Much of “The Law of Inevitability,” the second best episode of Fargo‘s exceptional third year, pivoted on negotiations of power. Moving quickly on from accidentally murdering his brother, Emmit arrived at a business dinner with Sy and their potential new business partner (Mary McDonnell) with renewed vigor that came off as chilling. What he took away from murdering his brother was a feeling of importance and a warped sovereignty from the shackles of niceties and morality. He has gained the feeling of dominion, and that pushes him to try to renegotiate with his prospective business partner and buy her self-storage business rather than partnering with her.
Even these businesses seem to carry a symbolic weight in Noah Hawley‘s world. The man who has made his fortune on parking lots allows the ideas, crimes, and obligations of others to be stacked inside him. Without them, he’s empty and can’t do the right thing to save his life. The lady who owns the self-storage empire is similar, but clearly more studied in compartmentalization and bottling up long-term emotional turmoil. The good man that Emmit used to aspire to be would not have worked well with McDonnell’s affluent widow, but the influence of Varga and his narrative of the wealthy being hunted down by hordes of victimized underlings was enough to have him buy into a story of the world that allows him to block out the fact that he killed his brother, even if Ray obviously had a hand in his own tragic demise. Even so, Emmit’s almost grotesquely botched story to Lieutenant Winnie Lopez when she interrupts his meeting to alert him to Ray’s death reveals a wild, bumbling beast in survival mode, cooed only by Varga’s rhyme about the crooked man.
It’s interesting to note that aside from that exquisite scene and the menacing opening under the Christmas tree, Varga took a back seat in this episode, and it allowed for Ewan McGregor to play up Emmit’s not-so-dormant aggression. This change in tempo lent a newfound gravity to his interactions with Sy and Michael Stuhlbarg made a riveting show of Sy’s increasing disillusionment, anger, and hurt. Where McGregor reveals a cold asshole at the core of a wealthy family man, Stuhlbarg teases out the unexpectedly honorable father and husband in an otherwise vindictive, self-satisfied middle-management type with an inferiority complex. When he sees Varga up in Emmit’s window, he’s immediately aware that his best friend with the wife and kids has been replaced.
Gloria meanwhile was the other hard-scrapping negotiator in this episode, attempting to convince apathetic, condescending overseers that the deaths of Ennis, Maurice, and Ray are connected and require proper interrogation of Nikki. (Shea Whigham‘s immovable soon-to-be chief proved to be a far less skilled interrogator and storyteller when he attempted to get Nikki to admit to killing Ray.) Much like the world around her that seems to never notice Gloria’s existence, the two vaguely senior officers had to be pummeled by facts and offered a litany of personal benefits before she could execute the most basic parts of her job as the still-acting chief of police in Eden Valley. And when her actions land her in hot water with Whigham’s brute, she even resorts to trickery and pleas, just so she can investigate a wildly suspicious set of murders. Her fight is personal because of Ennis but her battle is primarily with cynicism and indifference to those who suffer and die for no good reason. You could feel that with every inflection and gesture that Carrie Coon gave her character before making her way to Nikki’s cell to talk about Ray.
Though brief and not particularly high velocity, the conversation between Nikki and Gloria was written and filmed with just the right amount of tenderness without tipping over into some sentimental mess. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has been doing some of the best work of her career here, gives Nikki’s quick remarks a sense of familiarity and confidence, a knowledge of how the process of being arrested and interrogated by self-righteous, presumptuous police officers. She’s been in these rooms before enough to know that Whigham’s character has already made up his mind about her, but also to recognize a cop who wants to listen, maybe even help. That’s why she takes to Gloria, who talks bluntly but with ample sympathy, and when Nikki quietly asks for her to bring her coconut cream pie for Christmas, it’s a touching confirmation that she needs someone on her side.
That’s also what makes the breathless final sequence so urgent. Varga is a master villain, a con man of the highest order who can render a well-meaning husband or wife into a self-obsessed, greed-driven coward and murderer. For the more grisly stuff, he relies on Yuri, the murderous Russian thug who killed Emmit’s attorney and pontificated about Putin’s view of truth a few episodes ago. Early into the episode, he dominates Gloria’s buffoonish second-in-command in a sequence that’s reminiscent of Blood Simple in its tense execution. He is someone else that cannot be handled, and that’s what makes his assault on the prison bus that Nikki is on so unbearable. Credit Hawley, his writers, and director Mike Barker on ending the episode with the buzzsaw still blazing against the metal of the security door in the background, as Nikki lays seemingly knocked out at the bottom of the crashed bus. Even if she somehow escapes a bloody fate, the creators let the sounds of the buzzsaw tearing through metal linger enough to let you imagine just how swiftly and brutally these men will make her disappear.