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‘Fargo’ Review: Why the Season 3 Premiere Feels Familiar, But Foretells Big Changes

Ewan McGregor has us hooked, but we're deathly worried about one character.

Carrie Coon, "Fargo"

Chris Large/FX

Immediate Reaction

And the game is afoot! Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is our Sherlock Holmes, Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy) is the middleman, and Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is Moriarty — or is Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) our Moriarty? Maybe they’re both the big bads. Or perhaps they’re glorified middlemen providing a buffer between Burgle and Ray’s twin brother, Emmit. That would make the mysterious V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) the ultimate evildoer, and boy does that sound right.

No matter how it shakes out, the 90-minute “Fargo” premiere did an expedient job setting up one helluva mystery. The dots seem fairly linear at this point, as we just traced above, but Noah Hawley showed how complicated things can get with just a few mistakes. If Maurice didn’t lose Emmit’s address, there might not have been a mystery at all. He could’ve stolen the stamp, returned it to Ray, and Emmit would be too busy worrying about his new business partners to deal with his brother.

But that is not the “Fargo” way. Hawley’s series is intent on outlining the good and bad of the world, and coloring the in-between area with unique characters who are then pulled in one direction or the other. They react. We watch. Life plays out. This is how “Fargo” has always started, but there’s at least one big reason Season 3 feels different — and dangerous: that opening sequence.

But first, let’s pay our respects to the great Ewan McGregor and highlight a few quotes to keep in your back pocket.

READ MORE: ‘Fargo’ Year 3: Why Star Ewan McGregor Refused to Watch the Show Until Now, and Other Set Visit Reveals

MVP (Most Valuable Performer)

FARGO -- Year 3 -- Pictured: Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy. CR: Chris Large/FX

Choosing Ewan McGregor here looks like the easy pick all year — given how well he channels a deliciously upbeat and carefully masked bully for Emmit and the resentful, shoulder-slumped, yet adorably lovestruck Ray — but picking which Ewan McGregor performance is a bit more challenging. This week, we’re sticking with Ray because of how he earned our empathy, and not just because the loser brother is automatically the more likable twin.

As Ray and Nikki drove away from Emmit’s party, he cautioned and she schemed. The two recommitted themselves to the plan — win a few card tournaments, get sponsorship, and roll around in money — but you could tell how much not having the money for a ring was eating away at Ray. Even when he bought into her confidence in them as a couple, Ray quickly retreated to a defensive stance to make clear how much he wants to please Nikki. (Lucky for him, she showed throughout the episode that she finds this kind of desperate devotion romantic, not sad.)

READ MORE: ‘Fargo’ Review: Season 3 Remains a Masterful Midwestern Drama, But You’ll See It in a Terrifying New Light

“You’re the hand, and I’m the glove,” Nikki told Ray. “You’re the bottle and I’m the beer,” Ray responded — and here’s where McGregor’s light touch pays off heavy: When Nikki playfully corrected him, saying she’d be the glass, not the bottle, because, you know, she’s classy, Ray immediately lost the confidant spark driving their loving banter, stuttering out an explanation that doubled as an apology for maybe, kind of, unintentionally insulting her. He couldn’t risk hurting her, even for a second, and in just that amount of time, we saw it all on McGregor’s face.

It was a quick change, but one that told us so much about their relationship and Ray’s character. Yes, the montage of him handling piss test after piss test helped inform his decision to rob Emmit, but we knew why he was really doing it before we left that Corvette. He loves her. He wants to honor her. “She’s a nice girl. A catch. And she deserves a sweet ring.” Ray believes every word of that down to his bones, and McGregor reflected as much in every moment of this opening hour.

Aces Quotes for Everyday Use

“Another beer, pops?”
“Now you’re speaking English.”
– Gloria Burgle and Grandpa Ennis

“OK, let me flip a b-word.”
– Gloria Burgle’s polite euphemism for a U-turn

“Simpatico to the point of spooky.”
– Nikki Swango, summing up her love connection with Ray

READ MORE: 6 Things We Learned About Noah Hawley, ‘Fargo,’ and ‘Legion’ at SXSW

An Important Quote To Think On, Ya Know?

FARGO -- Year 3 -- Pictured: Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle. CR: Chris Large/FX

“We are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth.”
– German Officer

The worst kept secret about “Fargo” is that it’s not based on a true story. Despite the opening text of every episode stating that the following “events depicted” took place at a real time, in a real place, viewers know that these stories aren’t true — they just feel true. They have the intent of truth because the authentic storytelling is designed to evoke empathy.

So when we watched a German man being held responsible for a murder he didn’t commit, for a woman he didn’t know, under a name that wasn’t his, the connection between “truth” and “stories” was made quite clear. Well, perhaps “clear” is a poor choice of words. The ambiguous nature of the seemingly disconnected mini-narrative points us in a direction, but it doesn’t hold any evident truths itself. It’s just a true story.

My takeaway, of what I imagine are many, is that Season 3 may not be as fair as past stories. We sat and watched as an innocent man was set up to die, through no fault of his own, and we must assume he did. Now we’re being told a story where fault can be assigned to everyone except Gloria Burgle. The twins, Ray and Emmit, both carry responsibility for their predicaments: Ray hired an ex-con to steal from his brother, and Emmit took out a “loan” with an organization he should’ve known better than to trust. Nikki is far from innocent, especially after dropping that AC unit on Maurice. Even little Nathan Burgle should carry a bit of guilt for leaving his gift behind, which Ennis (a homophobe, God rest his soul) made for him with his own two hands.

Only Gloria is faultless, much like her police officer predecessors, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson). Both of them escaped their dangerous stories unscathed because they worked from a place of truth. They held hard and fast to the law of the land and their moral compass. In the end, “Fargo” rewarded that purity.

But we live in darker times now, where truth is manipulated into alternative facts and stories don’t have to abide by what’s right. “We’re not here to tell stories,” the German officer said. “We’re here to tell the truth.” The truth in “Fargo’s” false stories — both of them — is that no one is safe. Not even the innocent.

Grade: A-

“Fargo” Season 3 airs new episodes every Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX. 

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