A review of tonight’s Fargo coming up just as soon as enemies are fornicating with our cookware…
“To be honest, I feel as if I’ve left the known world.” –Sy
“The House of Special Purpose” takes us to the midpoint of season three, and to points of no return for the Stussy brothers and their respective confidantes. Arguably, Emmit and Ray were doomed from the moments the former didn’t immediately call the cops on VM Varga and the latter sent Maurice to burgle his brother, but there is doomed, and then there is doomed to suffer the worst fate imaginable, while others around you pay terribly for your sins.
By the end of “The House of Special Purpose,” Emmit’s marriage has seemingly come to an end because of a sex tape Ray made while wearing his Emmit disguise, an IRS agent is preparing to look at the books of Emmit and Varga’s joint money-laundering operation, Ray is under investigation for the murder of Ennis Stussy (even if Moe the idiot is doing his best to prevent Gloria and Winnie from looking into it), Nikki has just barely survived a savage beating at the hands of Yuri the Cossack, and Sy has both witnessed that beating and been forced to drink a cupful of urine from the World’s Best Dad mug Esther gave him. And it’s clear that the worst is still to come.
The weight of the episode falls hardest on Emmit and Sy, and it’s a particularly powerful showcase for Michael Stuhlbarg. Sy has always come across as a beta male desperate to be perceived as an alpha, no matter how clumsy his attempts tend to turn out. But when put in a room with Varga, Yuri, and Meemo, he is rendered utterly, terrifyingly powerless, and left shaken for the rest of the episode. He briefly seems to get his mustache bristling again after Emmit — similarly lost and confused and angry following Stella’s exit — promises to take off the shackles and let Sy fix the Ray situation however he wants, but that rekindled bravado lasts only as long as it takes for Yuri to interrupt his showdown with Nikki and deploy his whip on the troublemaking parolee. By the end of it, Nikki is physically broken, but surprisingly not dead, and still filled with enough spirit to drag herself to the car, drive home, and collapse in Ray’s tub. Sy, meanwhile, is so emotionally wrecked just to witness it — and such a coward to begin with — that he can’t even be bothered to check on Nikki to see if she’s dead or in need of assistance, and simply climbs into his ridiculous Hummer to drive away and think deep thoughts of what’s become of his life.
The Emmit/Sy scene brings home how quickly this is spiraling out of control, because neither of them realizes the grave nature of the various threats confronting them. Sy is all wrapped up in feelings of humiliation, disgust, and self-loathing at what Varga and the others did to him with the mug, while for Emmit the clear enemies are his brother and Nikki, and for a while the two are just yelling past each other. Emmit briefly gets Sy to refocus on the Ray problem, but then Yuri’s attack on Nikki changes the equation yet again.
Why does Yuri let Nikki live? Why, for that matter, did he attack her in the first place? Irv’s murder aside, he and Meemo and Varga seem to prefer dominance moves to outright killing: their goal is to keep their latest mark from going to the authorities no matter what. In this particular moment, Nikki’s role in disrupting Emmit’s life and business is almost irrelevant: she exists as a tool to frighten Sy, the man the organization has a more pressing need to keep under control.