speaks of Nikki’s bodily vandalism, and his strange almost-excitement about the possibility of “slave girls” in the truck.

Finally, rounding out the game, we have the delightfully disgusting V.M. Varga and his henchmen, who comprise the other half of Emmit’s troubles. Varga’s first appearance in the episode is filled with pretentious linguistic posturing, and while David Thewlis plays the character with a certain smug levity, there’s clearly something lupine lurking under the surface in every one of his exchanges. Emmit and Sy realize this for themselves when they learn the truth of Irv’s concrete swan dive. In every installment of Fargo, there’s an injection of true evil to go along with the menagerie of dopey criminals, and based on what we’ve seen so far, Varga appears to be just that.

What did everybody else think?

Joseph Rejent
Joseph Rejent
Joe is secretly a space lizard who's been controlling your minds with fluoride for like, decades. Just don't ask if you should call him "Joe, Joseph, or Joey" because he'll probably say something awkward like, "uhh... both?" And then everyone will be uncomfortable.