This week’s episode, “The House of Special Purpose,” shares its namesake with the Ipatiev House, a historic building in Yekaterinburg where the Romanovs met their ends.
It’s also the name of a 2009 book of the same name by John Boyne, a historical fiction that’s rooted in the downfall of a marriage and a family through the lens of revolutionary Russia and the Romanovs. Here, the Stussy brothers are both on the brink of destruction, helped along — almost hand-in-hand — to hell in a handbasket by one another.
After two seasons of nightmarish deaths, it’s hard not to imagine the people close to the Stussys meeting fate similar to the Romanovs.
Emmit is jamming along to Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Humble,” cruising on the highway cluelessly when his wife arrives at their Eden Prairie house before he does. Stella finds an envelope marked “For Your Eyes Only,” addressed to Emmit. After bringing it inside, his poor wife can’t help but take a peek. Inside, there’s a DVD cut-out magazine letter note: “Pay us $100,000 or we show your wife.” She get gets an eyeful on that DVD: Emmit and a long-haired redhead are in a compromising position — or several.
See, after (mostly) successfully engineering a $10,000 bank operation in Emmit’s name (and image), Ray and Nikki are riding high. The two don some wigs and boff on tape, but not before Ray gets down on one knee and proposes to Nikki. She says yes. (But she shrugs off her faux locks first: “For Pete’s sake, I’m wearing a hooker wig!”)
What’s telling here is that Stella believes the fake sex tape’s contents right off the bat, believes that Emmit would undermine their marriage just like that. Meanwhile, the only indication that Emmit gets about any trouble before arriving is a call on his Blackberry (hello, 2010!) filled with Stella’s sobs. When he arrives, Emmit’s daughter and son-in-law tell him to back off as they load Stella and her wheelchair-bound mother into a van and drive off.
Emmit goes through some existential and romantic woe as he comes to terms with the fact that Ray would so deeply betray him and his marriage for such a sum. Emmit goes to his office after a particularly tense meeting with Sy after his consigliere has a particularly traumatic meeting with Varga and his henchmen. Varga poisons Emmit’s mind that Sy might be playing him for a fool. Referring to their new business partnership, Varga says “We’re making a souffle here,” alluding to the fact that any new, sudden changes could cause the whole operation to go kaput. (Including Sy’s meddling.)
There, Varga attempts to wheedle his way into Emmit’s subconscious, planting his rotten ideas in the elder Stussy’s head. Too bad that Ray’s $10,000 bank withdrawal has kicked off an informal, yet mandatory, IRS investigation that Varga’s none too happy about.
Previously, during Sy and Varga’s uncomfortable meeting, we learn that we have a much more psychologically sick and sadistic character on our hands than say, Lorne Malvo. There was a perverse pleasure in rooting for Billy Bob Thornton’s character; but here, it feels wholly icky to side with David Thewlis’ sinister role.
Varga reveals his anti-semitism and sizeism (anti-fat sentiments, as it were) in a very real way: by verbally taking down Sy’s wife. As Sy watches Varga spew hateful speech, the rotten Brit urinates in Sy’s “World’s Best Dad” mug, a punishment for having spoken with Winnie in last week’s episode. Varga waxes poetic about the significance of perspective, like the similarities in mouthfeel between sandwiches and dicks and how chickens are really just eggs begetting more eggs.
Ultimately, Yuri and Meemo force Sy to down the mug of warm pee, a stark and disgusting counterpoint to this season’s earlier glorification of the parolee piss test (see: episode one).
Later, after relinquishing his office to Varga and cleaning off, Sy meets with the perfectly coiffed, very loaded Mrs. Ruby Goldfarb (the always fantastic Mary McDonnell). The widow Goldfarb, who Sy mentioned in an earlier episode, is interested in buying Stussy Lots, a proposition that Sy is clearly eager to take in order to get Varga off their backs. The pair meet at the Bear's Den, a restaurant chock full of bison-filled reliefs on the walls and a recessed dining pit with a single table — just for her.
Sy falters at the sound of a champagne cork and explains that he's had quite a pisser of a day. "I feel as if I've left the known world," he says. This is one of our first indications that Sy is gonna snap, crackle, and pop soon.
Goldfarb talks about her business acumen and her late husband — both intertwined. He made his first dollars in mortuaries before expanding to storage space. When he passed away, the widow made a few cerebral connections and realized that parking lots were the way to finish up the Goldfarb “storage triptych.” She reasons that “people always need a place to park.”
Too bad their chat is cut short by an urgent text from Emmit, who’s stuck sobbing into a robe in Eden Prairie after Stella walks out on him. When Sy rushes to his side, the two start turning against each other, blaming one another for their collective problems, each unable to see the other’s issues as big as his own.
“What is the point of you? You’re supposed to be a fixer,” Emmit whines. The two eventually come to a shaky accord and Sy gets Emmit to “take the shackles off” of him, in order to let Sy reap revenge on Ray, Nikki, and everyone else.
Meanwhile, Gloria and her new St. Cloud cop friend Winnie have pretty much solved the mysterious case of Ennis Stussy. Too bad the only person who actually hears their argument and pretty much accepts it is Gloria’s partner Donny Mashman. When Gloria and Winnie bring Ray in for questioning, he denies everything for as long as possible. And it’s clear that the new chief isn’t ready to hear Gloria and Winnie’s hypothesis of what happened at the late Ennis Stussy’s home.
Instead — in a glorious shot that frames Gloria and Winnie in sunlight while facing off against Chief Moe Dammick — the new chief tells the women an anecdote that fits in with this season’s theme of misidentification. He lets them know about a little girl named Laura Buxton who sent a message and a balloon into the heavens. Another little girl finds the balloon, and what’d’ya know, her name is also Laura Buxton. He reasons that that’s coincidence — and evidence — enough that whatever convoluted story the pair of women came up with is beyond reason. Mansplaining at its finest, don’t’cha know.
Before Ray gets brought into the station, he’s out and about with Nikki at a suit shop, looking for their wedding attire. While Nikki takes charge on making sure Ray gets the correctly sized suit jacket, she’s also fielding a clandestine call from the off-his-rocker Sy. He tells her that Stella found the sex tape before Emmit, thus nullifying their demand for a $100,000 ransom.
Nikki, quick on her feet, tells Sy that the truth — the real truth about her and Ray donning wigs for their ransom note — is now worth $200,000. Sy can’t argue with that on the line and arranges to meet with her in private, in one of the obscure Stussy parking lots. Nikki tries to keep the meeting a secret from Ray, but he ends up getting a frenetic call from Emmit on the St. Cloud public transit before going down to the Eden Valley police station for questioning with Gloria and Winnie.
Meanwhile, Sy and Nikki pull up next to each other in the parking lot, trading barbs and vaguely negotiating. Too bad that Sy’s been tailed this whole time by Yuri and Meemo. Here, after the henchmen threaten Sy, we find out what exactly Yuri uses that short whip handle for.
The two beat Nikki until she’s barely able to crawl back to her car after Sy speeds off, worried for his own safety. However, they leave her face untouched, clearly opting for the damaged-internal-organ game, here.
The episode closes on Ray returning home, finding Nikki alone, bruised, and fucked up in the bathtub. If it wasn’t already clear after that mug scene, things are getting real in Fargo.
Nikki’s winning the best-line race with these two: “You have made me the happiest woman ever… Now, let’s make a sex tape” and “You don’t have to like the truth for it to be true.”
Death count: Zero.