Fargo: The Law of Vacant Places
April 20, 2017 7:31 AM - Season 3, Episode 1 - Subscribe

A twisted sibling rivalry leads to murder, mobsters and cutthroat competitive bridge in a small Midwestern town.

EW recap: We gave it a B+
Vulture recap: Game Over
posted by jazon (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It will be difficult to beat Season 2, but I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. Great cast so far, great music, great cinematography. The first episode didn't seem to have the Big Event that (if I remember correctly) the other two season openers had but I'm looking forward to seeing it all develop. I am a huge fan of this show. You betcha.

Also, do you think using the name Ehrmantraut was a shout-out to Breaking Bad \ Better Call Saul? Perhaps the two shows now exist in the same universe.
posted by bondcliff at 7:53 AM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

This premier felt a little rushed and uneven to me, but I'm certainly going to stick with it. It's Fargo, after all.

The air conditioner killing, however funny, really felt hugely contrived, depending on the victim stopping and standing exactly underneath the window long enough for the AC unit to make the fall.

What was the music playing during the competitive bridge tournament scene? It sounded so familiar but my brain isn't placing it.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2017

What was the music playing during the competitive bridge tournament scene?

Prisencolinensinainciusol. There was a Mefi post about it.
posted by bondcliff at 8:47 AM on April 20, 2017 [16 favorites]

I don't know if I'm quite clicking with the Ewan McGregor double role yet; it feels very unbalanced, with Ray getting all the character and Emmit -- so far at least -- seeming very insubstantial.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:19 PM on April 20, 2017

I missed Season 2, so between Legion and this season I'm just starting to get familiar with Noah Hawley's work (spoilers). Last night I learned that 1) he likes butts and 2) he believes in parity of posteriors, male and female that is. Well, actually he spends more time on the female butts, but he seems to always have one of each, and justice is balance, as the saying goes.
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I thought the focus was a little off from previous seasons. It's like how with Legion, Hawley could get a way with a lot of narrative shortcuts because people knew the characters (somewhat) from the comics -- or at least they understood it was a comic book adaptation. In this episode he sort of does the same because we've all seen the other seasons and understand the company David Thewlis' character represents, as well as the overall tone of the show. It didn't quite feel as earned or as focused as the earlier two seasons. (Even down to the music...)

But I'm rooting for Nikki, she's straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
posted by Catblack at 6:45 PM on April 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm a bridge player and the tournament scene made me so happy.
posted by gaspode at 7:33 PM on April 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Am I the only one who thought Season 2 was kind of a mess and was a little disappointing?
posted by thelonius at 9:15 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by bondcliff at 9:33 AM on April 21, 2017 [14 favorites]

I can't accept that
posted by thelonius at 10:17 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry, man. I asked around.
posted by bondcliff at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2017 [27 favorites]

Also, do you think using the name Ehrmantraut was a shout-out to Breaking Bad \ Better Call Saul? Perhaps the two shows now exist in the same universe.

I don't have an answer, but Ehrmantraut jumped out at me too!

Bonus possible nod to another show: Emmit lives in Eden Prairie, where MST3K used to be based.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 11:18 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

What is the deal with the Stasi interrogation at the beginning?
posted by Jode at 6:37 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Supposedly it's Ermentraub not Ehrmantraut, but I gotta assume Hawley's seen Breaking Bad. So maybe a tip of the hat thing?
posted by Frayed Knot at 6:51 PM on April 21, 2017

Wonderfully eclectic music. The Tuvan throat-singing was particularly effective.
posted by Jode at 8:02 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

What is the deal with the Stasi interrogation at the beginning?

I'm not great with faces, but Varga seemed to me to resemble one of the men from the opening scene, possibly the man being interrogated. Part of Varga's speech to Emmit echoed the Stasi officer's speech about truth and stories. According to IMDb the three men are played by three different actors, but Varga looks like he could be one of them after a 20-year jump.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 10:07 PM on April 21, 2017

Also, there seemed to be some implied connection with the patterns on the wet shoes and the house slippers.

The funny thing about that choice of music during the bridge scene was that it came right after the elder Stussy declared, "NOW you're speaking my language!"

The only actor who feels natural to me right now is Carrie Coon. Everyone else, there's just something I'm not quite buying, but I'm sure that'll change as the season goes on.
posted by paperback version at 10:12 PM on April 21, 2017

This didn't "click" for me as well as Season 2 and I'm not sure why. I think maybe because it's set in 2010, basically the present time, and yet people still act like they're in another world. I mean, I live in Rural America myself and nobody acts like these people from Planet Fargo.

I like Ewan McGregor but while so far I completely believe in Ray as a character, Emmit seems to be channeling Timothy Hutton's character in "Leverage".

Still have high hopes, though. Ray's girlfriend is great, the cop is completely believable, they used "Prisencolinensinainciusol", and David Thewlis saying he was from "America" was hilarious.
posted by mmoncur at 11:03 PM on April 21, 2017

Just Stuff I Noticed. I watched parts twice for obvious reasons (lots of information) and because Hawley is doing the most creative stuff on TV.

Both brothers are presented as passive/chumpy, Emmit less obviously. He constantly stops mid-sentence or has someone interrupt him. In the scene with Thewlis, there is a picture on the wall with an illustration of Emmit, "parking lot king of Minnesota". Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg) moves himself so that his head perfectly replaces the "Emmit the King" picture (31:50)--Sy, who is always present when money is involved, Emmit tells Ray.

Ray, of course, is the "dummy" in bridge and we see a couple of his "Pass" cards. In the car, Ray feels bad for not acknowledging Nikki's preference for beer in a glass; later Ray drinks the burglar's beer in a glass, seemingly a nod to Nikki's power over him.

[What seem to be continuity errors: the windows of the Corvette are really frosty-looking when either Ray or Nikki speak--for the convenience of shooting a driving scene?--but look very clear in the wide shot. Maurice the Burglar, in the bar, is quite upright and awake in the establishing shot but way more out of it as Ray arrives five seconds later. Also, OMG the left curtain on the small picture in the Berlin office has two different positions.]
posted by sylvanshine at 1:35 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

A couple details were wrong in this episode that took me right out of the Minnesota setting: liquor in the grocery store and a slot machine in the bar.
posted by traveler_ at 7:09 AM on April 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Stasi scene seemed like a nod to The Americans and the Ehrmantraub thing a clumsily obvious nod to BB/Better Call Saul. Neither made much sense, but the show's done that before. Agreed the air conditioner scene was contrived and ridiculous, and the hints that Nikki is quite the resourceful murdering criminal have me hoping she's not just another standard femme fatale. I like McEwen's dual characters but hadn't paid attention before the airing so it was a fun surprise. Lots to like in the music and editing, but it does feel a bit too familiar at the moment. I suppose that was inevitable.

I think I'm gonna let 4-5 episodes build up at a time and then binge the season in a couple sessions. Nailbiting thrill shows like this always seem more fun to me that way.
posted by mediareport at 5:31 AM on April 23, 2017

Haven't finished the episode, but I was super-jazzed to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead; she's pretty fantastic in Faults.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:50 AM on April 24, 2017

"What is the deal with the Stasi interrogation at the beginning?"

I've made it a habit in previous seasons of picking out which bits of Fargo are reminiscent of which bits of other non-Fargo Coen Brothers movies. The interrogation scene (in my opinion) is a shoutout to the dybbuk story opening A Serious Man. Both were set in a time prior to the main story. Both were about a man who may or may not have been the person that someone else took him for. As of right now, neither were referenced again - and I'd put money down that the Stasi scene stays that way.

Between this opener and the twin brothers I'm guessing a big theme this year is the duality of men.

[if you haven't seen the opening to A Serious Man then you owe yourself the watch]
posted by komara at 8:30 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

No one else thought that the small sculpture Gloria Burgle grabs at her stepfather's house (where she later finds some vintage pulp science fiction hidden away) to use as a makeshift bludgeon looks suspiciously like1 a Hugo Award Trophy?

1. Among other things.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:32 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Clearly there's something to Stasi/Stussy. From the EW review:
The prologue is a very clever dramatization of the message that opens every episode of Fargo. Yes, names have been changed, but this is the true story, as far as the East German government is concerned. The truth is pliable, and it can be swayed by those with power. Making the assertion that something is fact when there is no one powerful enough to hold you accountable — ahem! — can transform the statement into a version of the truth. “We are not here to tell stories,” the Stasi officer says. “We are here to tell the truth.”
posted by ChuraChura at 7:49 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

"The truth is pliable, and it can be swayed by those with power. Making the assertion that something is fact when there is no one powerful enough to hold you accountable — ahem! — can transform the statement into a version of the truth. 'We are not here to tell stories,' the Stasi officer says. 'We are here to tell the truth.'"

Yes, stories and the truth. I thought it was sort of cool -- but I also was disappointed that it was so lampshading -- the way they used the titles ("This is a True Story"), sequentially fading out specific words, to signal the show's notions of stories and truth.

And speaking of that sequence, as a technical matter, I was very impressed with the transition from the photo of the winter scene on the Stasi office wall to the moving image. This is a trope that film and television has utilized for many years and invariably there is a discontinuity somewhere in the transition from the photo to the moving image. But not in this case. This is the first example I've seen where it is utterly, completely seamless. This is much more difficult than, perhaps, most people would expect. I suspect that the photograph we see -- at least as we begin to zoom in on it -- is composited in and not what was on the wall of the set. But make no mistake -- just managing to get the color tone and lighting for the pseudo-photograph wall-hanging right within the context of the scene and then have that match the actual footage is pretty amazing. And I absolutely loved the choice made in this: exactly as the image is full-screen, the camera begins to be slightly in motion. All elements in the scene are static (or, at least, on an initial casual viewing they seemed to be). So the sense of moving from a still photograph of a moment in time of a scene that was itself quiet and motionless reveals itself to be a camera that just hasn't yet panned across the scene, thus making the transition as least discontinuous as it possibly could be.

Back to the notions of stories and truth, I can't help but follow Nikki Swango's lead and (over)use the word simpatico. In this case, with Noah Hawley. If you're a fan of Hawley, I recommend reading his novel Before the Fall, which is not so much a Rashomon-like deconstruction of the various subjective experiences of a plane crash, but rather the way in which individual subjectivity is utilized and subordinated to various collective social forces, particularly the popular media, which define "truth". (BTW, it is also a weirdly and disconcertingly on-the-nose yet simultaneously deeply false depiction of the key personalities of its fictional version of Fox News. The Roger Ailes figure in his novel is absolutely nothing like Ailes and yet the Bill O'Reilly stand-in is dead-perfect, scathing, and hilarious pathetic, which is pretty timely right now.)

Anyway, there was a time when I watched Joss Whedon's work and listened to him discuss it and I felt this intense sense of, yeah, that's my sensibility and is he like some kind of much (much!) more successful and talented version of me? Is that like the person I should have been when I grew up? And this is also how Noah Hawley's work strikes me. If I had the talent and the work ethic, I can't really imagine that there's anything I'd more want to do than what Hawley is doing. Paradoxically, there are so many creative opportunities in genre. Which is interesting in that maybe this is a little bit of a criticism of both myself and Hawley, because the true examples of genius here are the Coens. God, I love the Coen brothers, but for me there's something just a tiny bit too cerebral and ironically detached in much of their oeuvre. I think they're most successful when they have the most empathy for their characters and balance their formalism with, well, some heart. Hawley's interpretation of the Coens, as well as what I think is an exceptionally sentimental project in Legion, moves that dial more in the direction that I'm comfortable with.

The underlying intellectual fascination here is the deeply questionable notion of narrative itself (and how genre doesn't try so hard to pretend this isn't so). I can only speak to my own experience, but for whatever combination of factors, probably chiefly that I was a precocious reader of fiction very early on, I cannot do anything other than see the world as a story, in whole and all its parts, fractal-like. I never questioned that this was some sort of fundamental truth of the universe -- and, I should be clear, I'm an atheist and this sense was never driven by some notion of an actual universal author, some provider of meaning. No, I just assumed that meaning, narrative, story, was inevitable. Maybe I recognized that it was a product of human cognition, but, even so, it still seemed unquestionably essential.

Then for a time I was involved with a woman who in many respects is my mirror-image. I've sometimes described her as the most ruthlessly pragmatic person I've ever known. And it's probably important to note here that she's an accomplished scientist -- astrophysics, actually. You'd sort of have expected her, by her personality, to have gone into particle physics as an experimentalist. At any rate, she's not a theorist. She's also been a recovering alcoholic for most of her life and as a result, it is a necessary fact of her life to take things one day at a time, and not to think in terms of grand narrative arcs. And so, in conversation one evening, she just stopped me dead in my tracks. "No," she said, "life isn't a story, that's where you are very confused." Maybe it was just being challenged in this fundamental assumption by someone I loved and respected that broke through my deepest held preconception, but it triggered a sort of epiphany. (Note the irony in that I've made this episode a part of my own personal narrative.)

These days I sort of split the difference. Which is to say, I think that narrative is essentially human, it is indispensable and inevitable in human cognition -- but that it is deeply false.

I recognize that this isn't any sort of brilliant insight. It's commonplace. I'm well-read and educated enough to be familiar with the history of epistemology that examines these ideas. I'm also quite aware that this is, in its own way, a little sophomoric. As such, I'm not that interested (any more) of examining this philosophically in a serious manner. Rather, I find that it is most salient and productive aesthetically. It's fruitful to take a step back and simply wonder at the stories we tell ourselves, and that they're necessary. This, too, is a rather mundane insight. Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by artists who approach this in truly interesting -- and not cliched -- ways.

At the end of the day, these stories are lies but they are also essentially true ... as far as we're concerned. They must be. I often praise Tolstoy for his uncanny ability to write characters who live and change in ways that real people do -- his characters are not purpose-built, but rather organically evolve in ways, often bafflingly, as real people in our real lives do. And yet ... these characters, too, are false. They are themselves too coherent, too abstracted, too functional to be true. So Tolstoy, among other great writers, just moves things up a notch, achieves a psychological verisimilitude that is extraordinary but ultimately just as much a contrivance and false.

The Coens and Hawley are fascinated by genre. And rightly so, I think. One of the failures, in my humble opinion, of much of contemporary serious literature is that its contrivances are misplaced and its attempts at realism also misplaced. Genre wears its unreality and restriction proudly. But in this it provides an opportunity for us to ask -- why is the very best genre fiction most satisfying when it says something true (in air-quotes or not) about people, even though by its nature it is necessarily restricted to more modest aims? I think the paradox of great genre fiction is representative of something essential to all of narrative (fiction or supposedly non-fictional).

And that's why we have this playful engagement with those portentous title cards: "This is a True Story". The fact that this is so patently untrue opens a space where maybe we can be sufficiently disarmed enough to find ourselves experiencing narrative truth in a more naive way -- a more true experience, as it were.

I noticed in the office scene at the wedding that the dialogue was both somehow very Coen and very Mamet. But just so, this is the genius of that sort of dialogue. Ordinary narrative dialogue -- and by "ordinary", I include what's considered the most excellent -- isn't anything at all like how actual people actually speak. Read a faithful transcript of typical speech sometimes; a court transcript, for example. The Coens and Mamet, among others, are cognizant of all the stuff that we ordinarily abstract away, the supposed disfluencies, incomplete sentences, interjections, people talking over each other, and such. But their representations of what seems to be greater verisimilitude of actual speech is itself just another untrue abstraction of a different perspective on that speech. It is as stylized and artificial as the most cleaned-up quote you'll ever read in a newspaper. It's as false in its denial of the expected as the expected. But that's wonderful! It's telling us something, this dialogue pushes us into a different perspective than we're accustomed and creates a competing version of "truth", of what is "real", that is, nevertheless, equally false. Just differently false. Instructively false.

Just so these characterizations we see in these highly talented reinterpretations of genre narrative. These are people who are essentially false, and in a way that we're accustomed to in genre, and yet which within the constraints of genre, end up somehow harmonically resonating with something inside ourselves, something we feel certain is "true", we recognize these people. There's a tongue-in-cheek when we're informed at the outset that these are "real people" -- but that just makes their resonance more affecting. Or so I feel.

Finally, no, really: I think that trophy and those novels are connected and will have some significance that will soon be revealed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

The interior design of Stussy's office is swoonworthy. I love the framed photographs on the wall for example. There's a moment when Emmet looks up at one of the black and white photographs fondly. They are all of underground car parks - and I want to throw out everything in my house and put up those photographs on my walls. So moody, so noir, abstract and mundane.

I'm so into the mid-west that I have a huge Minnesota map framed on my Australian living room wall. Minnesotan car parks would be a great addition.

Also, did anyone notice that Emmet mentioned talking to Stan Grossman? The accountant guy from the film Fargo?
posted by honey-barbara at 7:23 AM on May 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Also, did anyone notice that Emmet mentioned talking to Stan Grossman?"

I did, and I think it speaks to my lack of enthusiasm for this season that I've thought about it twice since and ... nothing. For the previous two seasons this would have warranted me daydreaming about it for an hour, trying to think about how it all fit together, or what it really meant in terms of the narrative. This season I'm just like, "Oh, Stan Grossman. Sure."

Like I spent a lot of time (okay a lot for me) thinking about how the two previous seasons fit together with the movie. I was convinced that the end of S02 would somehow show The Briefcase Money being handed over to Wade Gustafson (Jerry Lundegaard's father-in-law) so there'd be a nice continuity between the movie and the TV show. I wanted The Briefcase Money to be the connecting thread - it starts with the Gerhardt Family, then gets passed to Wade Gustafson where it's taken by Carl Showalter and buried in the snow and found by Stavros Milos (the Supermarket King) and ... you get my point. I just kind of assumed that this would be the point of all-Fargos: to tell the story of humanity through the path of this money.

and of course that didn't come to pass, or at least not in the way I felt it would, or not in such an obvious fashion. Anyway, my point is: if I had heard the name Stan Grossman last season I would have been thinking about it all day. This season? I'm like 'meh'.
posted by komara at 8:32 AM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another vote for the transition shot based on the photograph on the Stasi offer's wall. Not just for its technical perfection but for the use of a standard "we're going back in time" trope - to go forward 22 years. And to go forward on a journey where the first thing we see to the side of the timeless winter landscape - is a big plastic fucking Santa Claus.
posted by rongorongo at 2:12 AM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

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