At the beginning of this episode, we see just how Yuri orchestrated the prison bus barrel roll.
With the help of Meemo and the same mysterious fake cop (a.k.a. “Golem”) who almost murdered Nikki in last week’s episode, Yuri rigs up a simple metal ramp to plant in the middle of the road. The bus comes along, Yuri emerges all wolf-like from the shadows, and the driver careens right into the trap. Once the bus stops rolling, the three pull on animal masks and board, Yuri in his wolf hide, Meemo with a goat head, and the fake cop with a pig’s head. (Gee, ya think that’s some symbolism there, eh?)
Nikki’s knocked out after the crash, but luckily she’s got a good bus buddy. Mr. Wrench knows trouble when he sees it. And we’re put into his shoes — for just a few moments, the scene is silent — as the deaf hitman comes to after the accident and surveys the situation. He tries to make a break for it, but realizes his handcuff is connected to Nikki’s. He rouses her and the two become a de facto team in order to break free of their bonds and escape through the bus’ back hatch just in time.
Bruised and battered, Nikki and Wrench take off into the woods while a poor, unsuspecting couple do a slow drive by the crash scene and meet their execution-style ends after getting a good look at the murderous trio next to the bus.
In the forest, Nikki discovers that she’s “chained to a deaf guy,” but despite her reservations, he saves her bacon once again when he sees the trio bounding through the undergrowth and ushers them further on. Wrench confirms, by writing in the snow with a stick, that the masked men are after her. As they go deeper into the forest, Nikki guiltily runs through her last moments with Ray in her mind.
Yuri and Golem are in hot pursuit, keeping their distance as the runaways make their break… until a father-son hunting duo accidentally shoot at Yuri’s wolf hood. (Once we see Yuri and Golem toting their crossbows, it’s pretty much assumed those two have been offed.)
Nikki and Wrench have made it through the night, the day, and are plunging back into darkness when they come across an arrow-riddled dummy hanging from a tree. Nearby is a stump with an ax planted neatly in its center. They take it as good luck and start trying to break apart their chains. But nothing on Fargo is ever so easy. Suddenly, an arrow whizzes by; it’s an ambush. Nikki and Wrench both take hits of various sorts — Nikki most notably with an arrow straight through her calf.
Still chained together, the two are able to both take down (and behead) the fake cop... and Wrench hurls the ax deftly into the dark, cleanly severing Yuri's left ear from his head. After the ambush is over, Wrench Hulks his way through the handcuff chain and helps Nikki away from the grisly scene. They lope slowly toward blinking lights in the distance. Cops? Nope, a bowling alley fit for the Dude.
If only this week's Big Lebowski homage featured perma-cowboy Sam Elliott. Instead, we get the next best thing in this season's Fargo universe: Ray Wise. His character Paul Marrane, first introduced in the Los Angeles episode, is back to dole out some sage advice at the bowling alley bar.
When Nikki limps up to the bar to order drinks, she's alone. But the camera pulls back to reveal Marrane, who mysteriously appears and starts talking about Job on his dung heap.
Nikki's not in the right state of mind for his ramblings and tells him: "Mister, it’s been a long day."
"They’re all long," he replies. "That’s the nature of existence. Life is suffering. I think you’re beginning to understand that."
And so begins a quiet reprieve from the episode's earlier bloodbath, in which the bowling alley becomes a neon-lit beacon on a hill where Ray Wise hands out kittens, drinks sherry, and proselytizes. Speaking of kittens, Marrane takes one out of his bag and hands the mewling ball of fur to Nikki: "Ray is the cat."
She's stunned by the coincidence — but is it a coincidence? Not in this world. Marrane tells her about Gilgul, one of the many concepts of reincarnation, when "an old soul attaches itself to a new body.” Eventually, Nikki leaves the kitten with Paul, but in a tender moment, she bids little Ray adieu and gives Marrane one request: “Do me a favor will ya, when the Gophers play, put a little beer in a bowl and put it in front of the game?”
But first, Marrane tells her about Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 1768 Massacre of Uman, and the seeking revenge on the wicked with a quote from Obadiah (1:4). He alludes to the bowling alley as being more than it appears: a place to be weighed and judged before being sent on one's way. In this case, Nikki and Wrench are sent on their way with a no-strings-attached Volkswagen.
Just after the poor, bedraggled duo drive off in their metallic green Beetle, Yuri arrives at the bowling alley looking like a bloody Van Gogh. Dazed, he walks into the empty bowling alley, sets his crossbow on the bar, and asks for napkins (and vodka). What he doesn’t ask for is a visit from Marrane, who pops up next to him unannounced. Marrane knows his name and his heritage (a “grandchild” of the brutal Wolves Hundred), further implying that the seemingly omniscient Marrane is not of this world.
After a brutal beginning to the episode, this is the first genuinely laugh-out-loud moment that combines the best of the Coen brothers’ bleak universe, where a blood-covered guy can sidle up to the bar and ask for napkins to clean himself off.
Marrane delivers a message to Yuri from Helga Albracht and Nachman. Yuri turns and sees Helga at the head of a field of people, ostensibly the people Yuri keeps talking about his Cossack ancestors murdering. The camera cuts away, and we're left to believe that vengeance was reaped upon the wicked.
But who’s Helga Albracht? Yuri mentions her earlier in the episode, just before he and Golem are shot at by the hunters. But more significantly, this is the murdered Helga from the opening episode in which Jakob Ungerleider was mistakenly brought in for questioning.
Meanwhile, in Eden Valley, Gloria’s celebrating a very awkward Christmas day with her son, her ex, and his new boyfriend when she gets the call about the prison bus wreck. She marches right up to the folks in charge (surprise, it’s men!) and asks about Nikki's whereabouts. She gets the condescending lowdown from the U.S. marshals on what happened to the bus, the dead drive-by couple, and the remaining prisoners. There’s no intel about where Nikki is, but the guy makes sure to mansplain every detail he does know.
In Eden Prairie, Sy drops by Emmit's house and is greeted by Meemo, who promptly shuts the door on his face. Sy tries again and Varga invites him inside for Christmas lunch, explaining that Emmit is upstairs resting and recouping after Ray’s death. Thus, Emmit's unable to receive Sy, who's there to get Emmit down to the station for questioning... and also check in on his old friend and business partner. Varga distracts Sy with good news about a round-two year-end bonus of $5 million before offering the mustachioed man a cup of bitter tea. Despite the last terrible experience Sy had with drinking hot liquid from a mug in Varga's presence, he drinks it.
As he's ushered toward his Hummer, Sy waves to Emmit, who’s watching through the window. Little does he know that’s the last time Emmit will see him conscious for months. Sy arrives at the office later that day and realizes he’s been poisoned. He vomits and falls over, his eyes half-lidded in a dazed, catatonic state. He’s rushed to the hospital, and despite the doctors’ efforts, Sy and his perfectly arched brows are still in a coma three months later on March 11, 2011.
Only now, Sy's got a lot more hair and his mustache has grown into a full beard. Emmit — who's visiting him in the hospital — is due for another crack-up. And boy does he get one.
As he leaves the hospital, Gloria and Winnie track him down, questioning him about the toxicity levels in Sy's blood. Emmit tries to out-walk them on his way to his car, but when he arrives at the parking garage he sees Ray's red Corvette in place of his own car. The sudden appearance of Ray's whip is not lost on the cops, but Emmit manages to shoulder his way past them and cab back to his office. Too bad he's in for a nasty surprise there, too. All the framed photos in the office have been replaced by various versions of the Sisyphus stamp. Every. Single. Picture.
Emmit flips his shit at the office manager, who pleads ignorance and assumes that it was Varga's idea to redecorate. Emmit calls Varga to air his paranoia that Nikki is behind this gaslighting. Varga assures him that if she's alive, she did "what any smart person would do" and ran away to Canada. (Ahem...)
Later at home, Emmit awakes from a nap and finds a Ray-like mustache glued to his face. He rips it off (mostly) and calls for Meemo, who's acting as both his bodyguard and keeper. Varga comes over to talk him down from his impending mental break and serve him a couple downers to keep him docile. When Emmit slowly loses consciousness, Meemo carries him to bed (and takes off his slippers, what a sweetheart!). After he's alone, Emmit's eyes and hands pop open — he palmed the pills.
In the episode's final scenes, we see Gloria back at the Eden Valley Police Station, now demoted to deputy (though Mashman won't stop calling her chief). She's just finishing up the day and handing in some paperwork — both professional and personal (she's finally signing her divorce papers). The moment she's done signing, she hears a familiar voice in the background. ** It's Emmit Stussy, and he's here to confess.
We’re eight episodes into a 10-episode season and the question on my brain has been: When’s it going to fly off the rails? This week, I got my answer. There's a lot to unpack in this action-packed week. So what did you think?
Wrench was able to make it out of season one alive, and he’ll be damned if he meets his maker at the back of a bus… or at the wrong end of an arrow. We're rooting for him. (And Nikki, natch.)
Brilliant overhead staging at the beginning of the episode as the trio opens the doors to the truck with the ramp inside. In the dark, the vehicle’s rear lights evoke the insidious red eyes of a wolf. Also, when Nikki and Wrench sit in the woods, it’s beautiful, serene, and absolutely terrifying.
How and why did Meemo flee from the prison bus debacle?
Does Paul Marrane's name refer at all to Marranism? Or is that a stretch?
The couple in the car; the hunter and his son (probably, though we don't see their death onscreen); Golem/the fake cop; a few prisoners. And probably Yuri, who hasn't been seen since the night of the bus crash.