'Fargo' season 3 recap: Is there a special level of hell for people that kill their loved ones on Christmas Eve?

Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX

It's the penultimate episode of the season, which meant that there were a lot of loose ends to tie up and major characters going head-to-head for the first time.

As expected, from last week's cliffhanger, Emmit Stussy has decided to to come clean. Sort of. When it comes to Ray's death, he lays it all out — from the feud's violent beginnings to its violent end. But when it comes to Varga, he's mum, besides a warning not to trust anyone who comes to the station trying to speak on his behalf.

In the interrogation room with Gloria, he details how his father died (as WASP-y as possible, collapsing in the driveway next to his luxury car after a tennis game). It turns out Emmit incepted the idea into young Ray's head that the instant gratification of the Corvette ("catnip for kitty cats") would be a more valuable inheritance for a chubby, unpopular kid than a bunch of random old stamps. Ray, later, wised up to Emmit's trick, but it took decades for Emmit to admit the ploy to himself ("a lie is not a lie if you believe it's true").

The confession is a coup for Gloria and an unburdening of years-held guilt for Emmit, but it ultimately turns out to be a total loss for both of them. Varga, who seemingly anticipates any scenarios that his poor pawns may find themselves in, has already prepared for the current reality in which Emmit turns himself in. He's orchestrated a couple of copycat murders that mimic the first two dead Stussys: Ennis (sitting in front of an open freezer with his mouth and nose glued shut) and Ray (with a piece of glass jutting from his neck). He's even hooked up an ex-felon with a confession story and some damning evidence planted in the guy's car. Too bad Gloria and Emmit don't find out about it until it's too late.

Before Emmit's confession is rendered unusable by the copycat murders, Gloria gets in touch with Winnie about what she and Goldfarb talked about in the Bear's Den the night of Ray's murder. Winnie said that Goldfarb had provided an alibi for Emmit, but it doesn't pass the smell test for Gloria now that Emmit has confessed.

She decides to bring the widow in and question her herself. Goldfarb is quick to caution that "memories fade," even before they start talking about the case. Goldfarb's covering her tracks still (and is cagey about revealing that she moved to Minnesota from St. Louis), but Gloria's unable to get to the bottom of the businesswoman's faulty facts before the new chief comes back with the copycat murder suspect in custody. The successful manhunt, which prompted a room full of cheers, ended up being so short-lived that Gloria didn't even know it was happening.

Gloria confronts Dammick about the new murders, understandably confused about why he's so quick to believe a situation that's so clearly been wrapped in a neat bow. Dammick refuses to hear her out, high on his own victory.

"No, you said yourself, Parking Lot King has got a two witness alibi. What you're looking at is psychology." He mansplains that Emmit's confession was just a manifestation of guilt. But Gloria's still not willing to give up, even after she's forced to let Emmit free (and into Varga’s care, no less).

Varga is bringing his plans to "Stage Four" — whatever that is — and it seemingly involves uprooting his tech-filled big rig from a Stussy lot. Too bad that he hasn't kept track of Nikki's slow-burning revenge. When Meemo drives the nefarious mobile spying unit toward an undisclosed location, the window suddenly gets busted in. The moment plays out like Fargo-themed Clue: Nikki, with a grenade, in the truck. Meemo sees the explosive (which is avitally just a paper weight) and jumps out of the truck to take cover.

Nikki takes her opportunity (along with Wrench) and sits in Meemo’s spot, stealing the semi and driving off towards a wrecking yard. There, she and Wrench cut through the barricades inside, which house most of Varga's hard drives, servers, and information. The scene mirrors last week's opener, when the trio of masked men commandeered the prison bus — only that time, things were far messier and bloodier. As this week's agents of chaos, Nikki and Wrench facilitate a smooth and clean break-in, showing that Nikki's strategic planning extends far beyond the card table.

She calls Varga up to demand ransom for his goods (a cool $2 million) and puts the rotten-mouthed Brit between a rock and a hard place. They eventually agree to meet and do a handoff at a place of Nikki's choosing: The hotel where she and Ray played bridge in the Wildcat Regionals. He's so stressed out that we get a particularly disgusting shot of him eating Rocky Road in a bathroom stall to quell his fractured nerves. (Thankfully we don't have to see the ice cream a second time around.)

The two meet up and (after Nikki cracks one-too-many Willy Loman/Death of a Salesman jokes about Varga's wardrobe) they engage in a semi-public tete-a-tete where it's clear that Varga's been totally shaken. He tries his old tricks (poisoned tea) and he even offers Nikki a job for her brazen devil-may-care attitude while she stakes out her terms.

She turns him down (her job is blackmailing Varga, she says) and upbraids him for underestimating her talent for strategy, citing her Bridge skills as her secret weapon. Varga is unmoved, refusing to give over the ransom. He even tries to call her bluff and shake her confidence by having a stream of Varga lookalikes populate the hotel lobby in order to make it more difficult for any witnesses to come forward, should anything bad happen to her.

But Nikki is similarly stubborn, and refuses to give over the goods. She's already accounted for Meemo's sniper skills coming into play once she hands the hard drives over. Too bad Varga didn't plan on Nikki having a partner in crime to render Meemo moot. She tells Varga he has until the next day to deliver the money. Before long, Nikki and Wrench strut out of the hotel with a spring in their step; they've won that round, but will they win the match?

Eventually, Gloria's had enough and needs to trade her beloved pop for a hard drink. She calls up Winnie to vent (and Winnie's more than happy to oblige, even though she's ovulating) at a nearby bar. Gloria tells her friend about The Planet Wyh and her affinity with the poor little robot that just wants to help. She also reveals a secret feeling that no matter what she does, she's completely "invisible,” which is why the soap dispensers and motion detectors don't respond to her. Winnie, lord love her, is having none of it. She listens, she hugs, and then tells Gloria firmly that she matters — and that they're about to get shit-faced. Winnie is someone you want to have in your corner.

Finally, the episode closes on the IRS guy that Meemo chased out of Stussy Lots a few episodes ago. He's got a mysterious package waiting on his chair: the expenses for Stussy's company. Who sent them is still a mystery — was it Nikki? Emmit? We'll have to wait until next week to find out. We're just one episode away from the Fargo season finale, so what do you think will happen? Leave your predictions in the comments.

Random notes:

Loving that Varga’s big tricks this episode involved a lot of copycats and lookalikes. It's like he's directing a twisted puppet show with a bunch of and only he knows how to ends.

Regardless of how many drinks Gloria’s had, her monologue at the end of the episode is a little heavy on the telling, not showing. (A similar sentiment goes for Nikki’s bridge explainer to Varga.)

Winnie’s frank feelings toward her “clock punching” are a hilarious and honest look at the difficulties and banality of trying to have a kid.

Best quotes:

"I know a boss when I see one."

"You think there’s a special level of hell for people that kill their loved ones on Christmas Eve?"

“I think I might put this thing to bed.” (The line so nice, Gloria said it… twice. What’s the deal there?)