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Series / Fargo: Season Three

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"Are you familiar with the Russian saying, "The past is unpredictable"? […] Which of us can say with certainty what has occurred, actually occurred, and what is simply rumor, misinformation, opinion? […] The future is certain. And when it comes, you will know without question, your place in the world."
V.M. Varga, "Somebody to Love"

The third season of Fargo aired on April 19, 2017. It focuses primarily on the feud between parking lot mogul Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and his brother Ray (also McGregor), a balding parole officer. When Ray's fiancee-to-be, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), convinces him to try and steal his brother's priceless stamp, the messy results attract Eden Valley police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) to the Stussy brothers. Ray's continued pursuance of his brother's assets, however, proves distracting to Emmit, who finds himself caught amidst a crooked business deal with the mysterious crimelord V.M. Varga (David Thewlis).

The series also features Michael Stuhlbarg, Andy Yu, Olivia Sandoval, and Shea Whigham in supporting roles, among others.

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Duo: Nikki Swango and Mr. Wrench make short work of Varga's mooks in all of their confrontations.
  • Action Girl: When pushed, Nikki Swango is one of the deadliest characters in the whole series.
  • The Alleged Car: Ray's piece of shit Corvette, which is falling apart. It's implied it used to be a Cool Car, but that was decades ago and Ray is too broke to keep it in good condition.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: To talk to her son from LA, Gloria had to call her partner, Donny, who then proceeds to pull aside the school bus Nathan was on to lend him the phone.
  • Ambiguously Human: Paul Marrane is heavily implied to be a spirit of some kind.
  • Animal Metaphor: Yuri is associated with wolves. He is a grandchild of the Wolves' Hundred and wears a wolf head for a hat. This is a callback to the similarly associated Lorne Malvo, who has a similar scene threatening a police officer into backing down.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: The Narwhal agents sleep in their semi trailer, and it seems that Yuri and Meemo share a bunkbed. Though Varga himself is seen sitting on a bed when conversing to the duo, he actually seems to sleep on the floor by his desk with only a single pillow for his head. It's all part of Varga's stated modus operandi of not spending money so as to remain inconspicuous.
  • Anyone Can Die: Ray eats it about halfway through the season. Neither Nikki nor Emmit survive the season either.
  • Art Shift: A decent chunk of Episode 3 is an Animated Adaptation of Thaddeus Mobley's novel The Planet Wyh.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Yuri Gurka takes pride in his Russian heritage and likes to brag about his Cossack ancestors who murdered thousands of Jews during the Uman massacre. The actual Uman massacre was committed by Ukrainian Cossacks with no Russian forces involved. It's possible the character could have ancestral ties to both Russia and Ukraine and is just muddling the issue.
    • Gurka also gives a distorted description of Russian history:
    All of Russia, hundreds of years, millions the tsar killed, then it was Lenin, then Stalin. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, but here you have, like, what? Malls … few dead Indians. Twenty million Russian died fighting Hitler. Twenty million. I see from your face that you can’t even imagine that. The pogroms, the starvation, twenty million more. Mothers cooking and eating their babies. That’s why the snow falls white, to hide the blood.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Many characters in universe (as well as the audience) ponder whether Nikki is in love with Ray or just using him to suit her own ends. As the series goes on, it's gradually revealed that there is a love for him and after he's died, Nikki's grief is real.
  • Beauty Inversion: Ray is portly and balding, neither of which really apply to Ewan McGregor. Emmit represents a slighter case, as he only gets saddled with a really unfortunate hairstyle.
  • Big Bad: V.M. Varga, the head of a ruthless international crime syndicate who takes an interest in the business of Emmit Stussy.
  • Big Fancy House: Emmit's house in Eden Prairie is practically a palace.
  • Book Ends: The first and last scenes of the season are between a member of law enforcement and their prisoner. The first scene has the prisoner be innocent of the crimes he's accused of, only for the system to not care and find him guilty regardless. The last scene has Varga arrested by Gloria, only now it's inverted, with the prisoner guilty of the crimes he's accused of, but who believes the system won't care and will find him innocent regardless.
  • Cain and Abel: Ray and Emmit Stussy. Emmit is the Cain.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: A major, explicit theme of the season. Varga and his associates are outright stated to be a private equity firm whose effectively limitless amounts of capital puts them, for all intents and purposes, above the law. Emmit Stussy himself, though relatively naive and harmless in comparison, is still shown to be a malignant narcissist whose greed and carelessness destroy everyone around him.
  • Central Theme: The malleability of truth, and the way powerful people manipulate narratives to suit their purposes.
  • Coming Out to Spouse: Chief Gloria Burgle is recently divorced from her husband who came out as gay to her. She remains friendly with him, as well as his new husband.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Unlikely coincidences and their consequences are the main theme of the season, and they shape the plot to a greater degree than previous seasons.
    • Monumentally stupid as Maurice may be, what are the odds that after driving 75 miles the wrong way to Eden Valley instead of Eden Prairie, he would still run into someone named E. Stussy?
    • What are the odds that the stamp's frame would require repairs just before Nikki broke in to steal it?
    • This is discussed by Varga, who uses the example of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to point out how coincidences can have momentous effects.note 
  • Da Chief: Moe Dammick, who becomes Gloria's superior due to a departmental merger in the first episode, is mainly presented as an obstinate, blockheaded prick interested only in finding easy solutions to cases so as to make his numbers look good.
  • Deal with the Devil: Varga points out that Emmitt really should have asked more questions before he took the money.
  • Distant Finale: The last few minutes of the final episode Time Skip ahead five years.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Used and/or Played for Laughs in episode one "The Law of Vacant Places," when Nikki emerges from the bathtub to distract Maurice and allow Ray a chance to wrestle the gun away. He fails in his attempt, but they emerge alive, regardless.
  • Downer Ending: Either this or a Bittersweet Ending depending on your interpretation of the final scene, but it's pretty bleak regardless. Ray, Nikki, and Emmit are all dead, victims of their mistakes and character flaws. Sy is alive somehow, but has evidently sustained some sort of brain damage due to his poisoning. Gloria has become an agent of the DHS and implies that her home life is happy, but might never get the closure she wants so badly on the case. And of course, while his sadistic henchmen have all been dealt with, the ending leaves it ambiguous as to whether Varga himself will get arrested for his crimes or walk free.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: Used extensively throughout the season, as part of the larger theme of storytelling. Episode 4 opens with a montage introducing the main cast as different characters in Peter and the Wolf, Varga recites the nursery rhyme "There Was a Crooked Man" to Emmit when he's at his lowest point, Varga's mooks all wear animal masks when out on the hunt that make them look like fairy tale creatures, and actual folkloric characters like the Wandering Jew make appearances.
  • Fake Guest Star: Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz is only credited as a guest star, despite his massive role in the story.
  • Flying Dutchman: Paul Marrane is hinted to be the Wandering Jew, exhibiting a number of Magic Realism properties and bearing the name given to the Wandering Jew in Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy.
  • Genre Shift: In contrast to the New Old West aesthetic of Season 2, this one has more of a whimsical, Magical Realism style in line with Coen films like Barton Fink and O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: There are three main factions, so to speak, involved in the the season's plot: Chief Gloria Burgle, looking for justice for the murders (the Good); Ray and Nikki, a pair of murderous petty criminals who get a somewhat sympathetic portrayal (the Bad); and the loathsome monster V.M. Varga and his sadistic goons (the Evil). This leaves Emmit and Sy in the unenviable position of being caught between all three.
  • Homage:
    • The bowling alley scene in Episode 8 is a pretty clear one to The Big Lebowski. Ray Wise's casting as an Ambiguously Human character who appears in an otherworldly location to give cryptic advice to the protagonist would also seem to be one to Twin Peaks.
    • The animated sequences showing The Planet Wyh are a definite tribute to Don Hertzfeldt.
  • It's A Small Net After All:
    • Blumkin's search for "VM Varga" yields a single result, which is a website carrying Varga's computer virus, which bricks your computer after taking a picture of you and sending it to his henchmen. Apparently, a search for "VM Varga" is so rare that he'll kill anyone who makes one.
    • Varga himself makes a search for "Gloria Burgle" and receives 0 hits. Apparently Gloria is such a Walking Techbane that it extends to everyone with the same name.
  • Internet Stalking: V.M. Varga attempts to Facebook stalk Gloria, but because of her mild Technophobia, he can't find any details about her.
  • Invented Individual: Or rather, company. It takes Nikki one conversation to figure out that Narwhal is a complete fabrication and Varga is his own boss.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The final scene cuts away before we find out whether Varga will become an example by using his connections to escape prosecution yet again.
    • The Widow Goldfarb is last seen taking over Stussy Lots and is not implied to have been caught by the DHS in the end.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Despite this trope being a major theme throughout the series as a whole, this season manages to dish out some particularly cruel examples. The morally grey Nikki Swango and Emmit Stussy evade proper justice for most of the story, but both end up with a bullet in the head by its conclusion. What makes this so harsh is that Emmit's justice comes after a five-year Time Skip where he's rebuilt his life after Varga wrecked it up so horribly.
  • Kick the Dog / Pet the Dog: Varga uses both methods to intimidate Emmit and Sy into falling in line with his plans. He emphasizes his intention to make Emmit rich, posits himself as Emmit's protector while nurturing his growing paranoia, and even comforts Emmit in his own odd way by reciting a childhood nursery rhyme. Contrast that with how Varga treats Sy: an endless stream of humiliation and intimidation, including insulting Sy's wife to his face and sticking his johnson into Sy's mug before forcing him to drink out of it.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: A mysterious bowling alley in the middle of the wilderness, whose sole patron appears to be Paul Marrane.
  • Loan Shark: Subverted. Emmit thought that he was borrowing money from one and is prepared to pay a hefty interest on the loan. However, the people who gave him the money thought of it as an "investment" and insist that Emmit pay them back by using his business to launder their money.
  • Magic Realism: This season goes more heavily toward the supernatural than previous seasons with the presence of Paul Marrane, implied to be the Wandering Jew. He appears beside Gloria during her trip to L.A. to give a strange anecdote about a woman who is both divorced and not divorced. When he meets Nikki and Yuri at a bowling alley, he appears beside each of them and displays mysterious knowledge about their past while speaking about judgment and the afterlife.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • Maurice's death is passed off as an accident, a misadventure by an air conditioning unit being dropped on his head.
    • The death of Emmit's lawyer, Irv is reported as a suicide, even though he was thrown by Varga's goons.
  • Meaningful Name: Maurice le Fay's name is very similar to Morrigan le Fay.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Nikki and Ray striding into a bridge tournament to the tune of Adriano Celentano's "Prisencolinensianciusol" makes them seem like they're about to do a heist, or something equally dramatic—when all they're going to do is play bridge, albeit competitively. The absurdity of it is underlined by the fact that the song is deliberately written in gibberish that sounds like it's in English, but isn't. To top it all off, they treat coming "third runner-up" as if it's a huge win for them.
  • No Ending: The final scene takes place between Gloria and the arrested Varga in an interrogation room. Gloria bets that he will be arrested in five minutes, while Varga retorts that he will be allowed to walk free in five minutes due to his connections. The scene ends before we find out who's right.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Maurice le Fay is an absolute dumbass, but that doesn't stop him from breaking into an old man's house and murdering him by gluing his nose and mouth shut.
  • Oddball in the Series: This is the only season that has no direct connection to Fargo. It's also much less connected by plot and characters to the other three seasons than they are to each other.
  • Oddly Small Organization:
    • Before the County takeover, the entirety of the Eden Valley police force was made up of only two officers for the entire town with population of 1,000... and that includes the chiefnote .
    • For most of the season, it seems that the entirety of Varga's organization is made up of just Yuri and Meemo. When things start getting more complicated, Varga brings in a lot more minions.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Emmit and partner Sy's reaction when Varga makes it clear they can't pay back the "loan", but rather are going to be used to launder money for his criminal organization.
    • Also, when Varga takes over an office of Emmit's to start bringing in several dozen file folders to be used in their money laundering. Once again, they insist they can pay back the money and can't hide it with their small lots. Varga simply tells them to buy more lots.
      Varga: There you go. Now you're seeing it. The inescapable reality. You're trapped. [Emmit and Sy's faces fall] Don't look so sad. By the time we're done, you'll be billionaires. On paper, at least. [heads for the door] Good. Well, that's that out of the way. Now, you may not see much of me for a couple of days, brutal nation states and all, but Yuri and Meemo will be here to make sure everything runs smoothly. And, oh, yes, condolences on your attorney. What makes it so tragic is how avoidable it was. But you understand, I can't have people out there investigating things.
    • Nikki meets with Varga in a public place, positive he can't do anything as "you're a pretty distinctive guy." Varga just smirks. "Am I? Look around." Nikki does...and sees that just in this lobby, there are at least six people who are dressed almost exactly the way Varga is. And this is after she notes that Varga loves to put on the "middle management" act in order for people to underestimate him. She can only sigh, "nice."
    • It's then Varga's turn when Nikki reveals her partner Mr. Wrench has just taken down the sniper Varga had trained on her.
    • Emmitt is rocked when his confession to killing Ray is beaten, as Gloria tells him that (thanks to Varga) another man has confessed to the killing as well as others. Which means Emmitt is free to go where Varga is waiting to pick him up.
    • When Varga arrives to exchange $2 million for his stolen hard drives, he waits at the elevator while Meemo and several hired guns search the building. Varga receives a text message alerting him that the IRS has the hard drives. He suddenly realizes that he's walked into a trap and retreats back into the elevator. Varga can only react in horror as he listens to his men being slaughtered by Mr. Wrench.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Stussy brothers occasionally sound like they're Minnesotans by way of Scotland.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Varga and his goons are a threat that Ray and Nikki couldn't have possibly seen coming and the ramifications of which they can't possibly understand.
  • Real Is Brown: The whole season has undergone a desaturation similar to the Coens' movie Inside Llewyn Davis.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What does V.M. stand for?
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Nikki embarks on one against Varga's organization with Mr. Wrench's help in the final two episodes.
  • Running Gag: Automatic sensors such as doors and bathroom sinks not working for Gloria, but working for everyone else. Rule of Symbolism comes into play as a means to show off her Disco Dan attitudes.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: Varga himself is British, and he at the very least employs Ukrainians alongside apparently recruiting local talent.
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of loving landscape shots of the bleak yet beautiful plains of Minnesota.
  • Serial Killer: Varga covers his tracks by having Meemo murder two other men named Stussy and then paying a random homeless man to confess to being a serial killer who exclusively hunts people with that surname.
  • Serious Business: Nikki and Ray take the Wildcat Semi-Professional Bridge Tournament very seriously and are extremely proud of their "third runner-up" placing. Nikki credits her skill at handling life-and-death situations to her proficiency at bridge.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Basically, the key theme of the whole season is people making up meanings and seeing patterns where there aren't any, with plenty of red herrings and plot misdirections. Lampshaded by the image on the stamp, which depicts Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill.
    • The most prominent example would be the murder of Ennis Stussy, which was completely accidental (the killer confused him with a namesake, Emmit Stussy). Nonetheless, the police found out that Stussy used to be a talented sci-fi writer Thaddeus Mobley in his young years, and deduced that the murder could be related to his past.
    • This leads up to episode 3, in which Gloria goes to Los Angeles to investigate Thaddeus' past life in the 1970s, and finds out some dark secrets, but eventually understands that it's completely unrelated to the murder: "No. It’s just a story. None of this has anything to do with [the murder]". Basically, the whole episode has a Red Herring theme through it, with a number of bizarre occurences that eventually amount to nothing, like a man dressed up as a Santa Claus' elf who steals Gloria's luggage and a strange box with a button that she finds in her hotel room whose only function is to turn itself off when you press the button to turn it on. Finally, there is story of Thaddeus Mobley's novel The Planet Wyh, which runs as a parallel plotline, and tells about an alien robot who stayed on Earth for millions of years, witnessing the rise and fall of civilizations... but when he was finally recovered by his alien creators, they simply told him to turn himself off.
    • Another example is when Nikki sneaks into Emmit's house to get the stamp and finds the donkey picture in place of it. The cleaning lady had accidentally broke the frame and Emmit had the stamp sent away so the frame could be fixed. Since Nikki doesn't know this, she decides that he did so deliberately as a way to mock her and Ray. She also finds a bank deposit number, and, believing that the stamp is in Emmit's safety deposit box, she and Ray concoct an elaborate plan to break into it... What they eventually find in the deposit box is the ashes of Emmit's beloved deceased dog.
  • Shout-Out: The names Varga and Ehrmantraut, like Mike and Nacho in Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul.
    • Similarly, in the finale, Varga gives his name as Daniel Rand.
  • Sibling Rivalry: One of the themes of the season. Ironically, Ray and Emmit genuinely seem intent on settling their rivalry by episode two, only for Sy and Nikki to escalate it.
  • Significant Name Overlap: Ray hires Maurice le Fay to steal a priceless stamp from his brother Emmit, who lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Maurice, however, manages to lose the directions on his way there, and can only partly remember the address. Consequently, he ends up driving 75 miles the wrong way to Eden Valley and, finding an "E. Stussy" in the phonebook at a gas station, he goes to the house of one Ennis Stussy and kills him.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Ray and Nikki may genuinely love each other, but a parole officer is strictly prohibited from having sex with a parolee because of the great potential for abuse. When Ray's bosses find out about his relationship with Nikki, they are extremely unhappy, and they fire him when he tells them that he intends to keep seeing her. In addition, this could be considered a violation of Nikki's parole and she could be sent back to prison.
    • Sy uses a massive Hummer to smash not only Ray's Corvette, but another unlucky passerby's Subaru in a restaurant parking lot in broad daylight. It only takes a few days for the police to track Sy down and seek to question him.
    • After Emmit accidentally kills Ray, Varga instructs him on how to behave when the police inevitably inform him of the news to draw suspicion off of him. When the police do come a few hours later to inform Emmit, he immediately panics and flubs his alibi, making himself look incredibly suspicious. Sy quickly has to intervene in order to stop him from implicating himself further.
    • Walking around the forest wearing a wolf's head and pelt is an excellent way to get yourself shot by hunters.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Initially implied with Nikki and Mr. Wrench after their encounter with Paul Marrane, as both had been known to believe that Murder Is the Best Solution, but are afterwards shown to execute their plans against Varga and his henchmen with zero casualties, even with Meemo and Varga himself at their mercy. In the season finale, this was shown to be a Red Herring, as they slaughter all of Varga's muscle and Nikki personally goes after Emmit.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: Eden Valley is some 30 miles from St. Cloud, and both towns are over 70 miles from Eden Prairie, the Minneapolis suburb where Emmit lives. The fact that this means about an hour's drive is glossed over except when brought up as a plot point.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Released in 2017, set in 2010 aside from some flashbacks. Later skips ahead to 2011, and then to 2016.
  • Un-person: This concept is examined as it applies to the Information Age, where so much of our identity is connected with our online presence:
    • Varga has almost no online footprint and has arranged that all searches for his name go to a single website that he controls.
    • Gloria does not exist as far as technology is concerned. She has no website or social network presence. Motion sensors all over the country fail to recognize her presence, and automatic doors fail to open for her. In the grips of a foul mood, she notes all of this and starts to doubt her own existence.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Done deliberately and pointedly as part of the season's overarching theme. Howard Zimmerman and Vivian Lord are shown to be pretty rotten people, but aside from their coincidental association with Ennis Stussy, they have no relevance to the main plot.
  • Walking Techbane: Technology seems to malfunction whenever Gloria is around and she seems to want no part of the Information Age.
  • We Can Rule Together: Varga is so impressed by Nikki's savvy and ruthlessness that he offers her a six figure position in his organization. She refuses.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Did Winnie Lopez ever have a kid? And did her association with the case help or hinder her law enforcement career?
    • Did the Widow Goldfarb ever get caught?
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Both Emmit and Sy are confused by Varga's London accent:
    Sy Feltz: Where are you from?
    V.M. Varga: America.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Nikki's greatest asset is her ability to come up with new plans or adapt the old ones when they fail or get derailed.