‘Fargo’ Season 3 premiere recap: Postage stamps and murder in ‘The Law of Vacant Places’

The third season premiere of Noah Hawley‘s “Fargo” continued the series’ tradition of unique characters, haunting imagery, graphic violence and that quirky vernacular that has made it one of the most original shows on television. “The Law of Vacant Places,” written and directed by Hawley, introduces Ray and Emmit Stussy (both played by Ewan McGregor), brothers whose individual fortunes — and misfortunes — will lead both down a path that includes postage stamps, competitive bridge and violent murder. Here are the Top 5 moments from “Fargo” Season 3, Episode 1.

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An interrogation — The season opens on a peculiar note. We are in East Berlin in 1988. A man is being interrogated by a member of what appears to be the state police. The man is called Yuri, and he is accused of murdering his girlfriend. The man gives his real name and the name of his wife, who is very much alive; she even offered tea to the police when he was arrested an hour prior. But the interrogator is unmoved, saying that either the man is wrong or the state is wrong. The interrogator calls the man’s words a “story,” but reminds him that he is not interested in stories, but only the truth. How, or if, this is connected to the events of the series is almost inconsequential. The opening establishes a dark, imposing tone that will continue in various forms throughout the episode. The camera then pans to the wall, and we see those familiar words: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY.” First the word “true” fades away, followed by each word, leaving only the word “story” on the screen.

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A brotherly stand-off — We are introduced very quickly to our central characters, the Stussy brothers. Emmit is a successful businessman, known as the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota.” He is celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, and is confronted by his brother Ray, a balding, overweight parole officer. Ray is there to ask for a loan so he can buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), one of Ray’s parolees. The conversation starts off cordially enough despite the presence of Emmit’s attorney and right-hand man Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg), but soon devolves into an argument over a trade some years prior involving valuable postage stamps and a corvette. Ray feels cheated, but Emmit, who seems to have built his business off of the value of the postage stamps, points out the numerous instances of coming to Ray’s aid in the past.

Worst. Hitman, Ever. — Determined to take control of his life, Ray hires a stoner parolee named Maurice (Scoot McNairy) to break into Emmit’s house a steal the stamp, giving him the name and address on a slip of paper. However, en route to the robbery — and while smoking a joint and chatting with his shrink — the address flies out the window, forcing Maurice to rely on his less-than-stellar memory. Maurice eventually finds his way to the home of Ennis Stussy, the step-father of town police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), who has just left Stussy’s house with her son. When her son forgets a birthday present from his grandfather, Gloria returns to Ennis’s house, only the find the house ransacked and Ennis dead.

‘Fargo’ Season 3 reviews: ‘Noah Hawley’s series elicits empathy for almost everyone within it’

Who is Mr. Varga? — Late at night, Sy summons Emmit to the office, where he meets a man who introduces himself as Mr. V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), whose firm had loaned Emmit’s business one million dollars. Emmit assumes that Varga is there to collect the repayment of the loan, but Varga appears to have an altogether different purpose, referring to his firm as “investors.” Emmit and Sy are confused, saying that they have a contract. But Varga dismisses the contract as just a piece of paper, and that Emmit is talking about “ending something that has only just begun.” Varga then outlines a series of instructions on how Emmit’s businesses will now be used for Varga’s operations, before adding a chilling warning that Emmit is not to discuss this with anyone. Thewlis’s performance is chilling in its simplicity. Varga is soft-spoken with an ill-fitting suit and bad teeth, the polar opposite of the verbose and perfectly dressed enforcer Mike Milligan (Emmy-nominee Bokeem Woodbine) from Season 2. But Thewlis is in many ways more terrifying with his laser beam eyes that seem to cut right through Emmit and Sy.

It’s raining air conditioners — Maurice barges in on Ray and Nikki in the bath, handing them a book of standard postage stamps stolen from Ennis. Both Ray and Nikki realize how badly Ray’s plan has gone, and struggle to contain the situation. But Maurice becomes belligerent, pointing a gun at them and demanding $5,000 as a payment for his silence. As Maurice leaves, Ray begins to panic, but Nikki is strangely calm and begins to count as she works on dislodging the air conditioning unit from the wall. Maurice emerges from the building right as Ray kicks the unit out of the wall and onto the street, crushing Maurice to death. Nikki then calls 911, while calmly directing Ray to burn the stamps, the only evidence linking them to the previous murder. The scene is classic “Fargo,” both bloody and strangely comic, and Winstead demonstrates that there is far more to Nikki than just eye-liner and competitive bridge.

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