It’s in this episode that we get our first real, solid connection to Fargo (1996) by way of Stan Grossman.
Don’t remember Stan? Let’s back up a little. In the Coen brothers’ original Fargo, Stan was Wade Gustafson’s (Jerry Lundegaard’s father-in-law) financial advisor. When Jerry comes in asking for a loan, Wade and Stan derail his plans by offering him a finder’s fee instead. Where Jerry was looking for an initial investor he could pay back, Wade and Stan are looking to move in on a good deal and capitalize on the profits. Sound familiar? It’s like the estranged sibling to the involuntary business arrangement Emmit and Sy have found themselves in with V.M. Varga.
Emmit mentions Stan during a one-on-one with Sy, suggesting that Stan could help with some long-term investments they have in mind. But enough about the future, the murky present is what’s irking Emmit. He and his consigliere make a visit to their legal counsel, Irv Blumkin.
After getting the lowdown on V.M. Varga, Irv decides to look the investor up online. But poor, technologically challenged Irv Blumkin can barely hunt-and-peck, let alone hit “Enter” on a Google search. His batty secretary lends some assistance, but in their combined computer illiteracy, they end up clicking a suspicious-looking search result (the only search result) for Varga. Suddenly, the computer’s webcam opens, snaps a pic of the pair, and the computer promptly dies. The two are at a loss as to what just happened. Little does Irv know that he’ll meet that computer’s fate soon enough and get tossed off of a multi-level parking lot, thanks to Varga’s henchmen Yuri and Meemo.
And what of V.M. “Call me V.M.” Varga? He’s moved a big rig into a portion of Emmit’s kingdom: a parking lot under a bridge. The scene is suggestive as all get-out, with Varga confounding the parking attendant with grandiloquent speech into giving his car and the semi-truck entrance to the lot. Moreover, the big rig has a painfully phallic-looking gear shift straight out of Mad Max and its driver — Adidas-donning henchman Yuri, a.k.a. “the Cossack” — pulls out a leather whip after the truck wiggles suggestively into its parking spot.
Meanwhile in Eden Valley, Gloria gets a closer look at the goods in the box Ennis Stussy — who we find out is one and the same as “renowned” sci-fi author Thaddeus Mobley — hid under his floorboards. Like every faux book featured in a Wes Anderson flick, these tomes look irresistible with names like The Planet Wyh and Organ Fish of Kleus-9. Along with the paperbacks, she finds a newspaper clipping about Mobley winning the Golden Planet award. There’s also a signed headshot signed, “With all my love, Vivian Lord.”
As Gloria explores the contents of the box, her deputy walks in and informs her that the new chief wants them at work bright and early. The two head toward the station, which, incidentally is in the same building as the Eden Valley Public Library.
There, once again, Gloria can’t get the automatic door to budge for her: “I’m right here,” she says to her deputy with exasperation. “You see me?” He responds with his own query: “Is that a trick question?” This happened with Ennis’ store sensor in the first episode, and it’s clear that this is going to be a recurring situation. (And a not-so-lightly-veiled metaphor for women’s “invisibility” in general.)
Once inside, Gloria meets the East Coaster who has usurped her role. This no-nonsense guy comes into the station with all the bluster of your stereotypical out-of-towner who doesn’t “get” the way things work ‘round here: namely, the way folks don’t lock their doors, Gloria’s dislike of computers, and her reliance on old-school Telex (good lord). After some light insubordination from Gloria, new sheriff Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham) puts his foot down and tells her to cut the crap. He’s the chief, and he won’t let her forget it.
But Dammick does let her pursue one last hunch before she’s forced to recoup after Ennis/Thaddeus’ death and take a few days off (or rather, learn her new “place” in the force). She follows up with the Gophers-loving gas station attendant who Maurice LeFay got the mistaken Eden Valley information about “E. Stussy,” discovering that the phone book with the torn-out “S” page is now evidence.
Back at his parole office, Ray stealthily checks in on Maurice’s initial reported cause of death on his boss’ computer. (Vermin devoured his own computer cord — a seemingly recurring theme of technology gone wrong in this season.) When Ray sees it’s been marked an “accident,” he rushes over to Nikki’s place to tell her the good news. The thing is, Nikki’s already past Maurice’s murder and onto her next scheme: securing a rich Bridge sponsor out of Bismarck.
When Ray doesn’t share Nikki’s enthusiasm for moving onwards and upwards, she slaps him — twice. His reticence to go out on the Bridge circuit when they should be laying low means Ray’s chi is out of alignment and all blocked up. Nikki suggests her “honeybear” with the “soul of a poet” go down some “psychic Draino” and patch things up with Emmit.
The pair work out a plan for Ray visit Emmit in Eden Prairie and distract him with an apology while Nikki sneaks into the house to pilfer the two-cent Sisyphus stamp. Thanks to this scheme, we get another great scene with the dual McGregors in the same frame. That brotherly bonding would almost be cathartic if we didn’t know that Nikki was snooping around Emmit’s office… and if Emmit were actually willing to hug his brother rather than just proffer a chilly handshake.
When Nikki sees a framed picture of a donkey in the spot where the stamp should be, she takes it as a personal affront to Ray. Frantic, Nikki discovers a new receipt for a safety deposit box and puts the pieces together. She reaps sweet vengeance on Emmit, pulling out her tampon and leaving it (along with a smeared note: “Who’s the ass now?”) for the elder Stussy to find when she flies the coop.
After finding the menstrual missive, Emmit calls upon his surrogate brother Sy to do his dirty work. Sy meets with Ray to tell him that he’s cut off from any contact with his brother, before throwing a crisp Hamilton at the younger Stussy and running his obnoxious Hummer into Ray’s Corvette.
But before Emmit and Sy get the chance to catch their breath, they’re dealing with the Varga trio forcing their way into the vacant space in the Stussy offices. After a hifalutin speech about how Minnesota is “so perfectly sublimely bland, innit?” — it’s clear that Varga and his mysterious, murderous crew are here to stay… and make bank.
Finally, there’s more to that burro in Emmit’s office than just a bloody message, or as Sy puts it: “Feminine hygiene deployed as a weapon.” It’s a surefire throwback to another episode of Fargo. In “Buridan’s Ass” from season one, poor Don Chumph is murdered in a representation of the titular philosophical paradox about free will. If an equally hungry and thirsty donkey is faced with a bale of hay and a bucket of water, what will it choose? If it’s equidistant from both, the donkey won’t be able to make a decision before succumbing to death.
How will all this figure into the Stussy brothers’ disparate plans? We’ll have to wait until next week. But in the meantime, let’s be real: Is there really ever any free will on Fargo?
That little red Corvette is going to need a major facelift — that is if it runs again.
And that forgetful deputy who left his gun in the car? That’s a little plot nugget that’ll come back later, right?
What about Thaddeus Mobley’s books? See if you can parse some theory outta these: Space Elephants Never Forget, The Planet Wyh, Toronto Cain: Psychic Messenger, Organ Fish of Kleus-9, The Plague Monkeys, and (a personal favorite) A Quantum Quark: Learning Just Got Real.
Gloria is a worthy — and mouthy — member of the Fargo law enforcement legacy: “They glued his nose and mouth shut. Are we thinking cause of death is somehow a cliffhanger?”
The layout of Gloria’s kitchen sure brought back memories Lester Nygard’s house from season one.
Irv and his secretary are basically like if receptionist Lucy Moran and deputy sheriff Andy Brennan from Twin Peaks were geriatric legal counsel.
Stan Grossman survived in the movie. Will he do so again here? Will we ever actually “meet” him? (Fun fact: There was also a Stan Grossman in Little Miss Sunshine, played then by Bryan Cranston, who was a pretty literal homage to the original character.)