Analyzing The Music Of ‘Fargo’ Season Three, Episode Two: ‘The Principle Of Restricted Choice’

04.27.17 12 months ago


Isn’t Fargo great? Remember that part where Irv tried to do a Google search on Varga and Fargo suddenly turned into Black Mirror? How about Nikki deploying feminine hygiene as a weapon? The body count is so much lower than last season — the violence so far in season three takes place mainly via paperwork. As for the songs, Fargo is as eclectic as ever. Let’s check out the playlist.

Song: “Kalinka” by Ural Cossacks Choir
Scene: Yuri Gurka kills Irv by hurling him off of a parking garage.

As we discussed in last week’s recap, Fargo has shifted from the classic rock songs that distinguished season two to a soundtrack composed of ethnic folk tunes and foreign-language pop. I’ve suggested that season three of Fargo feels like a morality tale or allegory in the mode of A Serious Man. This week’s episode only deepened that impression, due in no small part to the music. Ural Cossacks Choir makes its second appearance already this season, performing one of the most famous Russian folk songs, “Kalinka.” You might recognize it from other films, TV shows and video games — it is usually deployed, sometimes comically, to denote Russian menace. For instance, when Nick ran afoul of Russian gangsters on New Girl, they made him dance to “Kalinka.”

The murder of Stussy’s poor lawyer Irv is preceded by a short monologue by Yuri Gurka — presumably not the same Yuri Gurka mentioned in last week’s opening scene due to the age difference, but perhaps a relative — who describes Cossacks raping the women and eating the babies of Ukrainians back in the early 20th century. An ancient community in Russia known for its prowess in battle, the Cossacks were utilized as a police force by the Tsars at the turn of the century, and later declared war on the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

At the risk of once again inserting yet another reference to “Trump’s America” into a piece of culture writing: Is the Russia connection significant? Last season, the story hinged on the Gerhardts bristling at a corporate takeover from the big-shot gangsters in Kansas City. This season, a homegrown middle-American company is being eaten away from within by shadowy Eastern Europeans with the power to use your own computer — poor Irv can’t even find the “enter” key! — against you. Or else they’re parking trucks in one of your parking lots, the one you secretly want to turn into condos, and storing guns or female slaves or God knows what. (That scene is scored by a Ukrianian tune, “Sho Z-Pod Duba,” performed by the modern folk group DakhaBrakha.) Globalization, it seems, is the bugaboo in season three. Timely.

Song: “The Christmas Song” by Bing Crosby
Scene: Sy confronts Ray over breakfast.

Does anything evoke the blandness of Minnesota that Varga backhandedly praises more than the sound of Bing Crosby’s voice? Crosby has supposedly sold more than a billion units of music worldwide — he was among the first modern pop stars and remains a familiar name even to listeners who were born decades after Crosby died in 1977. Every holiday season, that strong-as-oak voice can be heard crooning “The Christmas Song” in every mall across this country.

If you know anything about Crosby, “The Christmas Song” might also evoke intense familial strife that’s resonant with this particular scene and the overall arc of the season. After Crosby died, his eldest son, Gary, wrote a scathing tell-all book, Going My Own Way, alleging years of emotional and physical abuse from his father. (Bing allegedly referred to Gary as “My Fat-Assed Kid,” among other put-downs. He sounds like a total Sam Hess.) The book divided Crosby’s four children — Dennis and Lindsay supposed him, Phillip denounced him — and Gary himself supposedly sought to recant later on in life.

Regardless of whether Going My Own Way is factual, Bing was a bit of a cold-hearted SOB in death, putting his money in a blind trust that his kids couldn’t access until age 65. Lindsay and Dennis died at ages 51 and 56, respectively, both from suicide. Gary died of lung cancer at age 62, and Philip, the loyal son, perished at age 69 from a heart attack. In the end, hardly any of Bing’s kids got access to that money. If that doesn’t sound like an old Russian folk tale, I don’t know what does.

At least the Stussy’s patriarch left his sons a car and a collection of stamps, though the fight over his inheritance appears to be just getting started.

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