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‘Fargo’ Review: How Good Manners Cause Major Trouble In Every Season of Noah Hawley’s Minnesota Mystery

The gloves stayed on in "The Principle of Restricted Choice," as "Fargo" illustrated (again) why being polite isn't always the best course of action.

FARGO “The Principle of Restricted Choice” – Year 3, Episode 2 (Airs April 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy. CR: FX


[Editor’s Note: The review below contains spoilers for “Fargo” Season 3, Episode 2, “The Principle of Restricted Choice.”]

Immediate Reaction

Let’s look at that title: “The Principle of Restricted Choice” refers to what happens in the game of bridge every time a card is played. When you play a particular card, that act decreases the probability you hold anything equivalent to it. In other words, your first card is likely your best, and the odds of improving after you make your first move are less and less as the game continues.

That’s bad news for our card players, Ray Stussey (Ewan McGregor) and Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). While the title could refer back to their original plan of stealing the stamp, its lesson in Episode 2 applies to what Nikki did when Plan A didn’t go so well. When she couldn’t find the stamp, she took the donkey photo as a “fuck you” to Ray and gave a decidedly more emphatic message back. That was the final straw for Emmit (McGregor), as he cut Ray out of his life entirely, leaving his brother and his fiance on their own.

But we’ve seen this kind of internal family conflict before. Season 2 had it in droves, between the Gerhardt mob and the Blumquist butcher and butcher’s wife. It never ends well, and the only hope any of these characters have has been the good-hearted police officers. So even though Ray’s fear of the police has thrown off his chi, the sooner these two get involved with former chief Gloria Burgle, the better it will be for everyone.

Not only is it her job to save lives, Gloria isn’t afraid to be disrespectful if someone earns that disrespect. Unlike her fellow Minnesotans, she’s not going to be pushed around. She proved as much with the new chief, and it’s a trait that will serve her well when facing bad men in the coming weeks. I won’t pretend to know how her attitude will shake out in Ray, Nikki, and Emmit’s favors, but Episode 2 made it perfectly clear that everyone other than Gloria and V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) have misplayed their first card.

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Fargo’: Why the Season 3 Premiere Feels Familiar, But Foretells Big Changes

MVP (Most Valuable Performer)

FARGO Year 3 Goran Bogdan as Yuri Gurka, David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas, Andy Yu as Meemo. CR: Chris Large/FX

It’s one thing to talk a big game, it’s quite another to walk it — especially as an actor. Writers handle a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the impact of a line, but so much of David Thewlis’ turn as V.M. Varga comes from his recitation of carefully chosen words as well as how he embodies an understanding of them. His performance is a beautiful combination of melodic dialogue paired with an unsettling visage. Specifically, Varga’s chipped teeth menacingly contradict the intelligent words spat between them, but never would anyone dare point out any superficial ugliness when the depth of wisdom on display is so intimidating.

Varga is a man with much power — that is clear from what’s happened so far, including how he’s weaseled his way into the Stussey corporation and when his henchmen threw attorney Ira Blumkin off a parking garage. But it’s Thewlis’ inflections, dismissals, confidence, and curiosity that build an aura of fear around the mysterious man: With the toss of a glance or a loss of interest, Varga has moved on from a conversation his partner is just now coming to understand. Suddenly, it’s too late to make a difference in wherever the exchange could have gone, be it a semi-truck being parked in a lot or boxes being moved into an office. Thewlis conveys a distinct feeling from the unpredictable combinations of his character, and it’s that feeling that lasts long after the talking has stopped.

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

Aces Quotes for Everyday Use

FARGO "The Principle of Restricted Choice” – Year 3, Episode 2 (Airs April 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango. CR: FX

“Your brother’s a loser.”
“He’s not a loser.”
“Well, he’s doing a pretty good imitation.”
– Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Emmit Stussey (Ewan McGregor), to be used whenever you want to politely reemphasize your original point

– V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), to be used whenever you want to sound smarter than thou.

“There’s something wrong with your chi.”
– Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), to be used whenever someone is acting funny.

“There’s a problem.”
“Is it you?”
– Sy Feltz and Ray Stussey (Ewan McGregor), to be used at the office when a co-worker tries to get you to help out with their problem.

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

An Important Quote to Think On, Ya Know?

FARGO “The Principle of Restricted Choice” – Year 3, Episode 2 (Airs April 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. CR: Chris Large/FX

“Now you’re seeing it: the inescapable reality. You’re trapped.”
– V.M. Varga (David Thewlis)

The driving conflict of “Fargo” often boils down to forceful determination and unflinching manners. Even in crisis, the good people of Minnesota don’t want to disrespect, assume, or offend their assertive oppressors, and it often causes them to bend — or break — rather than risk being impolite. It’s enough to drive the more pushy among us mad, as we sit back and watch good people get taken advantage of, again and again.

This recurring theme was best exemplified at the end of Episode 2 when V.M. Varga walked into Emmit Stussey’s office with a bunch of boxes and a claim to office space. Now, Varga’s speech to Emmit and Sy felt like one he’s given enough times to already know the ending, but he still took pleasure in seeing their reaction to it. Similar to when he drove his car and the truck we “surmise” is also his onto a parking lot earlier in the episode, Varga is walking through life like he knows the ending.

It’s not unlike Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo from Season 1 or Bokeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan in Season 2, except rather than be confidently dumbfounded by the locals’ futility (Malvo) or loquaciously playful (Milligan), Varga is like a sadistic steamroller. He might pause to admire whatever he’s running over, but nothing is going to stop him. He brings the inescapable reality with him, and doesn’t care whether he’s been invited in or not.

That’s going to be a problem for Emmit, and one we’ve seen Sy isn’t too adept at handling. His Hummer slip-sliding through the diner parking lot, clipping a stranger’s car on the way out, showed he’s not an “errand boy” on the same level as Varga. The Minnesotans are trapped, and good manners can’t save them. Well, their good manners can’t save them. Gloria Burgle’s not willing to let niceties get in her way.

Grade: B+

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

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