THE SERIES “Fargo”
WHEN | WHERE Season 3 premiere Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” but he has a problem or two. A mysterious man named V.M. Vargas (David Thewlis — Remus Lupin of “Harry Potter”) turns up at his office one winter day. This man had earlier lent Emmit money to keep the business afloat, and Emmit wants to pay the loan back. Vargas instead has an offer Emmit best not refuse. Meanwhile, Emmit’s brother Ray (also played by McGregor) has a new girlfriend, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s an ex-con and expert bridge player (The first episode is entitled “The Law of Vacant Spaces,” referring to a bridge term). She wants a wedding ring — which is about to become Emmit’s other problem. Then, there’s small-town police officer Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), who is about to become involved in this developing family squabble.
The third edition was also written by Noah Hawley.
MY SAY A sinister man with a Liverpudlian accent refuses repayment of a $1-million loan he had made one year earlier to the Parking Lot King of Minnesota.
And there, “Fargo” fans, is your alluring hook for this third season. Now, see if you can bait it yourselves. This is “Fargo” we’re talking about so make certain to include the following story elements: A good and decent cop (female preferably), a ruthless parolee, at least two sadistic mobsters, one family feud and several long car rides across a blighted landscape so white and so frigid that even human depravity itself seems to have been frozen in place.
Then, sprinkle generously with misunderstandings, non sequiturs, quirks, local color, and poor decisions made by key characters — or in the words of one of those characters, decisions born of “unfathomable pinheadery.” That should do it. You now have your third season of “Fargo.”
If this sounds easy, that’s only because we’ve had decades to figure all this out, going back to 1996 and the original Oscar-winning source code itself, “Fargo,” the movie. The Coen brothers created this world with such specificity that to deviate from it risks apostasy (or unfathomable pinheadery). Like the rest of us, Hawley always knew a good thing when he saw it, and with the third season, he’s just re-creating that good thing all over again.
“Fargo 3” isn’t so much a formula (although there’s plenty of that here) as much as a worldview: In the endless battle of good versus evil, the latter has the upper hand only when abetted by human greed and stupidity. Minnesota — cold, flat, austere, and thoroughly decent — serves as setting and contrast, but also as reminder that evil can gain a foothold even where people actually say “anywho” or “okeydoke then!”
Anywho, is “F3” good? Rather than oppressive, all this familiarity feels welcome, and rather than formulaic, it still manages to feel fresh. There are the usual reasons. By casting a fine English actor whom most viewers remember only as the beloved Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwart’s, “Fargo” does what it always does so effectively — keep those viewers off balance. And having another major star — also Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast” — play both leads and play them proficiently? Well, okeydoke, then.
“F3” remains bleakly funny, too. What other series would have characters speak solemnly of “non-micturated footwear” or “feminine hygiene deployed as a weapon”? When someone says, “I’ve never killed anybody before,” someone else gaily responds, “Me neither! Life’s a journey.”
Life indeed is, but good to know that this TV one is starting from the exact same place all over again.
BOTTOM LINE There’s some temporizing in the first couple of episodes, but not enough to subvert what this third season so clearly is — another winner.