Both FX President John Landgraf and Fargo show-runner Noah Hawley have recently suggested that this could very well be the anthology show’s last season. At the ATX Television Festival in Austin last week, Hawley said that it takes time to come up with plots that have a larger meaning beyond just being darn good crime stories – and at the moment, he’s feeling tapped-out. And in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Landgraf indicated that the year’s cycle of episodes is going to end in such a way that it’ll feel almost like a summary of the world we live in today … after which there may not be much else to say. So if you’ve been enjoying these twisty tales of good and evil in frosty Minnesota, brace yourself: There may only be one hour left.
That’s especially hard to contemplate in the wake of this week’s episode – “Aporia” (a word meaning “an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory,” for those of you playing at home) – which is a hugely satisfying episode. Not only do two of this season’s biggest badasses square off against each other in a stare-down contest more deliciously snippy than any fan could’ve hoped – but a character who’s been sidelined and marginalized way too much this season sits at the center of what may be the single most moving scene of the entire series.
Let’s start with the badasses, and specifically with Nikki Swango, who after recuperating and scheming in the shadows re-emerges with Mr. Wrench by her side, ready to do some damage to the Varga organization. In a thrilling sequence beautifully staged and executed by director Keith Gordon (who orchestrates a stunning “How’d they do that?” crane shot that moves into and out of a semi trailer), the duo jack V.M. Varga‘s super-truck from his henchman Meemo, using only a paperweight shaped like a hand grenade and a well-timed spray of machine-gun fire. Upon hearing the news about the heist, all that our smug, tooth-picking, Russia-loving crime boss can do is wince.
His expression’s even more pained once Nikki sets up a meeting at the same hotel where she and Ray rocked the semi-professional Wildcat Regional Bridge Tournament. Varga pulls every dirty trick he can to win the day. He offers her a high-paying job. He positions his No. 1 thug in a sniper position above the glass ceiling where the meet-up’s happening. He has dozens of people in the lobby dressed like him, so that bystanders will have trouble identifying him if he orders an assassination. He offers his host some tea made from “my mother’s recipe,” the same one that has rendered Sy Feltz comatose. Nothing, however, shakes this avenging angel’s resolve to squeeze as much money and personal damage as she can out of the information she stole from the truck. And naturally, she has a few aces up her sleeve as well.
It helps that as a Bridge master, Nikki understand the importance of counting trumps. Once Varga’s played all his winning cards, she rallies. She has her partner get the drop on Meemo; she refuses to return the criminal syndicate’s financial info because she’s 60% sure the briefcase she’s getting contains “dirty underwear.” (Presumably, Nikki’s seen The Big Lebowski. If she hasn’t, we certainly know from this season that Hawley has.) Besides, if the Swango/Wrench axis doesn’t bring the bad guys down, the forgotten man Larue Dollard now has stacks and stacks of legit Stussy Lots ledgers to use in tax-court.
Not that V.M.’s just going to roll over. A genius at manipulating narratives, he’s already gotten Emmit off the hook for slashing Ray’s throat – and the late parole officer/twin posthumously off the hook for crushing Maurice LeFay. How, exactly? He’s arranged to have two other poor schmucks named Stussy dispatched in such a way that even the lazy, skeptical Sheriff Moe Dammick will read the deaths as the work of a deranged serial killer on a spree. The crime lord finds a willing patsy, who confesses to all four murders and claims that he became mentally warped after being diddled as a little boy by a man named – wait for it – Stussy. Check, and mate.
But Varga also knows there are limits to how much evil he can do, because while the world in undeniably rotten to the core, there’s just enough good in it to remind people what they’re missing … and to make them want it back. Enter the ever-virtuous Gloria Burgle, who has the kind of emotional arc in this episode that should shut up anyone who says that Fargo is too affected, too smirky, and (no pun intended) too cold.
Gloria spends most of the hour getting either disrespected or ignored. The widow Goldfarb flatly lies to her about when her potential business partner arrived to their dinner. Emmit confesses everything about Ray’s death, in a touching scene in which he admits he knows how wicked it was to manipulate his dumb, easily distracted brother his whole life. But Sheriff Moe cuts the prisoner loose because he has his own splashier fake murderer to jail – even as Gloria pleads to him, “Hold on, I got different facts.”
At her lowest, our dogged heroine seems to internalize the belief that “a lie is not a lie if you believe it’s true,” letting that shadow her own sad story about how she got married young to a man who turned out to be gay. (“You think the world is something – then it turns out to be something else,” she grumbles. Talk about burying the lede nine episodes in, Fargo!) Later, having drinks with Winnie Lopez, our melancholy Deputy Burgle mentions how she can’t even get electronic sensors to register her. She compares herself to the robot in her stepdad Thaddeus Mobley’s novel, who keeps chirping “I can help!” but never actually accomplishes anything.
And then something miraculous happens. Winnie hugs her friend, to remind her that, yes, she’s an actual physical presence in the world. Gloria goes to the ladies room, where both the automatic soap dispenser and faucet are triggered by her hands. These are such simple things. But they’re reassuringly hopeful.
Next week we’ll find out if Hawley and Landgraf are right, and if Fargo has reached the point where it’s said all it can for a while. If so – and if “Aporia” is any indication – the show may yet end on a positive note. Yes, society’s broken. This season has made that abundantly clear, with all its kleptocrats, lawless goons and insidious fake news. But this show’s also proving that, with a little compassion and persistence, nothing’s ever beyond repair.
Previously: Strikes and Spares