After two creative episodes rife with metaphors and alternative storytelling techniques, "Fargo's" latest episode is a more grounded return to form.
"The House of Special Purpose" serves to advance the plot in a very straightforward way without the inclusion of animated segments or familiar voiceovers.
The episode begins with a "Fargo" classic: a snowy road. Emmit Stussy's wife receives a letter for Emmit's eyes only. She gives into the temptation and finds a tape of Ray, disguised as Emmit, having sex with Nikki.
We are then taken to the shooting of the tape, where Ray tells Nikki how much he loves her. Nikki responds by telling Ray that he is sweet. But Ray is not swayed by the response and chooses that moment to propose to Nikki. She agrees, and the two continue to make the sex tape.
Emmit's wife promptly leaves with the family, and Emmit is rightfully fuming with anger.
Back at the Stussy offices, Sy Feltz is fuming himself when he sees V.M. Varga in his office. Varga takes the opportunity to intimidate Sy and comment on his wife's physique.
"A fat woman is inherently untrustworthy as she is a sensualist, she sees no real difference between a pastrami sandwich and a dick in the mouth," V.M. Varga says.
Varga continues to make offensive comments about Jewish women and puts his member in Sy's mug. Sy is shaken, but he becomes even more so when he is forced to drink from the mug.
Varga is upset that Sy spoke to the police. Varga then reveals that he has been made partner and that Sy has only one responsibility: to sign the papers.
A rattled Sy goes to a business meeting with a potential buyer of the company.
"To be honest I feel as if I have left the known world. You ever have that feeling? Like stepped off the map into the, well, unknown, I guess," Sy says to the wealthy widow.
The widow, Mrs. Goldfarb, makes it clear she wants to buy out Stussy Inc. entirely or she will go into business as a competitor. Sy says that Emmit is in a place of charity at the moment and wants to travel abroad, so their will is "softened."
After receiving a text from Emmit, Sy rushes over to speak with his partner, who he thinks was threatened into making Varga a partner. It turns out Varga's goons are tailing the panicked Sy.
Emmit is crying into a towel about his family leaving and is seething about his brother. Sy is concerned with Emmit making Varga a partner. The two are having completely different conversations in the same room.
"Enough about your stupid brother, we're in trouble here," Sy says in a rather explosive manner to Emmit, "Enemies are at the gates, inside the gates, fornicating with our cookware."
Emmit returns in a calmer explosion. He explains how Sy is a fixer who cannot fix anything. He blames Sy for bringing Varga to them in the first place. And Emmit defends his character to Sy. This changes Sy's tune and he explains that Emmit is a role model. Emmit returns by unshackling Sy, who is now allowed to fix the situation through whatever means necessary.
Meanwhile, Officer Burgle and her new friend Officer Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) have cracked the case of Maurice LeFay in theory. The two now only need to prove that the theory is factual. Burgle acknowledges that the new chief is going to be upset with their hypothesis.
"You don't have to like the truth in order for it to be true," Burgle says.
Ray and Nikki, meanwhile, are buying wedding clothes. Ray feels bad for asking for so much money from Emmit, but Nikki convinces him that $100,000 is letting Emmit off easy. Sy calls Nikki and outlines how stupid she is for leaving the tape on the porch. The wife left and there is no more reason for anyone to pay the money. Nikki shifts the agreement to $200,000 to tell the wife the truth behind the tape.
Nikki and Sy arrange a meeting. The two vindictive puppet masters finally are going to go face-to-face.
On his way home, Ray receives a call from Emmit, who explains that his wife left him. Ray clearly is distraught by the news. Either way, he sticks to his convictions.
"When I'm done with you they'll be sponging you off the floor," Emmit says.
The two are not on good terms.
Burgle and Lopez intercept Ray as he is about to go home and bring him to the station to answer questions. Ray plays the fool as the two officers throw questions at him, but the questions make Ray suspicious of Sy.
"I've seen a lot of snakes in my day, and that man is a scorpion, so I would take whatever he has to say with a huge sack of salt," Ray says.
Ray asserts that Sy is jealous of Ray and Emmit's relationship. And Ray once again plays the fool when he is asked about Maurice LeFay.
Burgle's boss, Moe Dammick, is upset that she is continuing to investigate the case. Burgle stands her ground and Dammick says they will not be able to prove their theory.
Emmit nearly literally runs into Varga in a parking lot. Varga asks Emmit about his wife. Everything Varga does oozes with slime, especially when he says that he's not sure they can trust the "Jew." Varga accuses Sy of colluding with Ray, and assumes Sy is making a power play with the other Stussy.
At work, Emmit receives a visit from an IRS agent, who's looking into the $10,000 withdrawal Ray did under the guise of Emmit. The IRS agent needs to station himself in an office and investigate the company's financial dealings. Varga wants to use the agent's wife and kids against him, but settles on showing the agent fake books. Way over his head, Emmit is helpless to Varga and Sy at this moment.
We are finally taken to the clash between Nikki and Sy that I've been waiting for. Sy starts with an offer of $40,000 and a suggestion to leave the state. Nikki counters with a $200,000 demand and the stamp thrown in. The negotiation is, unfortunately, cut short by Varga's goons.
After some particularly disgusting remarks toward Nikki, the Russian goon talks about Siberia's bloody dirt. This Russian goon has had a decent role in the show so far, but I don't take him too seriously — I'll chalk it up to bad casting or bad acting. Either way this middle-aged tough guy rants about how many people have died in Russia. Nikki chooses to leave, but the Asian goon violently prevents that from happening.
Nikki is beaten while Sy is forced to watch. In a strange decision, Sy's reaction to the beating is shown and we only hear the blood-curdling hits and resulting screams. It seems like Sy's reaction is more important than Nikki's as she is savagely attacked and traumatized, which is not true and is a poor way to depict a horrific incident.
The goons leave and Sy scurries off in shock. Nikki picks herself up relatively easily, considering how savage the beating sounded. Her face wasn't beaten at all, but she struggles to reach her car door. She gets in her car while Ray gets home from the station.
A dead fish sets the final scene, where Ray comes home to find Nikki, pale as a ghost, in the bathtub. Ray lifts up Nikki's shirt to reveal the horrific bruises left by the beating.
The final image is of what I perceived as a werewolf head. Is V.M. Varga finally revealed to be Professor Lupin? Probably not, but a man can dream.
The overarching plot leaps forward in this episode. Unfortunately, because the show has taken such bold chances in storytelling techniques, this plot-heavy episode feels like a step backward.
Nevertheless, it was a great show for Sy, who is trying to manage a situation spinning wildly out of control from two ends. Additionally, we get the just the third direct interaction between the two Stussies — and that was electric and explosive. Mostly, this episode mainly just sets up the next.
I am saddened by the way they handled Nikki's beating by showing Sy's reaction to it, but I think it will ground the two conniving characters. Maybe it will create a bond against V.M. Varga, who desperately needs to be taught a lesson. As per usual, my hatred for Varga grows with each episode.
I am still excited to see the next episode, but I hope they continue to take storytelling risks.