Analyzing The Music Of ‘Fargo’ Season Three, Episode One: ‘The Law Of Vacant Places’

Cultural Critic
04.20.17

FX

The season premiere of Fargo 3.0 offered a lot to unpack — an incongruous opening sequence set in a totalitarian regime, two Ewan McGregors, David Thewlis’ terrifying gums, Scoot McNairy’s stoned late-night philosophizing, hidden sci-fi novels, and that falling air conditioner. But what about the songs? As arguably the best show on TV when it comes to utilizing pop tunes to assist in storytelling, provide valuable insight into characters, and score dazzling sequences, Fargo always has lots to offer on its soundtrack every week. Join me as we do a deep dive into the music of “The Law Of Vacant Places.”

Song: “Kukushka” by Ural Cossacks Choir
Scene: That weird opener set in late ’80s East Berlin in which Jakob Ungerleider is mistaken for Yuri Gurka.

If the first season of Fargo felt like a hybrid of the original film and No Country For Old Men, and the second season felt like an insane extrapolation of Miller’s Crossing set in 1970’s middle America, season three in the early going has a Serious Man vibe. The opening scene — which otherwise has no discernible link to the story that follows – seems to be a metaphorical meditation on the very Coen brothers theme of insignificant people being controlled by larger, not wholly sympathetic forces. Whether it’s God, fate, or sprawling government bureaucracy — poor Jakob is stymied by all three — the unseen hand that guides all mankind’s timelines has long been a cruel, unpredictable force in the Fargo universe, as evidenced once again by all of the things that we’ve already seen happen to Emmit and Ray Stussy in the season premiere.

The sense that season three might unfold in the manner of a folk tale is underscored by the music. “Kukushka” (or “The Cuckoo”) is an old Russian folk song that’s often interpreted to be an allegory about resilience in the face of continual hardship. (The specific version used in Fargo wasn’t available on YouTube.) Some believe “Kukushka” was inspired by the Russians withstanding Genghis Khan and the invading Mongols in the 13th century. “My son, come on, look at me / my palm turned into a fist /and if there’s gunpowder, give me fire / that’s how it is,” goes the chorus.

The Ural Cossocks Choir is presently based in the Netherlands, but it originated in Russia and for a time existed in Germany. The group specializes in performing ancient Russian folk and religious songs like “Kukushka.” In the region’s folklore, a common convention is the story of two brothers, where often one is rich and one is poor. This Slavic fairy tale, for instance, opens in a manner that’s similar to the start of Fargo‘s third season. As you can see, this particular story doesn’t end well for the rich brother.

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