'Fargo' Recap: Sex, Lies and Videotape

Sex tapes, stifled investigations and the threat of an all-out Stussy War – are we in for a Minnesota Nice bloodbath?

'Fargo' takes the whole "sex, lies and videotape" concept literally this week – our recap of a violent crime-doesn't-pay episode. Credit: Chris Large/FX

How pathetic is Ray Stussy? He finally proposes to the love of his life, after robbing a bank, burgling a house and being responsible for at least two murders in the course of getting enough money to buy an engagement ring. And then he pops the question at the worst possible time. As his girlfriend Nikki Swango comes out of the bathroom "wearing a hooker wig" – minutes before they fake a sex tape to blackmail his brother Emmit – Ray drops to his knees with a jewelry box in his hand. She wonders if he's maybe being over-emotional because he just lost his job at the parole board, "on account of banging your clients." He corrects her, saying he got fired "because I fell in love."

"You're sweet," Swango says. But as she takes the ring, her expression says, "What a sap."

Ray's ridiculously romantic explanation for why he got canned comes early in this week's Fargo episode – "The House of Special Purpose" – setting up a longer-than-usual chapter where character after character tries to sum up the ongoing storyline in ways that make them the real hero. If this episode has a motto, it comes via V.M. Varga. During a visit to Stussy Lots – where he gives Sy Feltz a lecture while rubbing his johnson inside the man's coffee mug – the crooked-toothed crook explains that, "A chicken is an egg's way of making another egg." In other words: Everything – everything – is a matter of perspective.

The trouble starts when the sibling rivalry between the Stussy brothers takes an ugly turn, thanks to Ray imitating his brother in a homemade porno (with a shirt to hide his potbelly … or "difference," in Nikki's euphemistic phrasing). Stella Stussy sees the tape almost as soon as it's delivered at her doorstep, and immediately takes her kids and leaves, seemingly derailing Ray's scheme before it even begins. His fiancé doubles down, saying that even if the Parking Lot King of Minnesota didn't actually cheat on his wife, "that doesn't make it any less of a fact." She tells Sy that instead of $100,000, they now want $200,000 – to persuade Stella of the "other truth."

Yes, you read all that right. The core conflict in this Fargo season isn't just being fought with fists. It's a war of "fake news."

Sy counters with an offer of $40k ("and you leave the state"), but before they can reach any kind of agreement, Varga's henchmen roll into the meeting uninvited. Their deeply anti-Semitic boss has been warily watching our Mr. Feltz, suspecting him of collusion with the enemy. (His argument: The name of the business is "Stussy Lots," which means Sy might think Emmit's expendable. Also, the man is a Jew.) The goons take a little air out of Nikki, beating her senseless. And there's nothing phony about that.

This episode introduces two new characters, who might play a big role in the second half of the season. Mary McDonnell is Ruby Goldfarb, a wealthy widow whose late husband made a fortune in cemeteries and self-storage. She now wants to expand into parking, believing all three business are essentially the same. And Hamish Linklater (fresh from his turn as one of the villains in Noah Hawley's other FX show, Legion) plays Larue Dollard, an IRS agent who needs to "kick the tires" of the books after Ray's sneaky/moronic $10,000 withdrawal from his sibling's account.

If Emmit were thinking clearly, he could see that either of these interlopers might be able to bail him out of his current mess. He could let Goldfarb buy his broken company; he could confess everything to Dollard. Varga himself seems nervous about the arrival of the IRS man, asking, "Does he have kids? They can be used." (In the meantime, he tells Emmit to show the financial Fed the fake accounting ledgers he's already cooked up … because there's always another version of reality.)

Ultimately, both Stussy brothers are too obsessed with each other to see what's coming. Ray has Nikki in his ear all the time, whispering that the only reason Emmit is the rich brother is because of "larceny"; asking for a couple hundred grand is just a compromise, and not even what they're owed. Maybe that's why he's so overconfident when he gets called into an interrogation with Gloria Burgle and Winnie Lopez. Ewan McGregor has some of his funniest moments of the season so far, earnestly fumbling his way through a series of excuses and lies that makes his self-made-man sibling sound like the bad brother while he's the good one. "I've seen a lot of snakes in my day and that man is a scorpion," he says. (Also: "Think of Jesus … his actions.")

The inconvenient truth for Ray though is that Burgle and Lopez have pieced together most of the Maurice LeFay murder plot, and the only thing holding them back now is "new chief" Moe Dammik, who wants Gloria to drop the whole investigation. "None of it can be proved," he growls, before telling a story (mostly true, according to Snopes) about a girl named Laura Buxton who once put a message in a balloon that traveled 140 miles and found its way to another girl named ... Laura Buxton. To Dammik, that doesn't mean anything. It's just "coincidence … random life."

Gloria, being Gloria, shrugs off her boss. Let the crooks and the cowards play the game of fakery and innuendo. To ex-Chief Burgle, what matters about her case is that "it's factual." And if you can't stand behind that, then what has this world come to?

Previously: The Wolf at the Door