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'Fargo' season 3 recap: Good and Evil play their final hands

Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX

It’s the final episode of the season, and it’s a doozy. Buckle up folks, it’s a bumpy ride.

Over the opening credits (artfully interspersed through documents being typewritten), we learn that it’s still March 2011, and after months of being downtrodden and thwarted Gloria is ready to throw in the towel and resign from the Eden Valley Police Department.

In another part of Minnesota, our humble IRS guy Larue Dollard has a breakthrough after receiving that anonymous envelope filled with Stussy Lots’ paperwork. Dollard has staked out a conference room and turned it into the most neatly organized crazy wall on the planet.

And in Eden Prairie, Emmit is lending his indiscriminate signature to a stack of papers — signing over the little that’s left of his dignity — as Varga looms over his shoulder like a wolf licking his chops at the sight of dying prey.

It’s during these opening scenes with Gloria, Dollard, and Emmit that silence becomes a crushing, ominous force looming over everyone in Fargo. The smallest, most banal things become aurally weighty: the sound of a ruler sliding across paper, the scratch of a pencil, the clack of a typewriter, the whir of a pen signature.

Moments after Gloria puts her resignation letter onto Dammick’s vacant desk, she receives a call. It’s Dollard, who found her contact information in the envelope, which Gloria has no knowledge of sending. He presses her, and while she’s reluctant to bite (“It’s my last day”), he reels her in with the thought of finally bringing Varga (“Not sure what the V.M. stands for”) to justice for what Dollard has coined a “vast financial conspiracy.”

Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX

Gloria marches back into Dammick’s still-empty office and takes back her letter. Just like that, she’s back on the case. The music kicks in, signalling that there are still a few more campaigns in this war of good and evil.

In a nondescript hotel room, Nikki and Wrench plot their coup d’etat and equip their arsenal with sawn-off shotguns, automatic weapons, and all sorts of ammo. As she takes stock of their inventory, Nikki mutters under her breath about cards; this bloody retribution will be the next-best thing to the Wildcat Regionals.

For her, this is the ultimate bridge game, the one where she gets to avenge Ray and make everyone else pay dearly — and she’s in it to win it. Luckily, she’s still got a partner by her side, and it’s clear that she’s on top of her game when she’s leading a partner to victory. Someone she’s on the same wavelength with — “sympatico,” if you will — and she’s in tune with Wrench enough that they’re already communicating smoothly through sign language.

Back in Eden Prairie, Emmit finishes signing the last of the papers as we watch dozens of men patrol what now feels like the Stussy compound rather than homestead He lays his head on the table, telling Varga that he’s “just so tired.” The Brit responds that it’s only natural that prey grow limp in the jaws of a larger beast: “At some level, food knows it’s food.”

It’s debatable whether Emmit was going to keep acquiescing to Varga’s whims, but once he hears himself compared to supper, something snaps and he goes into survival mode. Emmit’s playing dead just long enough for everyone to be distracted: Varga fields a call from Nikki, “the Strategist,” about their planned handoff and Meemo tidies up the paperwork. Emmit steals Meemo’s gun and attempts to gain the upper hand, but he’s ultimately thwarted by breath freshener to the eye and a club to the head. “Wipe everything,” Varga instructs his men. “We were never here.”

Varga and his fire team head off to meet Nikki in a decrepit part of town where tattered awnings flap in the breeze, and everything looks like it hasn’t seen the sun (or soap) in 10 years. The convoy rolls up to a child drumming on overturned buckets. The kid leads them to a place called King Midas Storage, but this place is anything but gold. It’s a rust-colored box filled with smaller boxes, two elevators, and no stairs in sight.

The boy disappears, but the men find a message scrawled on the floor: 3rd Floor, Locker 327. (Could this be a veiled allusion to The Shining’s doomed room 237?)

The team splits up into the two elevators, and during their ascent to the third floor, the light flickers jarringly. An illuminated — and paranoid — Varga stares into the single red eye of the elevator's security camera, gritting his teeth and anticipating the worst.

The so-called fire team makes its way to the end of the hall toward unit 327 while Varga waits at the elevator for updates. There's another note waiting for them, this time instructing them to leave the money and take the hard drives from room 209. As Meemo finishes reading the missive, Varga receives a text from an unknown number: "IRS has the drives. Get out."

Time slows to a syrupy speed as the storage unit door across from the elevators starts to open on a trigger-ready Wrench, Varga recedes into the safety of the elevator (just in time), and the fire team races back toward their dear leader (too late). The sound of their screams mixed with gunfire propel Varga into a state of terror as he descends, unscathed, toward the ground floor.

Guess who's waiting for him? Nikki, of course, equipped with her sawn-off shotgun and a killer pair of camo-print pants. Only... when the doors open, Varga's nowhere to be found. His trench coat and an open elevator ceiling are the only evidence he was ever there in the first place. The tension (and setting) is reminiscent of the elevator scene in The Departed, with breath-holding suspense and a release that doesn't actually allow for relief.

Nikki reluctantly accepts that Varga has escaped and waits for Wrench to join her. He emerges from the other elevator, blood-stained briefcase in hand. They check it; the money’s there all right. She urges Wrench to take it all for himself, save for a couple thousand to keep her afloat: “All I want is the brother.”

Speaking of Emmit, he wakes up on his Persian rug with a sore noggin; and on account of the two-cent Sisyphus stamp stuck to his forehead (unbeknownst to him), he looks like a philatelist after a rager. After reorienting himself, he realizes that the entire house is silent, completely void of any trace that Varga and his men were ever there. Emmit makes a break for it. When he sees the stamp in his reflection on the SUV window, he tears it off and leaves it on the driveway. The saga of the stamp (and this whole mess) — which started with the Stussy patriarch's driveway death decades prior — has come full circle.

Emmit drives over to work, ready to raise hell... but what's this? The Stussy sign is being replaced before his very eyes with a new company sign, the aptly named "Realignment." He storms into his office, demanding to know "what the shit" is going on. He's met with the impeccably coiffed, ever-poised Ruby Goldfarb, who has been working for Varga all this time. It takes Emmit only a moment to realize this ("A fire leads to another fire").

Before Emmit has a chance to go ballistic, Goldfarb tries to shepherd him through the company's changes and what he needs to do to survive: Stussy's company sold all of its assets to Realignment for $100 million... but the corporation has a debt of $300 million. Before she has security guards Mike and Mike (really!), she tells him to file for bankruptcy, since his personal wealth has been carefully hidden away in offshore accounts.

If that doesn't make sense, leave it to Dollard to describe it in great detail to Gloria, who has eschewed her exit from the force in favor of pursuing this $200 million lead. Dollard explains that up until 18 months ago, Stussy was a traditional company. Then, they took the $1 million loan from Narwhal, and just before the end of 2010, Varga was made a partner.

Gloria asks if it's money laundering they're looking at. Dollard clarifies: "It's more of a leveraged buyout — or bleed out." Basically, an outside partner comes in, buys out the partners, borrows millions, and then sells the debt-laden company for a fraction of the price. It's not quite illegal — that is unless you don't pay the appropriate taxes. He's about to go on, but Gloria gets called to the storage space massacre.

Winnie's there already and shows Gloria surveillance footage of the prime suspects (and the only ones who weren't claimed by the "straight-up carnage."): Wrench, Nikki, and Varga. Gloria puts the pieces together and realizes this is part of Nikki's revenge for Ray. She flees to warn Emmit.

Meanwhile, Emmit's cruising along down one of the Fargo universe’s favorite vistas: a deserted country road (which incidentally looks like it’s straight out of the last scene of Se7en). Suddenly, his car malfunctions and slows to a halt. He gets out of his car to try and wrangle up some cell service, but his phone is uncooperative.

Just as he finishes crushing his phone under his boot heel, a lone pickup truck drives up. Emmit's relieved — but only for a moment. Gloria wasn't fast enough to warn him about Nikki, who gets out of the truck and struts up to Emmit with that sawn-off shotgun in one hand.

"Are you as low as you can go?" Nikki demands.

He answers honestly, recounting his desolate time in a jail cell, staring at a life behind bars or the electric chair. (No matter that Minnesota hasn't had the death penalty since 1911... but then again, this season of Fargo hasn't seemed too concerned with how the justice system actually works in Minnesota, seeing as how Ray was a parole officer... and Minnesota doesn't have parole.) "Here we are today, lower still," he admits.

"This Varga fella plucked you like a chicken," Nikki quips. "But he’s gone now so I'm gonna finish the job."

The two square off in a mix of desperation and sarcasm befitting of the surreal, soon-to-be violent encounter. Nikki's playing tough, but it's clear that she's nervous: It's a big moment, the one she's been waiting for since before she met with the supernatural Paul Marrane in the holy bowling alley. She starts in on the speech he asked her to deliver, reciting it softly and then gaining more confidence as she goes along. But she's cut short: a trooper pulls up behind them.

Emmit gets back into his vehicle and Nikki quickly stashes the shotgun on the bumper of his SUV. The poor trooper is suspicious of foul play — and rightly so. But after a short exchange, Emmit finds himself out on the blacktop once more while Nikki attempts to retrieve her weapon.

What happens next is perhaps the best shot (no pun intended) of the entire season. It's a wide-angle shot of the three cars parked in a row, with the trooper, Emmit, and Nikki standing in similar formation. The trooper and Nikki are both brandishing their guns. Their instincts kick in simultaneously, and there's one loud crack in the air as the two shoot at each other. Lucky for Emmit, his reflexes compel him to duck just a moment before the bullets clear the space where his head was. The trooper and Nikki both flop (very dead) onto the ground, leaving Emmit cowering — yet unscathed. It's Fargo's twisted brand of visual gallows humor at its finest.

Nikki's story ends with a bullet through her forehead — a bleak finale for this angel of vengeance — but perhaps it's the karmic price she has to pay for momentarily abandoning her mission and deciding to shoot an innocent interloper.

Emmit, shellshocked, drives off before more law enforcement shows up. And when they do, you can bet Gloria is right there with them. Her stationary image fades in slowly as a flurry of activity happens and then leaves her, alone and anchored to the same spot on the road. She stands there, a symbol of small-town righteous goodness against amber waves of grain.

What choice does Gloria have now but to cling to the best, most hopeful thing she knows? (The next generation of do-gooders, that is.) She chases down her son's school bus to have a road-side talk over popsicles.

"There's violence to knowing the world isn't what you thought," she explains, not sure what to tell her 13-year-old about his step-grandfather's gruesome death. "You got your whole life to be grown; only a few more years to be young. So for now, just know that sometimes the world doesn’t make a lot of sense. But how we get through it is we stick together."

While Gloria attempts to shield her son from the evils of the world for a little while longer, Emmit uses his new lease on life to repair his relationship with his estranged wife, Stella. He pulls up to her new home and falls to his knees, sobbing at her feet.

Flash forward to five years later, Emmit has a few more gray hairs, but things seem to have reverted back to his pre-Varga days. He's dishing up a meal for his family, plus Sy and his wife. (Sy has emerged from his coma, but is wheelchair-bound and has difficulty speaking.) They're the picture-perfect family, reunited after horrors aplenty… and some probation time for Emmit for the misdemeanor tax fraud. And so, when Emmit cheerfully goes to retrieve some "salad" (of the ambrosia persuasion — not lettuce) from the kitchen, we see that he is truly happy with his lot in life.

Perhaps it's a boon then that a gun silencer appears in the frame, just as he reaches into the fridge, to kill him at his most wistful. It's attached to a sleek weapon, held by an equally silent killer: Wrench. Emmit's blood spatters Wrench's cheek as he watches his victim fall into the fridge. Revenge is a dish best served cold, after all.

Hundreds of miles away, in the bowels of New York's Department of Homeland Security headquarters, Gloria — our persistent heroine — has gotten word that someone with Varga’s stats is in custody. See, she's taken her skills from Eden Valley all the way to Minneapolis where she's a DHS agent with a new hairdo and a new sense of confidence. She marches into the room and finds Varga right where she wants him.

Here, we witness one last battle between good and evil… One last standoff between Peter (Gloria) and the Wolf (Varga) — only the tables have turned and Peter's all grown up. This shot — staged almost identically as the one with Gloria and Emmit in the Eden Valley interrogation room — is a thing of beauty. The pair are seated at a low, starkly lit table in front of two-way mirrors that create an infinity effect, both of them multiplied at countless tables in countless rooms, engaged in a never-ending war about the essence of humanity.

At first he doesn't seem to recognize her, but this wolf doesn't forget that easily and echoes a hifalutin greeting of episodes past: "Surmise. Just because I haven’t greeted you, I don’t remember you?"

For at least part of the last five years, Varga has been operating under a new name as a "citizen of the air," currently based in Brussels, and presumably continuing his habit of ensnaring unsuspecting people. Gloria asks if he had anything to do with Emmit's recent murder and Varga denies it.

“Are you familiar with the Russian saying, ‘The past is unpredictable?’ ” he asks.

“I’m pretty sure you made that up,” Gloria retorts.

Varga claps back: “Which of us can say what has occurred what has actually occurred and what is simply rumor, misinformation, opinion?”

Now, Noah Hawley (the show’s creator and sole writer of this episode) confronts the very line of the show that each episode is anchored on: “This is a true story.” What is the truth? And can it really be trusted?

Varga has a point. Evidence pointed to the ex-con he hired to take the fall for the four-Stussy murder spree — but that’s not really what happened. On a macro level, all of history is based on perspective and what its scribes see as the truth — whether it’s intentionally skewed or not. It’s like Emmit told Gloria in the last episode, “A lie is not a lie if you believe it’s true.”

On the other hand, Gloria has an endless belief that truth and goodness will ultimately prevail. Remember her affinity with that that robot (“I can help!”) from her step-father’s book: When faced with eons of adversity, that little android wouldn’t give up.

Gloria plays her hand, telling him that in a few minute’s time, he’ll be carted off to Riker’s while she goes home to celebrate her kid’s birthday at the Minnesota State Fair. (Because there’s “no better way to spend a Saturday in this, our great American experiment.” Real truth there, Gloria. Preach!) And when Varga’s eating boxed mashed potatoes, he can think of her “among the amber waves of grain.”

Varga is unimpressed. He plays his own hand, telling her that a man who she has no control over will come in and let him go, free to disappear into the world. Then, the normally loquacious Varga is content to sit in silence until the final judgement arrives.

The two stare each other down — Varga with a quivering, menacing maw and Gloria with a coy smile — as the camera pans to a slow-ticking clock and cuts to black.

In Fargo, the ultimate battle between good and evil is silent.

Lingering questions:

How did Emmit’s car magically start up again? Was the initial slow-down supernatural (and then magically reversed when Nikki shot the trooper)?

What happened to Wrench? (And come to think of it — what happened to the rest of the Stussys and Phelps at the dinner table while Emmit was murdered?)

If only we saw what happened to Winnie in the end. Did she have a kid? Did she get a promotion? (Can we have her back for season four?)

Okay, Hawley. Seriously, what’s the V.M. stand for?

Random thoughts:

To hell with Moe Dammick and his mansplaining ways. Gloria’s proved herself a badass time and time again.

The episode, called “Somebody to Love,” appears to be a deep tip of the hat to the Coens’ 2009 venture, A Serious Man, wherein a suburban Minnesotan (not coincidentally played by Michael Stuhlbarg, a.k.a. Sy Phelps) is unquestioning when pummeled with an absurd amount of bad luck. (The song also figures heavily in the movie.) Here on Fargo, the characters have faced plenty of luck — good, bad, and terrible — but at least they’re willing to make their own way and push against whatever cards fate has dealt them (whether they’re playing bridge or not).

The pervasiveness of sound and silence lead to this season’s bleak-as-hell atmosphere — but it seemed to harness the chilly humor of the Coens’ world without having to prove itself a worthy heir to the Coen universe (season one) or thrusting itself into a completely different era (season two). Any ideas about what time, and setting, season four will take place?

Finally, who do you think won out in the end? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Aw jeez, that’s all for now. Until next season!