So, Ray is dead. That would seem to be the major takeaway from “The Lord of No Mercy,” the sixth episode of Fargo‘s third season. In a slightly on-the-nose climactic turn, curly-haired Emmit shoved his framed stamp at his brother so hard that the frame shattered and a piece of glass got stuck in his neck. Would he have survived if he had left the glass in? Isn’t it his fault his life ended this unfortunate way? Such is the increasingly predictable stream of bad luck, poor timing, and foreseeable tragedy that has come to the fore in this season of Noah Hawley‘s series, though the show hasn’t exactly hit a wall the way Legion, Hawley’s other show, did around the halfway point.
For me, the best moment of the episode was smaller. When Chief Burgle and Winnie Lopez show up at Stussy Lots Ltd., they must face off with a rattled Emmit and clearly on-guard Varga while first unraveling their theory of what happened on the night that Burgle’s stepfather died, badly. In an attempt to subvert their attempts to make assumptions, Varga seems to pull out one of his famous random facts about 24 people named Hitler in Germany in the heyday of the Third Reich. “24 exactly?” says Burgle subtly after that, and it changes the mood in the room. For once, the tricky wordplay and vast banks of now hugely dubious knowledge that has been Varga’s primary weapon is questioned, undermined in a split second by a police chief who clearly has a history with bullshit artists. That Varga’s tendency to tell stories and use a variety of slang is also an obvious reflection of Hawley’s own stylistic predilections as the show’s creator and most influential scribe suggests a bold nod toward the weakness of even the most alluring language.
Otherwise, “The Lord of No Mercy” was all plot and tension, from Ray’s death to Nikki’s close-call at the motel to the moody opener with Ray at the front door with his gun. The direction felt utilized distinctly to play up these tense moments but there’s little in the way of thrills to enjoy here. The general feeling of the episode, including Varga’s ordering of a hit on Ray and Nikki that doesn’t go like he wants, is an attentive though less ruminative drive toward a climactic battle between Emmit and Varga and Burgle’s small band of colleagues. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s plenty of clever notes and smart bits of conflict that pop out throughout the episode. The best was that final u-turn, watching a woman who can’t even get noticed by lasers run back toward the battle.
My hope is that the coming episodes populate on the dramatic note suggested by Burgle calling out Varga in that way. These people are built, sustained, and grown through practice and study, and to see more of the world that birthed someone like Varga or his diptych of goons would add tremendous insight into their magnetic yet thin characters. Meanwhile, Carrie Coon‘s Burgle, having said not all that more than exactly what is required in each moment, has begun to shown a variety of emotional shades in moments of courage and empathy, both on the job and off. One of the great jokes of the show is that the character that says the least feels the most fully fleshed out.