Shaun Munro reviews the first episode of Fargo season 3…
The painful 16-month wait since Fargo‘s second season concluded is finally over, and while not returning to screens with quite the same surging electricity of the two prior premieres, “The Law of Vacant Places” is nevertheless a rock solid introduction to Minnesota’s latest batch of loveable low-lives.
The season may be set in 2010, but it opens in East Berlin some 22 years earlier, as a case of mistaken identity results in a beleaguered citizen being told by an officer of the law, “We are not here to tell stories.” It’s a marvelously sharp way to externalise the “this is a true story…the names have been changed” mantra that opens every episode, and couldn’t feel much more different from how previous seasons kicked off.
The subsequent switch to 2010, however, invites a great deal more familiarity. Ewan McGregor pulls double duty as Ray and Emmit Stussy, two brothers – not twins despite bearing an uncanny resemblance – who are very much two sides of the same coin.
Emmit is a successful parking lot entrepreneur but had to borrow money from the mob to get his business through a rough patch (which brings him into contact with creepy enforcer V. M. Varga, played with sinister relish by David Thewlis). Ray, meanwhile, is a balding, bedraggled parole officer who is engaged to a high-maintenance but unexpectedly resourceful parolee, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and desperately wants to find the money to buy her an engagement ring.
To that end, when Ray secures the services of pothead parolee Maurice (Scoot McNairy) to steal some prized stamps his brother received from their father’s inheritance, things inevitably go fatally wrong, putting plucky local police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) on their trail.
On the basis of this opening hour, season three just might end up being the most eccentric and Coen Brothers-esque volume yet. From the A Serious Man-esque delineated opening fable to a slow-motion piss montage, the opening titles not appearing for 20 minutes, mundane acts having grotesque consequences and a crime plot revolving around goddamn stamps, it’s all quite delightfully weird.
It is fair to say, however, that so far it lacks the propulsive impact and freshness of the first season’s premiere in particular, especially with the various mix-ups and killings and Coon’s seemingly indefatigably good cop character feeling rather on the familiar side.
Still, it is undoubtedly a consistently intriguing addition to this unlikely mythos, doing a great job of setting up these characters, even if it’s hard to tell from this primer whether the overall picture is headed towards better (and weirder) things, or is destined to coast as just comfortably entertaining. After the out-of-nowhere UFO shenanigans of last season, anything is possible.
Bolstered by riveting performances – especially from McGregor, Winstead and Coon – and the slick direction, cinematography, editing and scoring fans should now expect, Fargo‘s third chapter is off to a compelling if deja vu-riddled start.
At 65 minutes it feels a little long in the tooth considering the familiarity, and several characters implausibly talking to themselves when in isolation veers a tad too stagey, but the season premiere never sinks below being grim fun, and presents plenty to consider for the rest of the season (specifically how the cold open might connect to 2010, and how the overall scenario will link to prior seasons).
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more TV rambling.