'Fargo' Recap: Christmas Evil

The bad guys get the unhappy-holidays upper hand in what may be the show's tensest, most unsettling episode yet

Trust 'Fargo' to deliver a Christmas-eve chapter that doubles as the tensest, most unsettling episode yet. Our recap. Credit: Chris Large/FX

Whenever a suspense story's working like gangbusters, every wrong choice and tick of the clock feels like its moving characters closer to their doom – all the better to watch through your knitted fingers, my dear. The closing 10 minutes of last week's Fargo had that feeling, as Emmit Stussy's fatal confrontation with his brother happened almost at the same time that Nikki Swango was being stalked by V. M. Varga's men, and Gloria and Winnie were doggedly pursuing their theory of the Ennis Stussy murder. This week's episode – "The Law of Inevitability" – picks up where the previous hour left off, and is somehow even more wrenching. It's a sick ride, from start to finish.

Forget this season's many long, unsettlingly of-the-moment conversations about power and economics; this chapter is all about watching trains go off the rails. It takes place over the course of one evening, not long after Ray has caught a shard of glass to the jugular. The tension mounts, as the cops arrest Nikki on suspicion of murder (while she's trying to sneak out a motel bathroom window, a la Jerry Lundegaard in the Fargo movie). Meanwhile, Gloria looks for a way in to ex-con's cell so as to interrogate her about Maurice LeFay, and Emmit tries to act natural about his brother's demise while getting sloshed at a business dinner. And Varga's agents, well ... by the slam-bang end of this hour, it's obvious that whatever their ultimate goal is, it ain't good.

Actually, there is a little big of political commentary this week – some subtle, some not. The first of the henchman Yuri's two big scenes follows up on what the show has had to say so far about our villain's shocking contempt for the law. The goon shows up after hours at the Eden Prairie library/police station and just starts reading a book, daring Gloria's poor deputy to do something about it – and thus exposing how much our system of law and order is a pretense, one which breaks down if someone just decided not to play along.

That's the kind of thought that would keep Emmit up at night. In this episode's other big not-that-covert political moment, at dinner with Sy Feltz and Ruby Goldfarb, the Parking Lot King of Minnesota goes on a drunken rant about how the takers of this world ruin everything, because they don't trust the makers to be fair. It's a variation on a shorter grumpy speech he made earlier this season after he read the news about the death of Ennis (which in turn was a nod to multiple tongue-clucking "what is this world coming to" moments in No Country for Old Men). But his anger over the unfairness of life and his quoting of Adam Smith's "vile maxim" maybe gets him too worked up, because soon he's bragging to the widow Goldfarb that maybe he should buy her out. To make matters worse, when Winnie comes by to tell him Ray's dead, he's way too quick to blame Nikki and claim an alibi.

The irony is that Emmit really doesn't need to try so hard, vis-a-vis his accidental fratricide. As Sheriff Moe Dammik makes plain when he minimally interrogates the perp, he's the kind of lawman who believes in simple explanations. ("Mash a potato, what do you get? Mashed potatoes," he says, summing up a life philosophy in one fell swoop.) He has zero interest in following an Emmit-to-Ray-to-Maurice-to-Ennis chain. Even after an anonymous uniformed cop – played by DJ Qualls – tries to kill Nikki in her cell with a syringe, he's not convinced it means anything. When the security footage of the cell comes up fuzzy during the time of the attack, he shrugs it off as a "glitch."

A big part of what makes this episode so stressful is that the good guys seem outflanked at all times by the wicked and – even more dangerous – the indifferent. There's a fleeting moment early on where Gloria and Winnie are in the St. Cloud police chief's office, and he doesn't know which one is his employee. It all brings to mind something Varga said last week about the IRS: They're more interested in closing easy cases than in untangling real malfeasance. There seems to be a lot of that same kind of slacking going around in law enforcement.

And yet, like the bad guy and his goons, Gloria has a habit of ignoring what the people in charge have to say. She's the one who sends Winnie to the business dinner (telling her to pay attention to the suspect's reaction); and she spends much of this hour skulking around the SCPD building, trying to get the paperwork she needs to talk to Nikki. After she stops the mystery cop from injecting the prisoner with poison, she finally gets to to meet her woman. She's repaid with a useful tip ("follow the money"); she promises to repay the favor after with pie (coconut creme, with chocolate flakes) after the holidays.

Whether she'll get the chance to do that seems kinda doubtful by the end of "The Law of Inevitability," thanks to the explosive closing minutes. Yuri (wearing a wolf head for a hat) jumps out in front of Nikki's prison transport, causing it to wreck, The Fugitive-style. Right before the credits, we see him cutting through the metal door to the prisoner-hold, where Nikki, eyes closed, is either dead, unconscious or playing possum.

Rarely has this grifter seemed as sympathetic as she does here, in danger of being devoured by a wolf not long after she shared the name of her favorite pie with someone she has no reason to trust. She's a little like Sy, who ends this episode sobbing over his wife's butterscotch pudding, telling her that, "The world is wrong." When even Stussy Lots' resident "fixer" thinks everything's irreparable, these are dark days indeed.

Previously: The Bloody Truth