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'Fargo' season 3 recap: Tonight's tale has no storybook ending

Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX

After last week's sunny noir jaunt to Los Angeles, Fargo is back in snow-covered St. Cloud once again. This week's episode is framed through another cold-weather fable: Peter and the Wolf. 

Tonight's narrator is very familiar. Billy-Bob Thornton — a.k.a. the dearly and painfully departed Lorne Malvo from Fargo season one — lent his voice to this week's episode. With an even-tone practically made for audiobooks or podcasts, he describes each of the characters from the children's story as their Fargo counterparts show up on screen: There's Emmit the bird, Ray the duck, Nikki the cat, Sy the grandfather, Meemo and Yuri the hunters, Varga the wolf, and our hero, Gloria, as Peter.

Ray looks... a little different. After shaving off his pornstache, he dons a curly brown wig and "transforms" into Emmit. (With a beer gut, natch.) He and Nikki (let's be honest, Nikki's doing most of the devious heavy lifting here) have devised a plan to go to the bank and convince the employees to let him into Emmit's safety deposit box, sans key.

"Remember, the richest guy in the room is always the boss," Nikki reminds Ray, trying to instill a little bit of the elder Stussy’s confidence in him. After getting denied initially, Ray "persuades" the branch manager into bending the rules for Emmit (Ray) by threatening to transfer his accounts to Chase. Still power-tripping, Ray also asks for $10,000 in one-hundred-dollar bills, along with an extra buck for the meter — even though the bank manager tries to warn him that'll trigger the system.

"If I wanted an opinion from an asshole, I'd ask my own," Ray says sourly.

Little does Ray know that the safety deposit box doesn't actually contain the stamp. Instead, it there's a bag (labeled "Luverne," which is where part of season two took place) with Sy's dog's "cremains." Ray dumps the ashes, takes the money, and shows his spoils to Nikki, who's astounded and disappointed that he didn't try to take more money out of the account.

No matter, they've got bigger fish to fry — namely, impressing their potential Bridge sponsor, who has been identified as working in everything from vacuums to plumbing to kitchen supplies. But first, Ray needs to put in some time at the parole office.

At the end of last week's episode, Gloria's partner Donny relayed the ties between Ennis Stussy and Maurice LeFay (and his gruesome LeFate) to her just before an Arby's run. Now, she's following up on that lead, checking out Maurice's hollowed-out dome in the morgue, and stickin' to her guns — especially as the new chief tries to get her to drop the case and "move on to the calm and orderly transition of power."

Instead of caving, Gloria makes her way down to the parole office after finding a business card in Maurice's wallet. There, she unknowingly passes by Nikki Swango on her way in and makes the acquaintance of a gregarious — if ditzy — fellow woman in uniform, Winnie Lopez. (Their chance encounter comes in the lavatory by way of a surprise period and Winnie's request for a "putter-inner," which may be the most ridiculous euphemism for a tampon save for her later admission that she jammed about "a hundred pounds" of toilet paper in there instead.)

Gloria is overwhelmed by the talkative St. Cloud Metro cop (who's at the station investigating Ray's car getting rammed by Sy's Hummer) — but Gloria seems even more flabbergasted by her inability to trigger any of the bathroom's automatic sensors.

After that impromptu, whirlwind introduction, she meets Maurice's old P.O., Ray, who's conferring on the phone with Nikki about their upcoming meeting with Burt Lurdsman. Gloria sees the nameplate on his desk, and makes the Stussy connection, at which Ray splutters, trying to cover himself by saying he has Stussy cousins all over the state... and that Maurice liked his "reefer," which ultimately led to his untimely "death by major appliance." Gloria is unconvinced, but leaves her card with Ray in case he follows up with her later.

Alarmed, Ray tries to head out of the office, but get stopped by his managers. It seems there was a P.I. in tow at Emmit's anniversary party who snapped some photos of Ray and Nikki together. Faced with getting fired and staying with Nikki or keeping his job, losing Nikki, and potentially sending her back behind bars — Ray chooses love (and Bridge sponsorships). He bellies up to a bar instead of heading to the fancy restaurant where Nikki is waiting nervously for him with Burt Lurdsman.

Meanwhile, Emmit is still cushioned by the comfort of life in the Eden Prairie bubble with his wife, his sidekick Sy, and the thought of still being able to shake Varga's chokehold on the parking lot business. That is, until he gets wind of Ray's jaunt into his bank. Emmit is livid, but before he can do anything about that, he and Sy have to deal with the Yuri and Meemo's mysterious takeover of the Stussy offices.

The two henchmen seem to always be on the lookout for foul play from the nervous Minnesotans. When Officer Winnie Lopez comes to check out the Hummer story, Sy nearly has a heart attack trying to not-so-subtly let the henchmen know he didn't call the cops on them. With Yuri and Meemo peering ominously through the glass office, Sy does a piss-poor job of deflecting Winnie, so she leaves and does some more investigating of her own at the station.

When we first see Varga, he's housing half a dozen plates of breakfast food. When we see him again in a bathroom stall, we're seeing his meal for the second time, too. Turns out Varga has an eating disorder, but we've yet to find out exactly what — if anything — his bulimia means for this season's villain.

Later on, Varga creeps through the woods to Emmit's house, all wolflike with French horns blaring. Emmit, who has a habit of opening the front door aghast at the idea of any visitors at any time ("Jesus! It's dinner time!"). Varga can smell the pork chops wafting through the air and invites himself inside where he charms the dim-witted missus, serves Emmit a contract to make him a business partner, and then purges in the Stussys' W.C.

In Emmit's study, Varga gives Stussy a gameplan for their mutual monetary success: accumulate wealth and use that wealth to become invisible. Varga warns Emmit that the peasants (and accountants) are coming armed with pitchforks. While Emmit's flaunting his pseudo-wealth with a $90,000 car and a McMansion in Eden Prairie, he's a target. Alternately, Varga blends in with the masses, wearing $200 suits, second-hand ties, and flying coach.

Wherever he goes — whether it's abroad or in little ol' Minnesota -- Varga fashions himself the master of wit, camouflage, deception, and condescension. And with those skills, he reveals that he's been able to find out far more about Emmit's life (and his brother) than Emmit or Sy could have imagined. He knows about the Stussys' feud over the two-cent Sisyphus stamp, Ray's job, Ray's girlfriend, everything. (Thanks in part to some good old-fashioned Facebook stalking, of course.)

When Varga asks Emmit if Ray will be a problem, Emmit tells him no; he's a loser. Whether that's more to protect Ray or to leave things uncomplicated remains to be seen. But if we look to the tale of Peter and the Wolf, it seems like Ray (the Duck) may be in danger.

In the story, the only one who seems to get caught by the wolf is the duck. Eventually, Peter enlists the little bird to help catch the wolf, and afterwards Peter, his grandfather, the bird, the cat, and the hunters celebrate their victory. Such a clean break for Fargo's season three crew seems unlikely, but there might be something there. Though, the analogy seems a bit thin with when it comes to the hunters, a.k.a. Yuri and Meemo (who, ostensibly are protecting Varga, rather than hunting him at this point). What do you think?

Random thoughts:

Seriously, what's up with Gloria and the automatic sensors? Give us your best guesses in the comments!

We keep seeing more and more of Ray's parole officer job (or at least, we have until this week). But it was recently pointed out that Minnesota doesn't actually have parole. So what's the deal, Fargo?

Turns out that Varga's big-rig in the parking lot is just a home base for evil-doing. But what's up with Yuri's whip?

We finally get a taste of Yuri beyond his henchman status when he delivers a very on-point (and timely, considering current events…) monologue about power, Putin, and the old country: "In Russia, there are two truths: man’s truth, and God’s truth... and untruth, the weapon the leader uses; the truth is whatever he says it is."

Nikki looked awfully nervous during her meeting with Burt Lurdsman. Are those just first-meeting jitters? Or does she already know him? Compounding the theory that she may already know Burt (and could be catfishing Ray) is that she seemingly found Burt out of the blue.

Ultimate back-handed compliment, courtesy of Varga: "When I was a housemaid’s boy, I ate three meals a day below ground, so you’re making me feel right at home."

Death count:

Zero.