FARGO Review: “The Law of Vacant Places”

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I loved the second season of last year. In fact, it may have been my favorite thing on TV in all of 2016. So it’s going to be a tall order for Season 3, with a complete new cast and story in this anthology series, to step out from the shadow of Fargo Season 2. Off the bat, after its premiere episode titled “The Law of Vacant Places” I am excited but also I have my concerns.

Like last season, we open on a set of characters far from Fargo and in a time long before the events of the season begin. We’re in Berlin in 1988 and a German officer is interrogating a seemingly innocent man who he believes murdered his own girlfriend. The man is actually married and in fact lives at the former address of the man the officer is looking for, but the officer seems set on convicting this man, leaving him to a dismal fate (we hear screams of agony coming from other rooms in whatever building they are in).

Then we cut to Minnesota in 2010. Here we meet Emmit Stussy, played by Ewan McGregor, and his twin brother Ray Stussy, played by Ewan McGregor. Emmit is the better looking, more successful of the two, celebrating his anniversary with a large party in an impressive home. Emmit is the “parking lot king” of Minnesota and has done pretty well for himself compared to brother Ray, a balding, schlubby parole officer. The two brothers aren’t exactly chummy, seeing as how Ray has to get Emmit’s lawyer, Sy Feltz, to arrange a five minute meeting with him at the party. Stepping into Emmit’s office, we learn that Ray is looking to propose to his girlfriend Nikki Swango (who also happens to be his parolee) and he wants to borrow money from his wealthier twin to get his gal a proper ring.

But the way Ray sees it, he isn’t borrowing it. He is owed. When their father passed away when they were kids and bequeathed his belongings to his sons, Ray got a book of stamps and Emmit got a Corvette. Turns out the stamps were vintage and Emmit ended up selling them, presumably to help build his now burgeoning empire. Meanwhile Ray still drives that same old Corvette that has definitely seen better days. Ray feels owed. So when Emmit denies him, he has to take alternative routes.

Enter Ray’s other parolee who he’s not dating (thankfully), Maurice LeFay. Ray tracks him down in a bar in the middle of the day where he’s drank and smoked himself out of consciousness. The guy doesn’t seem too reliable, but his recent urine analysis came back positive for some kind of drug that could send him back to jail, so Ray uses the leverage to compel Maurice to go to his brother’s home and get back his precious stamp. He writes down the town and address on a piece of paper and hands it to Maurice, telling him to go that night.

Maurice goes, and while talking to his therapist on speakerphone while driving, the paper ends up flying out of his rolled down window at night. He stops the car and tries to hunt down the small white paper in the Minnesota snow to no avail. Not good. He says he remembers the address and name, so he trudges on. But we know where this is leading.

Chief Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon, is a single mother of a young boy and daughter to an alcoholic father. She’s dealing with her department being absorbed by a larger department, and thus her loss of ranking as chief. Her family gets together one night to celebrate the boy’s birthday, and grandfather gives the boy a small trinket he carved himself. When leaving, Gloria’s son forgets the trinket and makes her turn around. When they get there, Gloria finds a terrifying scene. Her father is dead, strapped to a chair in front of the freezer, and there is somebody walking around upstairs. She rushes out and has her son call the police.

Here’s what has happened. Maurice thought he remembered the town being something biblical, and when he sees a sign for Eden Valley, he turns towards it. Turns out it was Eden Prairie he needed to get to. Maurice stops at a gas station and asks for a phone book, looking up anybody with the last name Stussy. He finds the address, which happens to be that of Gloria’s father. In a way it echoes our German officer in Berlin in the opening: if you’re at this address, you’re screwed, regardless of what the truth is. Maurice heads there, gets a stamp (not THE stamp, obviously) and gets away.

Meanwhile we see that Emmit and Sy don’t exactly have things with the business under control as much as they’d appear. A couple years ago they had to borrow a million dollars to keep their heads above water. When no bank would loan them the money, they got hooked up with a “firm” who gave it to them. Now they are ready to pay it back, with interest, but when they try to contact the number they were given, it’s all digital with no human being to talk to, often getting hung up on.

That’s when they get a visit from V.M. Varga, played by David Thewlis, a man who speaks with some sort of British accent but claims to be from “America.” Varga represents the people they borrowed money from and he explains that it wasn’t a loan, but it was an investment. To that end, they don’t want the money back, but they will now be using Emmit’s business to launder dirty money through. Varga is an unsettling rat-like man who Emmit and Sy are both clearly scared of. It doesn’t seem they have much choice but to go along, but I have a feeling things are going to get very messy here very quickly.

Maurice, thinking he’s accomplished his mission, tails Ray and Nikki back to her apartment. He lets himself in and gives Ray the stamp, who quickly realizes that Maurice went to the wrong place, and killed a man. After a bit of a skirmish resulting in Maurice demanding $5,000 from his parole officer or he tips off the police as to what’s happened, Nikki quickly springs into action. Timing Maurice’s walk down the stairs of her apartment building, she unfixes the window AC unit and pushes it out directly onto the man’s head. Bye bye, Maurice. She calls 9-1-1 and tells Emmit to get out of there.

Overall, the episode had some great set-up for the season, some classic Fargo gags, and some very weird music choices. I can’t say I’m as excited for this season as I was after watching the Season 2 premiere, but that is not to say it isn’t good. It’s still fantastic television, and given the time it could turn out to be as good, if not better, than its previous season.


Season 3, Episode 1 (S03E01)
Fargo airs Wednesday at 10PM on FX

Read all of our reviews of Fargo here. 
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Paul didn’t write this review. It is a fateful case of mistaken identity.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulgulyas
Keep up with all of Paul’s reviews here.

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Still quiet here.sas

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