‘Fargo’ Season Three Hits A Creative High With ‘Aporia’

A review of tonight’s Fargo coming up just as soon as I loved you in Death of a Salesman

“You think the world is something, then it turns out to be something else.” –Gloria

Boy, that was good, wasn’t it?

I’ve had concerns throughout this season that Noah Hawley and company were repeating themselves too much, and/or that most of the characters this year hadn’t come to life in the way their predecessors in Bemidji and Luverne so quickly did. There have been entire episodes, or narrative devices, or scenes, that gave me the same jolt of pleasure that earlier installments did, but something on the whole has been missing.

“Aporia,” though, had that same thrilling feeling of everything coming together that we got at this rough point in prior years, while also making several key players feel more complex, sympathetic, and just plain human than before.

In particular, a lot of this season had felt like a missed opportunity for the show with both Carrie Coon, who wasn’t given a lot to play most weeks, and Ewan McGregor, who was given two different characters who each felt thin and stereotypical in their own ways. But “Aporia” did very right by both of them, particularly for McGregor in the pair of Gloria/Emmit conversations in the interview room. Emmit’s confession was the realest, most three-dimensional, and tragic that he’s seemed, and his last line — “Thirty years, I’ve been killing him. That was just when he fell.” — was both beautiful and gut-wrenching. Ray was right all along, and it took his stupid, accidental death for Emmit to finally admit it to himself and an authority figure. And the later scene where Gloria lets him go, and comes achingly close to getting him to tell her about Varga, nicely fit the season’s larger themes of a world that has stopped making sense, even to the people ostensibly in power like Gloria (a cop) or Emmit (a rich and respected businessman). Both have wound up alone — though Emmit is more at fault for his predicament than Gloria for hers — and confused and unhappy, neither of them seemingly able to do anything about the pernicious evil of VM Varga.

This started as a season about brothers, and while one is gone, it has continued to be built around conversations between two people — even silent ones, like the way Nikki and Wrench are a well-oiled machine as they steal Varga’s truck and pick it clean. Both Gloria/Emmit discussions are wonderful, but just as satisfying is Nikki fending off every one of Varga’s insults and countermoves, or Gloria trying and failing to penetrate the Widow Goldfarb’s defenses, or Winnie trying to comfort Gloria. That last scene, and the one in the bathroom that follows — the sink and soap sensors finally recognizing Gloria because Winnie so openly and overtly recognized and cared for her at the bar — were particularly delightful, and a reminder that this is a fundamentally good-hearted show, despite all the mayhem and graphic violence, and that even in a season about how the old rules don’t quite apply anymore, things can still turn out okay for the heroes.

This was also one of the season’s best-looking episodes, thanks in large part to director Keith Gordon(*) finding gorgeous ways to frame particular images, from the hall of mirrors effect in the interview room to all the Varga doppelgangers swooping through the hotel lobby to Gloria gratefully studying her own reflection, so relieved to disprove the fan theory that she’s not real.

(*) Gordon has a rare Peak TV trifecta this spring, having also helmed episodes of The Leftovers and Better Call Saul.

And if order is slowly being restored to even this chaotic era in the Fargo universe, then it looks like our pal Nikki Swango will be playing a big role in restoring it. At first, it seems that she’s showing too many of her cards to Varga in their encounter by letting Meemo live and allowing Varga to get a look at Mr. Wrench, but it turns out she’s even smarter than he realized, and understands that he’s never going to hand her $2 million and let her walk away with it. Instead, she makes him think he can still outmaneuver her, and in the meantime she’s sent printouts and a thumb drive to Larue Dollard, who is smart and persistent enough to do something with this information.

At first, I thought “Aporia” was just the season’s best episode to not feature Ray Wise. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve felt this was the class of year three. I haven’t watched the finale yet, but hopefully it will be strong enough to make me feel like order has been restored in TV’s creative universe — and Fargo‘s respective place within that.

Some other thoughts:

* Every time I see Varga eating in the bathroom, I can’t help but wonder if he might enjoy a slice of Jon Hamm’s John Ham.

* Another improvement over previous episodes, albeit still not ideal: While Moe is still an idiot plot device, his behavior in this one is less stupid than previously, as Varga and Meemo give him so much evidence about their patsy that you can at least understand why he might go along with it, especially since the Widow Goldfarb and Sy both alibied Emmit for the killing of Ray. There’s still the pesky matter of all that evidence clearly linking Maurice to the murder of Ennis, but baby steps, people. Baby steps.

* Songs this week included “Hora in E Major” by Roby Lakatos & his Gipsy Band (the first Stussy gets his paper), Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Op.57, “Appassionata”: III. Allegro ma non troppo” as performed by Plamena Mangova (Meemo at the traffic light, and the cops arresting Varga’s patsy), “Brooklyn” by Youngblood Brass Band (Nikki and Wrench walk in unison), and “The Official Historian On Shirley Jean Berrell” by The Statler Brothers (Gloria and Winnie at the bar).

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com