Another “true” story from the Fargo universe, this third series concerns a long standing feud between two brothers: the wealthy, successful “parking lot king of Minnesota” Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and his less well-off parole officer brother Ray (also McGregor). When Ray’s attempt to steal his brother’s rare, expensive stamp ends up with the death of a police chief’s stepfather, said chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) starts investigating while Emmit finds his parking lot business being slowly taken over by the unstoppable criminal businessman VM Varga (David Thewlis).
As can be expected from Fargo, there are plenty of wonderfully colourful characters and in this series, we have a central quartet of great performances to help bring them to life. Probably shining above all others, David Thewlis gives possibly his best ever role as the series’ main antagonist VM Varga; a character unlike any we’ve seen before, Varga is parasitic and repulsive but also incredibly clever and calculating, an immovable object who infects the lives of Emmit and his partner Sy like the most persistent parasite, seemingly being ten steps ahead of everyone at any one time. Unlike most other villains, he doesn’t succumb to rage or greed, keeping a cool head, planning things meticulously (alongside his Die Hard inspired crew) and also being super thrifty by seemingly always wearing the same set of clothes and letting himself suffer through some severe dental issues. With a wicked, dark sense of humour, Varga is undeniably one of the more memorable Fargo antagonists that we’ve seen, maybe even taking the crown away from the incomparable Lorne Malvo . . .
10 Cloverfield Lane‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also a huge asset to the series as Ray’s parolee girlfriend: bridge hustler Nikki Swango (taking the prize for best character name in the series!) Like Varga, she is also a quick thinker, able to plan several moves ahead and very early on, she proves herself to be as sharp as a tack and her sly charm and wit is incredibly engaging to watch. The later episode where she and Varga finally go head to head is particularly excellent as it is great to watch these two sly characters try and outmanoeuvre each other and watching her team up with the returning Mr. Wrench (apparently the only character who has appeared in all three series) provides some properly exciting drama, thrills and bloodshed. Winstead is continually fascinating to watch throughout the series, leading me to wonder why she was the only one out of the central four who WASN’T Emmy-nominated . . .
Also, Carrie Coon does a fine job as the series police presence Gloria Burgle but we’ve already been spoiled with charismatic police characters with Frances McDormand, Allison Tolman and Patrick Wilson and Gloria doesn’t really have enough character to make her properly make her mark on the Fargo universe, although she does get to solely lead the series’ best episode where she explores the history of her stepfather’s secret writing career. Ewan McGregor also throws himself into his dual roles very well; he undergoes an impressive physical transformation as the balding, pot-bellied Ray, forming a remarkable duo with partner Nikki, and also does fine work as Emmit, being the naive, unsuspecting dupe of the villainous Varga, slowly losing his mind as his life comes crumbling down.
And elsewhere, A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg fits in perfectly as fellow victim Sy Feltz and there’s a few neat turns throughout the series from Mary McDonnell, Scoot McNairy, Coen Brother regular Fred Melamed, Rob McElhenney (hey-o!) and a truly godlike Ray Wise, who also steals one of the best scenes in the series set in an unmistakably Coen-esque bowling alley; it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see that little bit more of him.
As with the previous two series, the writing is consistent and innovative, the production design is top-notch and the accompanying score is perfectly fitting, reintroducing the main film theme in the final episode which remains one of my all time favourite film scores – kudos for including it! But then again, the main series theme is amazing as well.
Overall, this third series does what Fargo does best, treating us to a truly colourful story with vibrant characters, weird, wonderful, sometimes bloody, moments and many tall tales, fables and allegories. It is a worthy addition to the Fargo canon but it is also that troublesome third part of a trilogy that doesn’t quite live up to the immense high standards of its predecessors. After a while, we come to recognise that a lot of this has been done before and it seems to constantly reintroduce those familiar Fargo tropes and style, reminding us of similar events from the film and previous two series. By this point, it’s par for the course for the series to include some riddles and allegorical tales that ultimately don’t go anywhere but in all honesty, it never really gets tiresome, the series is still consistent and compelling, and Fargo on an “off week” still has plenty to intrigue and interest.
And it is fun to always be on the lookout for hidden Easter eggs in the series; maybe it’s wishful thinking, but Ennis Stussy’s place looks an AWFUL lot like the ol’ Gearhardt ranch, the motel that Ray and Nikki go to could have been the infamous one at Sioux Falls (there may have actually been a sign that I missed) and that long, familiar stretch of road at the very end . . ? Could it have been? Again, probably wishful thinking . . .