Fargo S03E09 Recap: 'Aporia'

Fargo can be kind of a difficult show to describe to someone who's never seen it or the 1996 Coen Bros movie it's based on. It's a show that's got a lot of style, that isn't bogged down by any particular narrative style, that's entirely malleable to the story that creator Noah Hawley wants to tell.

But if you had to boil it down, the best way I think I could describe it to someone would be thusly: Fargo is a show about a small number of smart people scheming and trying to figure out each other's schemes in the midst of a sea of idiots that get in their way. Sometimes the smart people are criminals or gangsters, sometimes they're cops, or people who have in some way been slighted. The stupid people usually wind up accidentally killing someone or otherwise getting involved, complicating matters for everyone else.

The smart people in this, the third season of the FX drama, include V.M. Varga, a cunning and experienced criminal who has infiltrated th Stussy parking lot empire, Gloria Burgle, a mild-mannered and honourable cop who can see passed the surface of any given situation, and Nikki Swango, an ex-con who can best be described as a survivor, motivated to get her way.

This season has mostly been about these three people trying to get their shit done while avoiding each other, and while dodging the actions of the stupid people around them. Varga, for one, is dodging Emmit Stusey and his lackey Sy, the fools he stole a business from and has to keep in check while he completes the takeover. Gloria is dodging her doding boss Chief Moe, unwilling to hear out anything she has to say about the murders popping up all over the county. And, up until a couple of episodes ago, Nikki was shackled to the man she loved, Ray, Emmit's dumb brother who constantly finds himself in trouble and winds up dead at Emmit's hands.

For the first half-dozen episodes, this push and pull between the smart and the dumb was what was driving this season of Fargo, and, to be honest, it may be the reason I wasn't feeling this season as much as the last. It was predictable, and at times frustrating. That all changed with Ray's death, because it unshackled a smart character that was ostensibly doing a dumb thing by sticking with Ray. It turns out, as we found out last week, that she truly loved Ray, so that's all fine. But a Ray-less Nikki changes the game because it frees her up to after Varga for revenge directly, which leads us to the two best scenes in "Aporia".

First, Nikki, accompanied by Mr. Wrench, unexpectedly attacks Varga's convoy and steals information from his truck. It's really badass, by the way, as she uses a fake grenade to psych Meemo ans his men out. But the real magic comes later, when she finally meets Varga face-to-face. It's the only scene that Mary Elizabeth Winstead and David Thewlis have shared so far this season, and it's sort of perfect. Both are playing their respective games, trying to catch the other making the wrong move. Nikki is playing bridge, trying to anticipate any number of moves Varga could be making. Varga claims he detests games, but you know he's secretly enjoying this, and that he definitely has a seat at the table. He stocks the hotel lobby they're meeting at with people dressed like him, so that no one could properly identify him. He tries to get Nikki to drink the special tea that he used to poison Sy. He has Meemo set up in an adjacent building with a sniper rifle. But Nikki has anticipated most of this, and dismantles Varga's plan, asking for money but truly seeking to embarrass him.

This scene encompasses everything that this season of Fargo has been. It's two of the show's best and smartest characters discussing their game theory, explaining what makes them tick. And it's interesting to contrast this, a scene between two people very much in control and struggling to maintain it, versus one earlier in the episode, where Emmit heavy-heartedly confesses to Gloria about murdering his brother. He's accepted his fate, he's sad about everything he's lost and needs someone to listen to him, which Gloria (again, a smart character) does so intently. What Emmit is doing has no basis in intelligence, just like most of his actions this season, including accidentally killing Ray. It's all emotion.

Funny enough, his confession is so poorly thought out that, in contrast, it doesn't seem all that difficult for Varga to clean up his mess. He has Meemo kill two guys named Stussy in the exact sam way the first two Stussys were killed, and pays a criminal off to take the fall, which easily satisfies Chief Moe and gets Emmit off the hook, especially after the Widow Goldfarb won't change her story, giving Emmit an alibi.

This season of Fargo has been an elaborate game of cat and mouse between a criminal and a cop, with an angry woman occasionally dropping in to throw a (Mr.) Wrench in the works. The long parts of this while the mouse is hiding may seem boring, but it's really picked up in recent weeks, and "Aporia" is another great example of what this show is capable of when it's at its best. "Aporia" is an uncomplicated episode that sets things up for the finale next week all while giving us a handful of tremendous scenes, and for that, it gets 9 semi-professional affairs out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Okay Thens:: 2
  • At the end of the episode, Hamish Linklater's accountant character gets an envelope with a portion of Stussy's books, presumably handed to him by Nikki, which will set the stage for Varga's downfall.<./li>
  • I was totally convinced that Chief Moe was in with Varga, but nope, turns out he really just was an idiot the entire time.
  • Also great this week, the bar scene betwen Gloria and Winnie. She tells her the story about the Robot MNSKY from earlier in the season , and how i relates to her (somewhat literally with the whole electronic faucet thing. But then, as if her burden has been lifted.
  • "You think there's a special place i hell for people who killed their loved ones on Christmas Eve?"
  • "Loved you in Death of a Salesman."
  • "How quaint. I've never understood this repulsive affinity for playing games."