Fargo: 3.01 The Law of Vacant Places
This review contains spoilers for the premiere of Fargo's third season.
The third installment of Fargo begins as you might expect it to: that is, completely unexpectedly.
Even though series creator Noah Hawley promised that this new story would take place in 2010 Minnesota, the first scene travels to 1988 East Berlin, where a German officer interrogates a man accused of murdering his wife. The suspect, nerves frayed, desperately pleads that he's innocent, that he is not this "Yuri Gurka" who happens to be registered to his address. But the officer shuts him up. What you're telling me are stories, he says. We are hear to tell the truth. Immediately after comes the trademark Fargo opening: "The following story is based on true events."
The Law of Vacant Places winks at the quintessential irony in Fargo that first originated in the class Coen brothers' film: packaging a completely bizarre tale as a "true crime" story. It asks us to find a little bit of our world tucked inside the fictional chaos. So far, each story has had its obviously inexplicable elements. The first season had fish falling from the sky, and the second included several sightings of a UFO. And while there's still plenty of time for Hawley to include some supernatural element to season three, it seems that the most implausible element is coincidence.
The main characters this time around are Ray and Emmit Stussy, two brothers with a long-standing feud over -- of all things -- postage stamps. Yes, when their father passed away long ago, he left his beautiful Corvette to the older Emmit and his collection of valuable, vintage stamps to Ray. Emmit, recognizing the long-term value of said stamps, traded the Corvette with Ray. After selling all of the stamps but one, Emmit was able to start up his own parking lot real estate company (yes, you read that correctly) and now lives in impressive wealth. Ray, on the other hand, is a lowly parole officer, driving that now-clunky Corvette to get handouts from his brother for an engagement ring for his parolee/fiancee/bridge partner Nikki Swango.
Boiling with jealousy and contempt, Ray blackmails another parolee, the pitiful pothead Maurice, to break into Emmit's home in Eden Prairie and steal that last stamp. And this is where the coincidence really steps up to the plate: Maurice loses the address and remembers that the location begins with Eden. Sure enough, he finds Eden... Valley. After taking a phone book, he glances through, and how about that! There's a Stussy in Eden Valley. To top it all off, this Stussy is the disgruntled, elderly stepfather of the police chief. The botched robbery ends with the old man's death, and a manhunt begins.
A panicked and defensive Maurice tracks Ray to Nikki's apartment and pulls a gun on him, demanding five grand for his extra troubles. That little spout of aggression ends with Ray and Nikki smashing his head with an air conditioner from multiple stories up. And suddenly, things get very interesting.
It's almost impossible to make any concrete statements about one episode of a show notorious for its focus on the long haul. However, first impressions from The Law of Vacant Places are that the fun lies in the side characters. For the most part, talented actor Ewan McGregor's warring brothers lack to the personality to stand out in the pantheon of excellent Fargo characters. However, Nikki Swango is spunky and fierce, and she somehow makes bridge seem exciting and alluring, if not comprehensible (no, I have no clue how to play bridge). Also, Maurice was intriguing when his head was un-smashed, and a rotten-toothed David Thewlis added some serious tension as a representative of a mysterious organization that loaned Emmit a million dollars, and seem to want some sinister favor as pay.
Just one episode in, Fargo season three promises to be loaded with style and brimming with murder, mayhem, and Minnesotan accents. Aw, heck.