“Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.”
Have you ever listened to Peter and the Wolf? Written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936, Peter and the Wolf is a musical composition written to be a fairy tale for children. The young boy Peter is told time and time again that the wolf is too clever, too devilish for Peter to catch. Peter, with the help of his woodland friends, defies those warnings and catches the wolf to bring him to a nearby zoo (rather than be slaughtered). Each character is played by a different instrument of the orchestra, and each character contributes in some way to Peter catching the wolf in the end. I will note each character’s role in the show and in the composition.
The third season of Fargo is a modern homage to Peter and the Wolf, directly quoting the opening lines in the fourth episode. While each season of Fargo can stand alone, it is best to watch all three seasons in order to understand the subtle references that connect each character and story. For this reason, I’d suggest watching the first two seasons before diving into Season 3.
Two stories are presented at the beginning of the season. Brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy (both played by Ewan McGregor, although the brothers are not twins) have been engaged in heated sibling rivalry since their father passed away over 20 years ago. Emmit (the bird/flute) has been dealt the good hand in life. He owns a successful chain of parking lots and lives in a beautiful house with his wife and children. Ray (the duck/oboe) is a probation officer who, despite being younger than Emmit, is bald, fat, and wrinkled. The brothers often feel slighted by one another and have masterfully avoided confrontation for years.
Alongside this dilemma, Emmit and his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg / the grandfather / the bassoon) borrowed money to keep expand Stussy Lots from what they believed to be a legitimate venture capital. It is quickly revealed that they instead borrowed money from V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), the wolf himself. Varga is a vile, nauseating character who picks his decaying teeth with metal and vomits excessively after eating huge meals (emetophobes, you’ve been warned). Varga’s villainy escalates from naughty to diabolical throughout the season, as he makes it clear that he has no intention of letting Emmit pay back the money. Rather, Varga has made ‘an investment’ in Stussy Lots, using the business as a front for laundering millions of dollars to offshore accounts.
These two stories slowly intertwine until they are inextricable, trapping the brothers in a fight that, out of the respect for the dead, is told exactly as it happened (each season of Fargo claims to be a true story). Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is the only member of law enforcement who sees the connection between the inexplicably bizarre crimes that unfold, noting the brothers as the thread that ties everything together. Burgle is meant to be Peter (strings) who must capture the wolf, despite not knowing much about the dangerous creature wreaking havoc in her small town.
The season falls short in several places, often through its love of seemingly unrelated coincidences. In the first episode. Burgle’s stepfather is brutally murdered because he shares the same last name as Emmit. Ray had paid a convict named Maurice LeFay to steal a 2-cent stamp from Emmit’s house, but LeFay loses the address and goes to Ennis Stussy’s house instead. As Burgle investigates why her stepfather was murdered, she travels to L.A. to learn more about his past as an almost famous sci-fi writer. Ennis’ storyline is compelling, but it is dismissed as quickly as it is discovered. Paul Marrane (Ray Wise) is introduced in L.A. and plays a pivotal part in a later episode, but his backstory is largely unexplained.
Fargo invokes a conflicting sense of happiness and fear, revelling in small, real moments of dialogue instead of grand gestures. One of the most compelling scenes in the show comes from episode 8, “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” Ray’s girlfriend, Nikki (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, represented by the cat and clarinet), has been on the run from Varga’s hitmen, notably Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan / the shotgun blast / the kettle drum). She seeks asylum in a desolate bowling alley, only to be offered salvation by Paul Marrane and Ray (the kitten). Paul and Nikki’s brief moment of solace offers each of them relief before returning outside to the piercing winter winds. As an aside, Ray Wise also played Laura Palmer’s father in Twin Peaks, and I like to pretend they’re the same person (I certainly wouldn’t put it past David Lynch).
So what does Fargo leave us with? A renewed appreciation for the unsung heroes of television, the cinematographers and musical composers. Standout performances by the entire cast, especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Carrie Coon. A final scene between Burgle and Varga that, if we’re to believe the homage to Peter and the Wolf, could mean the ultimate capture of the wolf. Because each season of Fargo stands alone, there isn’t a cliffhanger per say, but the story doesn’t necessarily feel complete. The current of magical realism that flows through each season keeps the audience wanting more, even when they don’t quite know what that could mean. Creator Noah Hawley has a lot on his plate (with a second series of Legion and two feature films coming out) but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a fourth season. Until then, we are left with 30 nearly (but not quite) perfect episodes of television that certainly can be watched more than once.