‘Fargo’ Season Three, Episode Four: The Narrow Escape Problem

After last week’s adventures in Los Angeles and the origin of Ennis Stussy, this week we are back in the frozen tundra of central Minnesota, and dots are starting to connect.

Also, this is the episode where pretty much everyone has a terrible day.

And let’s get this out of the way: The narrator that bookends the story of “Peter and the Wolf” this episode is none other than Billy Bob Thornton. Nice to hear the ghost of Lorne Malvo this season! I liked how they used that tale to sort of paint a picture of who our characters fall in that story (and how the music for each character comes back throughout).

This episode takes place mostly in St. Cloud, and we see that Ray has shaved off his creepy ‘stache in order for him to sport a goofy looking wig and impersonate his well-to-do brother at Emmitt’s bank.

Even in this disguise, Ray still looks much, much older than his older brother.

Well, Ray heads to the bank in search of the priceless stamp that he seems to assume Emmitt has in a safety deposit box. Ray’s plan: Pretend he lost the key, and since his brother’s account is so massive there, they will just open the box for him.

Well, there is some resistance to that idea from the banker, who seems to relish in berating poor  Millie, who just moved to town from Bemidji (*cough, cough* season one reference *cough, cough*). Ray seems upset with the way the banker seems to bully the poor woman, so he begins to flex his muscle here as Emmitt and threatens to maybe change banks since they can’t seem to accommodate his request to have the box drilled open.

And when millions of dollars are at stake, shockingly the bank is willing to pry that sucker open to keep their client happy.

Also, he decides to take $10,000 in cash of his brother’s money. Sy was right, Ray will just take. It will never end, to him, that he is owed this by his brother.

Does Ray find the stamp in the safety deposit box? No, he finds cremains in a bag that has the word “Luverne” on it (*cough, cough* season two reference *cough, cough*). And… that’s all that’s in the bag. Not to leave empty handed from the box, he uses the bag to contain the cash he just stole from his brother. He then has to explain to Nikki that they can’t just take all of Emmitt’s money, just some of it. They’re not criminals!

Let’s just say Emmitt and Sy are not pleased with this little stunt. They already have Varga’s goons posing as the IT department and that sort of nefarious stuff, the last thing they need is Ray adding to their problems.

We also learn that the cremains in the bag were from a beloved dog of Emmitt’s.

“Believe me, I’m pretty ticked myself. I loved that dog. Plus the money of course,” Sy tells Emmitt. Such a Midwestern way of speaking of such an incident. Ray and Sy decide to take a meeting with someone who seems to be interested in buying into the business.

We then get a strange montage of Yuri (the guy from the season’s cold opener is one of Varga’s goons in the faux IT department) talking about Putin. We also see that Varga is operating out of the truck that Sy — for some reason — thought might be holding slave girls.

FARGO — Year 3 — Pictured (l-r): Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango, Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle. CR: Chris Large/FX

Gloria, meanwhile, is have a tough start with the new chief of police, Moe Dammik. He believes her stepfather’s murder has been solved, what with Maurice’s poor, crushed noggin in the morgue and whatnot. He seems to echo Bob Odenkirk’s Bill Oswalt in season one by claiming Gloria is over-complicating things. Dammik seems like the opposite side of the incompetence coin of Oswalt: Just as daft with putting to rest a crime, just seems more confident in himself. Gloria, to her credit, pretty much tells him off. Go Gloria!

As Gloria is about to head into the St. Cloud parole office and find herself even more ignored by electronic devices that is starting to concern me as a viewer, she crosses paths with Nikki. It is just a short scene, but I have a feeling these two will be meeting one another again.

Gloria is there to talk to Maruice’s parole officer, Ray, to see if there is anything she can gather on the guy. She heads to the john as she waits for Ray to be finished with a client and we get perhaps one of the most entertaining scenes of the series thus far.

In the bathroom, Gloria meets Officer Winnie Lopez, a brash woman who seems to lack an internal filter. They make some small talk, finding out way too much about Winnie’s sex life as Gloria tells her she is there working a murder case.

Also, the electric faucet, soap dispenser and hand dryer do not work for Gloria at all, again alarming me as a viewer.

Well, Gloria meets Ray and you can see dots are starting to connect for her. Ray’s last name being Stussy (he claims it is a common name. Having lived in St. Cloud a large part of my life, I can tell you I have never heard the name Stussy until this show). The exchange between Gloria and the very nervous Ray really reminded me of when Marge interviewed Jerry in the film “Fargo.”

In the parking lot, Gloria has a note on her windshield from her (apparent) new friend Winnie, saying she saw the number three on her license plate and was inspired to use the number on the lottery. Don’t worry, she says she will split the winnings.

Ray’s troubles are not over. He gets called into his boss’ office where he finds someone has tipped them off about his relationship with Nikki. He is offered a suspension if he ends the relationship. They even threaten to revoke her parole. Ray, to his credit, is loyal to Nikki and gets fired so he can be with her.

As Ray leaves his now-former job with his box of possessions, he sees Sy mocking him. Sy was the one who tipped his bosses off, in revenge for the stealing money from his brother. It is a weird scene with Sy just pointing as his “Peter and the Wolf” music is playing, and I laughed pretty hard at that. Such a weird moment in the show.

Also, Sy put boots on the tires of Ray’s sweet Corvette, just salting the wounds of Ray’s already awful day.

Well, Sy’s day is about to go to hell as well. At the office, Winnie Lopez is there about a company vehicle that was used to ram other vehicles. No, Ray declined to press charges, but the waitress who also got her car smashed into is hopping mad. Sy, knowing perfectly well this is another big problem, pulls the old Jerry Lundegaard approach of dealing with nosy police by claiming ignorance and having someone get the information needed the next day. Also, Sy isn’t comfortable with police in the office, what with Varga’s goons there and all.

We then see Ray drowning his sorrows, his life turned upside down. To the point he blew off a dinner with Nikki and (I presume) their sponsor for the bridge championship.

FARGO — “The Narrow Escape Problem” – Year 3, Episode 4 (Airs May 10, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): David Thewlis as V.M. Varga, Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. CR: Chris Large/FX

Emmitt has an unwanted dinner guest when Varga shows up randomly. I like how Varga is a more subtle agent of chaos than Malvo in season one and Ohanzee in season two. His creepiness and rotten teeth and British charm makes for a bizarre combination. He is there to talk business with Emmitt.

And not just any business. He has plans for Emmitt and himself. Big plans. A partnership. Varga, we find, has been spying on Emmitt for some time. He knows about the stamp, Ray and his rivalry, what he and Sy discuss, everything. He is like Big Brother in “1984.” He knows all.

Now, the fact he records everything and, it seemed, so did Lorne Malvo in season one, and the fact Billy Bob Thornton narrates this episode is leading me to believe there might be a connection here with these two characters. Noah Hawley did say one character from season one would be making an appearance. We will just have to see.

Now, the “billionaire business” Varga is talking about remains vague. He also makes Emmitt nervous about the day when the poor people of the world realizes they are being fleeced by the rich, i.e. people like Emmitt. He flaunts his wealth. Varga, on the other hand, sensing a potential upheaval, may be a billionaire, but he purposely dresses cheaply so as to not raise suspicion. He has even expanded Emmitt’s line of credit at the Minnesota National Trust to $25 million. It is an interesting scene.

Varga just wants to make sure Ray isn’t going to be a problem (this is “Fargo,” of course Ray is going to be a problem) to which Emmitt plays down the rivalry. What about Nikki? Well, Emmitt throws out there, if Ray is a loser what else can Nikki be.

If “Fargo” has taught me anything, the women characters on the show are almost always the smartest people in the room. I wouldn’t discount Nikki at all.

At the end, we have Winnie showing up at Gloria’s. I love this character, she doesn’t even think twice about inviting herself over to the house to discuss her case with her new friend. It is charming, I must say. As a true Minnesotan, this type of behavior truly terrifies me.

Winnie then tells Gloria about her case dealing with the Stussy business, how weird of a coincidence that her stepfather was also named Stussy and whatnot.

Dots, my friends, are starting to connect.

Observations:

  • Varga’s teeth are all jacked up because he vomits after he eats, destroying the enamel on his chompers. Is he bulimic? Certainly seems so. Also, I am not sure was grossed me out more: How he eats or when he pukes.
  • “Would you get the man a cream soda, for s*** sakes?!” Poor Millie from Bemidji has to put up with a lot at the bank.
  • “You’re brother has a million dollars, and you took what? Ten grand?” Don’t be greedy there Nikki. You just got out of jail and have already killed a man via “death by major appliance.”
  • “Big Lebowski” reference: “Cremains is the preferred nomenclature,” Sy says. Walter Sobchak says “Also, Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.”
  • Again, it is creepy how computer sensors never see Gloria.
  • The area code on the St. Cloud Parole Board’s business card is (320). That actually is the area code for St. Cloud.
  • When Winnie Lopez doesn’t have a tampon, she crams toilet paper in there.
  • “Don’t bang the cattle!” Pretty sure that is not how it is phrased in the manual.
  • I liked how the music/instrument associated with each character during Thornton’s monolog comes back throughout the episode when that character is on screen.
  • If only Sy hadn’t smashed that other car with his hummer.
  • “Look around. I’m already rich,” Emmitt says. Varga looks around and replies “No you’re not.”
  • Emmitt’s wife takes a real shine to Varga.
  • “Why does it smell like an unflushed toilet in here?”
  • Varga’s suit: $200.
  • I can’t imagine in any way Varga being a partner in Stussy Lots being a good idea. But, greed.
  • I loved when the camera goes to Gloria as Thornton says “Boys like Peter aren’t afraid of wolves.” Such a cool moment.