Shaun Munro reviews the second episode of Fargo season 3…
If Fargo‘s season premiere left a prevailing feeling of deja vu, the follow-up moves a little further away from the familiar, even if the key beats are still distinctly Fargo, and this is very much the lethargic second episode the show has essentially made its signature at this point. Like its predecessors, season three will clearly be a marathon rather than a sprint.
Instead of diving straight into the central Emmit-Ray setup, the episode begins by focusing on Gloria’s investigative plot-line, all while introducing two new cop characters, Gloria’s somewhat bumbling, possibly-comic-relief partner Donny (Mark Forward), and stern police Chief Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham).
Perhaps the most interesting revelation here is that Gloria is essentially a Luddite, harbouring a fear for technology and running a low-tech police station which Dammick understandably balks at. It’s an unexpected, refreshing route with Gloria’s characterisation, making her seem somewhat less endearing and less perfectly virtuous than the cop protagonists of prior seasons, who had a habit of being just a little too squeaky clean at times.
Elsewhere, Emmit and Sy struggle to deal with the further encroachment of V.M. Varga, not to mention Ray’s latest attempt to steal away Emmit’s prized stamp. Both situations give Ewan McGregor and Michael Stuhlbarg some fantastic scenes opposite one another, exemplifying both their terrific dramatic and comedic chemistry.
Emmit takes the lead over Ray this episode, who doesn’t show up until the 20-minute mark. Though Ray’s plot sees him and Nikki again attempting to rip his brother off in a low-fi heist sequence, it’s now tinged with a sure sense of sadness. Ray clearly enjoys attempting to reconnect with Emmit, even if it’s ultimately just a stalling tactic to allow Nikki to locate the stamp, and of course, he really, really wants that damn stamp.
It’s consistently impressive that McGregor so convincingly disappears into two characters, especially when they’re both sharing the screen. Almost never is one left actively considering that the two are played by the same actor, which given McGregor’s visibility as a bonafide movie star makes it all the more impressive. He’s doing killer work and is the season’s easy highlight so far.
There is one narrative strand in this instalment that sticks out somewhat, though; Emmit’s preposterously-named lawyer Irv Blumkin (Hardee T. Lineham) finds himself in hot water after Googling V.M. Varga. It leads to a thoroughly ridiculous, implausible payoff that’s a clear attempt to root this new season firmly in the tech-savvy near-present, but ultimately feels like a step too far, even if it does ably emphasise the far reach of Varga and his outfit.
Speaking of Varga, David Thewlis is once again an effortless scene-stealer, milking his philosophical dialogues for every scent they’re worth, all while introducing his two henchmen, Yuri (Goran Bogdan) and Meemo (Andy Yu), the former of whom some fans believe to be Yuri Gurka, the very same man sought for murder during the season’s opening 1988 East Berlin flashback. Will this play into proceedings later, or is it merely a fun tidbit for attentive fans to enjoy?
All in all, “The Principle of Restricted Choice” was a fairly low-energy episode but nevertheless consistently entertaining. It remains to be seen whether or not season three will be a slow-burn throughout or progressively ramp up, and while not every thread is surging with intrigue so far, the fraternal feud is certainly enough to keep things compelling, as is the introduction of several promising new supporting characters to this gamy stew.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more TV rambling.