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Fargo - Season 3 So Far - Review

Before Fargo debuted in the spring of 2014, when buzz first started growing about the upcoming adaptation, I was one of the many viewers asking 'but why?' How could FX possibly add to or expand upon the incredible legacy of the film? To my surprise, the series has not only matched the icy cold insanity of the movie, but it has managed to become of the great TV series of its time.

The first season was a darkly twisted caper with as many laughs as gasps. Noah Hawley was ingeniously able to capture the spirit of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film without allowing the series to feel like an unnecessary retread. In season two, the story got bigger: after a deadly accident, a local butcher and his whimsical wife find themselves intertwined with a nefarious crime family.

In the third season, Hawley delivers another worthy reboot. This time the story is set in 2010, following Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), the former police chief of Eden Valley, as she tries to solve the murder of her mysterious stepfather, Ennis Stussy.

The premiere set things up in typical Fargo fashion: a delicious slow burn. It’s hard to tell, at first, who our hero might be and what exactly the story is. We meet Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), a down-on-his-luck probation officer who is romancing one of his parolees, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). McGregor is doing double duty this year, also playing Ray’s brother, Emmit, the self-proclaimed Parking Lot King of Minnesota.

In the first two episodes, the core of the season is rolled out masterfully with equal amounts suspense and humour. Ray is still carrying an old grudge; a bad deal that he feels he was cheated into as a kid, wherein he walked away with a Corvette and Emmit got a valuable stamp collection after their father died. Now, Emmit lives a lavish lifestyle with a beautiful home and wife, while Ray is barely getting by. After a contentious meeting with his brother, Ray tasks parolee Maurice with breaking into Emmit’s home to steal a valuable stamp. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and Maurice ends up in Ennis’ house, leaving the old man dead and returning to Ray without the stamp. Rather, he shows up with a bunch of useless postage stamps.

When Maurice threatens to go to the cops if Ray doesn’t hand over $5000 for his efforts, Nikki thinks quickly and drops an air conditioner out of her window and onto Maurice. This leaves Gloria with two dead bodies and a uniquely dark case to follow. Meanwhile, Emmit finds his business indebted to the fantastically villainous V.M. Varga, played with smarmy delight by David Thewlis.

Here’s the thing: whereas other anthology series have the benefit of virtually no limitations, Fargo has a few boxes it needs to check each season: namely, the location and general tone of the film. Where a show like American Horror Story can set each new season in a unique location, Fargo’s title limits where the action can take place. But Hawley has found ways around even that.

As Gloria digs deeper into her stepfather’s case, she discovers that he was at one time a sci-fi novelist living in Hollywood. The third episode transports the action to California – after two weeks of build-up, the Stussy brothers don’t even appear in the episode. Instead, we’re treated to flashbacks of a young Ennis, then going by his real name, Thaddeus Mobley. The result is a greatly effective bottle episode; essentially a fish out of water parable the follows Gloria navigating Hollywood as she tries to uncover the decades-old con that caused Mobley to flee the state and change his name.

If I had to pinpoint a Coen Brothers film other than Fargo, I’d say The Big Lebowski has major influence on the story and tone here. There’s also something truly unique about this iteration of the series. It manages to feel distinctive enough that you might even forget it’s loosely based on a film.

As always, things are likely to heat up in the next few weeks. As it stands, our main characters – Gloria and the Stussy brothers – have yet to even cross paths. At the end of episode three Gloria got her first real clue that could lead back to Ray and Nikki: Maurice’s fingerprints. Surely it’s only a matter of time before a connection is made, and the fun will likely come from watching Ray and Nikki try to weasel out of trouble.

The cast here is stacked, and something I’ve always admired about the series is the attention paid to supporting characters. This year, in particular, I’m absolutely loving Emmit’s business partner, Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg). The character is at one moment hilariously dry and the next terrifyingly deranged. As his business falls into disarray, it will be interesting to see how his loyalty to Emmit holds up. Coon and McGregor, unsurprisingly, are also superb, and Winstead seems to be having the time of her life playing the conniving Nikki.

The most exciting bit of the season is that I have absolutely no idea where it will go. I’m trying to stay away from any hints this year, too. No promos, no press releases, and no inclination of what’s to come other than what Noah Hawley has put on my screen. In that case, all that’s certain is that it’s going to be good.

Fargo season 3 continues Wednesday nights at 10PM EST on FX. For more on the series and all my other SpoilerTV work, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

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