For those keeping count, the Coen references in FX’s Fargo continued to rage on in “The Principle of Restricted Choice.” This began with the overhead shot of Carrie Coon‘s Gloria Burgle restlessly staring up at the ceiling in a near-identical pose as Josh Brolin‘s Texas-bred bandit in No Country for Old Men before he returns to the blood-strewn scene of a deal gone very wrong. The bandit’s reasoning was arguably humanistic — he seemed to want to deliver some water to a dying man — but for Coon’s lonesome sheriff, there seems to be something more like a pestering curiosity. Why would her stepfather have a hidden lockbox filled with paperbacks written by someone named Thaddeus Mobley? Is it possible that her stepfather had once been Thaddeus Mobley and buried some haunted legacy by moving to Minnesota and taking the name “Stussy?” Who was this man who was married to her mother, played male role model to her son, and helped her personally?
The inability to fully know who someone is and what they comprehend is at the heart of much of what’s happened in the first two episodes of Fargo‘s third season, and serves as a premiere entryway for Noah Hawley to wax philosophical and societal on human behavior in the age of all-mighty corporations. Where we once only met the agents of the nefarious organization behind all things evil and corrupt in America and abroad, Hawley now highlights middle-management in the guise of David Thewlis‘s delightfully demented V.M. Varga. The blandly off-putting yet magnetically malevolent suit spent much of “The Principle of Restricted Choice” explaining and giving evidence of his total control over Emmit Stussy and Stussy Lots Limited, underlining his position by having Stussy’s nosey Ukrainian lawyer thrown off the umpteenth floor of a parking structure by a Russian tough.
Emmit, as well as his number two, Sy, have acted in complete upstanding with what would usually be expected from a million-dollar investment. As instinctual human beings, however, they have acted like a gang of blind, horny monkeys in agreeing to such a bizarre and secretive way of securing such a gargantuan amount of money. Emmit’s folly is in his assumption that everything was above board, much like it’s his total belief that he did nothing wrong when he took the stamps from Ray, and never recognized the perceivable offense. Whether he was well-intentioned or not doesn’t really matter here. What matters here is that, as their Ukrainian lawyer points out early on, when given an easy and lucrative financial option with the bare minimum of details, they took the money and ran rather than questioning where all this was coming from. Money, yet again, is the thing that controls and corrupts all decent people and institutions.
Emmit has unwittingly made a deal with a devil and has birthed a tormenting jealousy in his brother, even if neither of them may want to believe that. It’s turned Ray into someone who has a certain comfortability with corruption, even if it’s in the name of something arguably excusable. As we continue to see them together, Ray and Nikki seem to be genuinely in love, between all the talk of Ray’s chi and Nikki’s outrage at a perceived slight levied at Ray by Emmit. It’s still illegal for them to be dating and it’s similarly just plain criminal to blackmail a pothead con into stealing an expensive stamp — even if you didn’t mean for all of that to end in murder.
Even the killing of that very same pothead, Scoot McNairy‘s Maurice, seems to be totally acceptable in the name of love and the perceived wrongdoing done to Ray. The fact that he does a thankless job in an office where rats and vermin chew through important power-source chords regularly certainly explains his disposition more, but Hawley seems to be constantly aware of every defiance of morality and reason that’s going on in a wildly amoral and unreasonable world. Sy goes as far as to say, during a personal conversation with Emmit about Ray’s constant need for money, that if Ray isn’t a loser, he does a superb imitation of one.
Is Ray a good guy who got a bad break? Or is that Emmit? Which one is really gaming the system? Which one deserves exactly what they got? Is it not both of them in both cases? These questions seemed to continuously percolate under the action of “The Principle of Restricted Choice” but there was also the matter of language. In one of the episode’s best exchanges, Varga attempts to communicate with an attendant at one of Stussy’s parking lots, where he plans to illegally store a big rig holding unknown, assumed highly illegal paraphernalia, ranging from drugs to “slave girls.” He speaks in other languages that seem to dumbfound the attendant, and when Varga asks the man to “surmise” the connection between Emmit Stussy and Stussy Lots Ltd., the man is completely mystified. The style of Varga’s speech is partially why people are so submissive to him, unable to properly argue against him in any real way. He has the goons for when things go physical rather than intellectual, but his ability to quickly dismantle or dismiss the arguments of Emmit, Sy, and the bewildered attendant all but ensure that things will rarely get physical.
For a writer renowned for his wit and his way with words in general, this cautionary example of how diabolical and powerful even the most obtuse and boring of words can be seems to have added importance. Varga is a creature of experience, one who has seemingly taken a guided tour of the world, the lower rungs of hell, and at least 400 other planets. He seemingly knows everything about everything and has thought about every possibly decision and outcome imaginable in his business dealings. In comparison, Gloria can barely stand to use a computer for data retrieval and the Stussy brothers are attacking one another through used tampons and dented driver doors. One could accuse Hawley of being cynical in laying out the dynamic in such a way but that would heavily discount his empathy for these people, his understanding of their damages, shortcomings, and grievances against the world at large. At every turn of “The Principle of Restricted Choice,” he evinces a total understanding of his characters that seems to regularly evade the characters themselves.