'Fargo' season 3 recap: Storage wars and alibis

Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX

It’s Lifetime movie spoof week on Fargo.

At least, that’s how it appears at first; but appearances can be deceiving. The episode opens on Emmit’s light-bedazzled Eden Prairie McMansion while “The First Noel” swells in the background before fading to black. Up pops Emmit’s stuffed bear, which fades to a Grinch-like Varga with a switchblade in hand. He’s opening the Stussy’s Christmas loot, sliding his knife carefully under the wrapping paper before inspecting the contents of each package. Is he looking for something? Or is this just reinforcing that this guy has a heart a dozen times too small?

Last week's race to Ray's house leads Gloria and Winnie, this week, to its owner dead as doornail, lying in a pool of his own coagulated blood as a fly treks across his face. As they're discovering the body, Nikki’s still laid up in her motel room, trying to figure out what’s taking Ray so long. Thanks to her cat-like reflexes, she senses something’s off when the cleaning lady comes to check the room in the dead of night. “New” Chief Moe Dammick bursts through the motel door with his partner and hauls Nikki down to the station for questioning. It’s there that she learns Ray's fate from a crime-scene photo that Dammick thrusts in front of her.

After the evidence (ahem, Ray’s cold body) built up, Dammick’s finally started buying some of Gloria and Winnie’s story about the Stussys. He’s also eating Varga’s story right up, too: He surmises that Nikki was with Ray in a faux relationship so she could get parole before he beat her up and she killed him.

“I see a girl like you and a guy like that, I think — how’s a guy with hillbilly hair and a beer gut land Miss State Penitentiary 2010?” But Nikki’s been down this road before, and she asks to see a lawyer before she gets tricked into anything.

Eventually, Dammick leaves Nikki so he can, once again, deal with his resident rebel Gloria. She's retaining her title until the new year, but that still doesn't mean Dammick's going to let her run wild with this investigation — even if she does have it pretty figured out.

“She likes to think she’s a smart one," he explains to his St. Cloud counterpart before later adding, “Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid.” After Gloria and Winnie are upbraided and officially taken off the case, the two women conspire to stick to it — behind their clueless bosses' backs, naturally. While Gloria tries to get Nikki alone, Winnie goes after Emmit.

Even though the path to Nikki is short (Gloria can literally see her in a holding cell!), it's full of red tape. Bureaucracy at the St. Cloud bureau keep Gloria from charming her way into the holding pen right away; but when she does get there, it's just in the nick of time. Someone impersonating an officer has glitched-out the security cameras, broken into the area, handcuffed Nikki to her cell, and is about to administer something noxious-looking in a syringe. Gloria knocks it out of the random stranger's hand, but before she can apprehend him, he escapes.

Dammick and co arrive just after the suspect flees, and he's none-too-happy to see Gloria at the scene. When Gloria and Dammick try to probe for answers about who's causing this multi-homicide mess, Nikki refuses to name names or give any details beyond "Follow the money." Dammick ultimately decides to send Nikki to lockup, where she'll be "safe."

Emmit shows up for his business dinner with Sy and the widow Goldfarb, snaking his way through the back hallways of the Bear's Den like Varga told him to, so no one can place his exact arrival time. But the night's events have taken their toll on Emmit and he's missing all the social cues here: When the widow Goldfarb presents her hand to Emmit, he grasps it awkwardly; while Sy and Goldfarb are drinking rosé, Emmit orders the world’s fastest-made Old Fashioned; while his dinner companions are happy to stick to business and pleasantries, Emmit has to bring up dead husbands, sex tapes, and blackmail.

When Goldfarb generously suggests that money can be both a blessing and a curse, Emmit bites back: “Don’t blame money, it’s people!” He’s snapping with each sip of his drink, going down a road that Sy tries to divert him from. Too bad Winnie Lopez shows up to quickly question Emmit about Ray. Before she even tells him the news about his brother, he starts offering up an alibi. Winnie’s rightly suspicious — in almost every meeting we've seen her in, she's a quiet, but astute observer — and after Sy ushers Emmit away, she sees an opportunity in Goldfarb.

Could Goldfarb become the dark horse who saves Emmit? Or will she damn him? Winnie approaches Goldfarb while she’s on the phone. The business woman presumably has two choices: tell the truth about Emmit’s late arrival or lie and say he’s been there with them all night. The latter option affords her the option of lording that over Emmit in order to get better business terms to complete her storage trifecta.

Emmit's nearly at his breaking point when Sy drops him off in his Hummer. “What’s your angle here?” Emmit demands. He’s getting paranoid and putting the pieces together, accusing Sy of teaming up with Ray.

Sy, understandably, is dumbfounded by the accusation, and asks why he'd go from making millions with Emmit to making thousands with Ray. A sobered Emmit retreats into his house, refusing to let Sy call his wife to make amends in the wake of his brother's death. He just wants to be alone.

But as Emmit sits on one end of the double staircase flanked by the stuffed bear and a Christmas tree (presents intact, mind you), he's surrounded by the rich emptiness of his house and his life. Varga descends the other end of the staircase, emerging from the darkness by the bear, and recites a nursery rhyme his mother used to tell him as a boy: "There Was a Crooked Man." Cold comfort, indeed.

Donny Mashman, Gloria’s sweet-but-forgetful partner, leaves his gun on the counter when he goes to look into a routine call. (Remember when we called this happening in episode two?) When he goes to get it again, he runs into Yuri, who has stealthily made his way into the library-slash-police station to get the physical files (since the department has no computers to hack into). After a quiet standoff, a frightened and bewildered Donny lets Yuri go with a couple of files in hand: "Emmit Stussy: Investigation Report, December 2, 2010."

Straight from retrieving the files for Varga, Yuri makes his way toward the highway with uncanny timing. He steps out of the woods, causing Nikki's prison transport bus to do a barrell-roll while the driver swerves to avoid Yuri. Finally, Nikki's ostensibly knocked out, and Yuri's about to break into the bus' prisoner hold. Will she come to before he makes it in? We'll have to wait until next week to find out.

Random notes:

Is the blood stain on Emmit’s shirt going to come back to haunt him?

Nikki's bus buddy is none other than season one's Wes Wrench! Is he the first character to officially appear in all three seasons of Fargo? (Remember, he showed up at the end of season two as a child.)

What's the timing on Varga's Grinch activities?

Best quote:

“Mash a potato, you know what you get? Mashed potatoes.”

Death count: