Sometimes watching Fargo makes me want to punch my TV.
There are times when this feeling can be a good thing. A physical, visceral response to a fictional story means the storyteller is doing something right. My copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, for example, is beaten to a pulp because of how many times I stopped reading and hurled it at the wall. A Storm of Swords also happens to be one of my all-time favorite novels. Fargo has also provided plenty of its own moments like this, namely any this season which involve the possibility of Nikki Swango dying.
This episode made me want to punch the screen for a different reason, the majority of which had to do with Moe Dammik. The show is capable of incredible creative heights, and its first two seasons were so unexpected and subversive that it was hard to be anything less than riveted while watching. But the creativity of the show makes it confusing when it seems so desperate to lean on the “obstructing police chief” trope, which even most potboilers and generic cop shows are smart enough to avoid at this point.
Part of the problem is that the character feels entirely devoid of nuance. In the first season, Bob Odenkirk’s Bill played a similar role, but at least he was a nice, dopey guy with an adopted son, and he seemed to be a developed human being. He felt like part of the dramatic premise of the series. Moe Dammik literally only seems to exist to drag out the plot and provide Gloria with a stupid, blockheaded obstacle. Hawley & Co. only have ten hours to weave this tale, and they have spent far too much of it on Dammik not believing Gloria’s story, which, ironically, may feel more plausible to the audience than it’s supposed to.
This leads to yet another part of the problem, which is that there are so many great opportunities for storytelling here that are being completely ignored. Putting Nikki Swango in a jail cell was a great opportunity to expand on her background, to show us more about why she needed a probation officer in the first place. Instead, we got Dammik being a jerk, and Gloria being subjected to pointless bureaucracy because of it.
And this is yet another problem; Gloria’s character is being dragged down by all of this. Carrie Coon has given what is easily one of the most emotionally powerful performances in the history of television on The Leftovers, but on Fargo, the majority of what she’s been given so far has been “exasperated reaction to stupid person.” It’s no fault of Shea Wigwam, but pitting Gloria against an idiotic police chief is one of the most glaring misuses of an actor I’ve ever seen. I had held out hope that a reason for casting Coon in this role would become more apparent, but the more screen time she spends getting hamstrung by bureaucracy, the more I lose hope.
All that being said, if Dammik gets put aside, “The Law of Inevitability” is actually a very strong episode. As if to contrast with Carrie Coon being wasted, Michael Stuhlbarg and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are both giving the performances of their careers. Sy motionlessly allowing his wife to take off his coat while tears run down his cheeks was striking, even if it was a little goofy. The entire exchange he has with her has an element of tragicomedy to it; when she asks what’s wrong, Stuhlbarg’s whimpered delivery of “the world” initially struck me as so pathetic that I laughed a little. But the rest of the monologue has such a frustrated weariness to it that it begins to feel childish, like lost innocence, and suddenly it becomes powerful. Sy doesn’t know how things got so out of control, and here his posture conveys just how hopeless he feels to fix them.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, on the other hand, does so much with so little when she’s presented with the picture of Ray’s body. Dearbhla Walsh, who directed the episode, is wise to let the camera linger on her drained face even when it would make more sense to cut to Dammik. The majority of the scene plays out like Nikki isn’t even listening to the accusations he’s so confidently rattling off at her, but at one point, when the camera returns to her, she is looking directly at him with sharp eyes. The grief is still there, but clearly her mind is already working out the best way to escape her predicament. This character is a consistent surprise, and Winstead rolls with the punches beautifully, always finding ways to breathe new life into the character.
After DJ Qualls, who Saul Goodman offered a juice box the last time he played a cop, attempts to kill her and she is brought to the prison transport, a washed-out, grey piano melody follows her aboard. Everything about the character feels sad, especially on the heels of her talk with Gloria about coconut creme pie with chocolate flakes, until the Mr. Wrench reveal. Suddenly the piano collapses into a welcome reprise of the Wrench and Numbers theme, which is possibly composer Jeff Russo’s finest moment in the history of the show, and there’s a glimmer of hope. Maybe Wrench will help her get out of this. After all, he’s the only character to have appeared in all three seasons of the show thus far, so he must have some type of plot armor.
But the doubt comes crashing back when Varga and company manage to bring the transport crashing down. Yuri finally wears that wolf mask we’ve been teased with all season as eerie violins accompany his attempted extraction of Nikki. Fargo is unpredictable enough that it feels impossible to tell what will actually happen here, but reintroducing Mr. Wrench like this only to knock him unconscious or kill him within thirty seconds feels like a cheat. Presumably Hawley won’t waste a great opportunity for a showdown like this the way he wasted Carrie Coon and Shea Wigham.