At this point, it seems safe to say that concerns about this season of Fargo being too formulaic were premature and unfounded.
“The Lord of No Mercy” is now the fourth episode in which the show has broken farther from the mould it appeared to have set for itself. Normally by this point in a Fargo installment, many heads have rolled, so it seemed obvious that someone would have to die soon. In fact, the entire hour seemed to me a setup for the death of Meemo. After all, in previous seasons, there have always been henchman/hitman duos, with Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers in the first, and the Kitchen Brothers in the second. And in both cases, by the midpoint, one half of the pair had expired, with the other struggling a bit to go on in their absence. (The abrupt death of Mr. Numbers, played by Adam Goldberg, was one of my biggest issues with season one.) If the pattern had held, Nikki Swango might have somehow managed to get the upper hand on Meemo by sneaking up on him while he was sneaking up on her here.
But as surprising as that would have been, Fargo loves its awkward, anticlimactic death scenes, and instead it decided to kill the character who’d had the most screen time thus far in the most frustrating way possible. This show has always been unpredictable, but to have Ray die in a clumsy shove fight with Emmit takes that unpredictability to new heights.
Although Ray had easily been among the most sympathetic and likable characters of this installment, it is hard not to lay the blame for his death at his own feet. If he had just accepted Emmit’s gesture of goodwill, he would have survived. Even if he had listened to Emmit’s plea not to pluck the invasive shard of glass from his carotid artery, perhaps immediate medical attention would have saved his life. But Ray’s need to receive Emmit’s inheritance as though it had been his all along ended up making this the deadliest stamp since Seinfeld.
It’s certainly poetic that the obsession which consumed Ray literally killed him, and the death of a major character when there are so few certainly gives the final episodes a shot in the arm. But the season proposed itself as a complex relationship between brothers, and to see it descend so abruptly into a Cain and Abel story is jarring. Ray’s death is unsatisfying because now there will never be a moment of cathartic reconciliation between the brothers, nor any confrontation at all. Their silly dispute will never be resolved. The fact that Emmit is less interesting than Ray only compounds how frustrating this is.
When Emmit reacts to his brother’s death by calling Varga, it was hard not to think of Lester calling Malvo in the pilot. Varga’s plan to frame Nikki for Ray’s murder seemed particularly clever, even for this show, so it was easy to overlook Varga’s thoughts on how “things of consequence rarely happen by accident.” This seems a strange thing for the character to say after mentioning how Gavrilo Principe murdered Franz Ferdinand because of circumstances surrounding a sandwich. In fact, the vast majority of what’s happened this season has been caused by coincidences, namely the confusion of Ennis for Emmit, so Varga’s analysis appears flat-out incorrect. But instead of this being an inconsistency on the part of the writers, it seems like more of a subtle hint that maybe Varga isn’t the omnipotent mastermind he pretends to be.
His entire interaction with Gloria and Winnie seemed to make them more suspicious of Emmit than they had previously been, for example. If Varga had let Emmit handle them on his own, he probably would have been better off. Then, when Varga is searching for information on Gloria, he seems stumped when he can’t pull her up on Google. Issues with the logistics of using Google aside (that’s not what Google looked like in 2010, and typing in “Gloria Burgle” would have still gotten thousands of results, even if they weren’t what he wanted), when Varga is presented with a phantom not unlike himself, he appears almost intimidated.
On the other hand, Meemo and Yuri certainly do seem all they are cracked up to be. One of the week’s most interesting developments was the difference between the two. Yuri, who is seen holding a wolf mask like the one we saw last week, is Varga’s hammer; when he needs to solve a problem with brute force, Yuri is the one he turns to. But Meemo is more of a chisel, and when Varga has a problem that requires more finesse, he turns to him instead. Yuri takes the lead during a beatdown or a break-in, while Meemo handles subtleties like dealing with the IRS or framing Nikki Swango for her fiancé’s murder. Either way, they are beginning to make for scarier adversaries than their repulsive employer, and the idea that Gloria is on the verge of engaging them makes the wait for next week torture.