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‘Fargo’ Season 3, Episode 9: “Aporia”

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For the majority of this year’s Fargo, I’ve been griping about how little Carrie Coon and Ewan McGregor have been given to do. Carrie Coon was the more glaring error because, as any fan of The Leftovers knows, she’s capable of literally anything. At least Ewan McGregor got to play two characters, which is pretty demanding in and of itself, even if they weren’t the most colorful or challenging roles. Ray, with Nikki, had felt like the center of the season until that shard of glass lodged itself in his jugular. But even when he was at his most prominent, it seemed like we were always just around the corner from learning more about him. Which made it disappointing to be left with Emmit, who felt like a caricature of a rich doofus more than an actual character. “Aporia” fixed that.

Seated across the table from Gloria, next to infinite mirrored images à la last season’s introduction of the Undertaker, Emmit’s fidgety nervousness acquired a certain nuance it had been lacking until now. His tale of how he tricked his brother into letting him take the stamps is devastating, particularly because of how he peppers it with little insights into Ray’s character. He mentions how Ray was always eating when they were kids, or how he framed a puzzle he completed in his “shithole apartment” like a “six-year-old,” and suddenly, both brothers seem more real than they had at any point in the season.

“Thirty years I been killin’ him. That was just when he fell.”

It’s ironic how knowledge of Emmit’s betrayal makes him more sympathetic, but somehow it does. The rich doofus is still there, but now we see underneath that exterior is a man haunted by the way he treated his brother, whom he did actually love, though neither that love nor his guilt was enough to counteract Emmit’s ambition. I still wish there had been more of a catharsis for Ray, but the way McGregor handles this monologue is enough of a payoff for each brother’s story. Ultimately, Ray has played a far greater role in death this season than he ever did in life.

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But this episode, astoundingly, managed to breathe a little more life into Gloria as well. In past seasons of Fargo, the cop has always had about equal screen time to the criminals, but Gloria has been critically underserved thus far. Here, this isn’t completely rectified, but her scene with Winnie at the bar is so touching it’s easy to mistake their chemistry for romantic interest. I initially thought Winnie would fall into the “annoying chatterbox” archetype, but that has not been the case. She brings something interesting to the table in each scene she’s in, and the way Olivia Sandoval and Carrie Coon play off each other is so natural and heartwarming it’s easy to forget the episode opened with a man having his throat sliced open.

Their friendship is easy, perhaps the only easy thing in Gloria’s life, and it’s enough to reassure her that she does, in fact, exist. This is important, because Gloria has lost her husband and her chiefdom in the same year, leaving her adrift in the universe, floating along with little more purpose than to care for her son. She wants to solve the Stussy murder case, but the odds are stacked against her at every turn. Perhaps this lack of direction, or faith in herself, is what caused technology to stop regarding her. Maybe something less thematic and more overtly supernatural is at work, but regardless, Winnie’s faith in her is enough to restore her place in the universe. With her newfound confidence, Gloria is more prepared to enter the final chapter than any previous Fargo protagonist.

Now that Fargo has made up for the little material it’s given to Emmit and Gloria, however, we must turn to the more flamboyant end of the cast. I’m not sure what it is about Mr. Wrench, but every second he spends on screen glues me to the TV. His theme (one of the best on TV) is certainly part of it, as is the entire concept of the deaf hitman, but there’s something else there, too, something powerful in the silent charisma of Russell Harvard. Perhaps it’s that all of these things, in addition to the loss of his partner in Fargo’s first season, hint at the greater part of an iceberg beneath the surface. Whether or not we’ll ever get a glimpse at that depth, I couldn’t say, but something about him feels more profound than many of the characters with speaking roles.

I pointed out last week that Nikki and Wrench make a great pair because they’ve both lost their other halves, and it’s because of this that I don’t question why the two of them are together. Their bereavements make them well-suited to each other. That she’s hanging out with a hitman is also likely a part of the reason Nikki has become such an operator in this episode.

A character changing in this way after a time skip can feel like a cheat, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the writers pull it off. I believe her partnership with Wrench (even though I was disappointed we didn’t see them arguing in sign language) and I believe the way she’s able to match wits with Varga. Her role as a femme fatale was played straight in this episode, displaying another dazzling facet of Winstead, and at this point, she’s cemented as my favorite character in Fargo’s entire run.

Last there’s the lupine V.M. Varga, who is no less comically menacing for every lingering shot of him eating ice cream on the toilet. He doesn’t feel as wrathful as Hanzee or omniscient and demonic as Malvo, but this is actually a very good thing. Some have criticized Varga for holding up poorly against previous Fargo villains, but David Thewlis’s strange performance is so uniquely disgusting it’s hard not to be awed by it.

Rather than feeling all-powerful, it’s more entertaining to see him in a genuine battle of wits against Nikki, and despite the occasional misstep, most of his plans have a genuine cleverness to them. From the Nikki-killing-her-abuser story to the trench coat mafia to the Stussy serial killer plot, there’s an amusing whimsy to Varga’s brand of evil. In the first season, Malvo (chillingly, hilariously) proclaimed “I’m a rascal. There’s no two ways about it,” but these words seem even more applicable to the wolf of season three. It will be a shame that after next week, there will be no more of his devious exploits.

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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.
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