The third season of “Fargo” is preparing for its climax with a heady, and often confusing, eighth episode.
The episode, titled “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” sets up a mystery that is sure to be answered in the coming episodes, but in doing so becomes a frustratingly vague, philosophical mess.
The episode begins with Yuri, Meemo and the new henchmen constructing their bus-flipping apparatus on the road. We get a brief replay of the end of the last episode from the perspective of the henchmen, each adorned in animal masks.
Nikki once again narrowly escapes death as she and her new chain mate, the deaf Mr. Wrench from Season 1, take the opportunity to escape together.
A passing couple, minding their own business and listening to Christmas tunes, see the henchmen and the wreckage. Meemo follows their vehicle, likely making short work of the poor duo. The other two take off after Nikki.
Nikki and Mr. Wrench struggle to communicate as the persistent henchmen chase them; they’re only able to do so by writing in the snow.
Yuri, watching from a hillside, almost gets his head taken off by a crossbow, mostly due to the wolf on his head. Either way, it results in free crossbows for the henchmen and an even more volatile situation for Nikki, whom I am starting to seriously root for.
Nikki mourns her departed fiance as she traverses through the tundra. She slowly realizes she might be to blame for Ray’s death, as she was the one who pushed him to get the money.
Nikki and Mr. Wrench happen upon an ominous hanging dummy and an ax. Before they are able to cleave through the chains, Mr. Wrench is drilled by an arrow. They are stuck in a clearing, protected only by a tree stump, without a clue as to where the henchmen are or how many of them are there. It is an anxiety-inducing scene, as the henchmen seem to be toying with their prey.
The hero criminals get the jump on the new henchmen, tripping him with their chain and stabbing him with a loose arrow. Then they choke him up against the tree stump, and their body weight is enough to bring the chain all the way through his neck. Gruesome.
Mr. Wrench removes an arrow from Nikki’s leg and rips the chain he began to cut apart with his bare hands. Right as the viewer might wonder where the crossbow-clad Yuri is you learn that his ear was cut off by Mr. Wrench’s blind ax throw. Mr. Wrench may be silent, but his reintroduction to the show is certainly loud.
The first 20 minutes of the episode have very little dialogue, but make for some of the most gripping television the show has to offer. The cat-and-mouse chase is captivating and gritty.
The pace is slowed when the lucky dogs come across a bowling alley. Nikki gets herself a drink and e is joined by Ray Wise’s character. We’ve met this character before as Gloria’s sage plane seat partner on her way to California.
Any Coen brothers’ fan will recognize the homage here to the final scene between the Dude and the Stranger from the “The Big Lebowski.”
This particular stranger tells Nikki that life is hard, essentially, before whipping out the most adorable little kitty in the world.
“Ray is the cat,” the stranger says.
While it turns out that that’s just the cat’s name, there is an omniscient feel to this particular character as he pops up to offer our heroes sound advice in their time of need. This would not be too unusual for a show that has frequently ventured into the supernatural.
Nikki searches for Ray’s soul inside of the kitty.
“Unfortunately, some souls can’t find a body to enter, and they become lost,” the stranger says.
The stranger launches into a history lesson about a mass grave of massacred Ukrainian Jews that was redesigned as a “garden” by a visiting rabbi. The rabbi chose to be buried in the mass grave to comfort the souls of the massacred.
Then things get really twisted. The stranger tells Nikki that she and Mr. Wrench are at a place where everyone goes to get judged. The stranger believes that the two are on a righteous path.
The stranger asks Nikki who will rise against evil before offering her a ride. Nikki, dumbfounded, accepts the car but in return is tasked with delivering a message to the wicked.
“Though thou exalt thyself like the eagle, though thou make thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down.”
Early bets put the odds on this Hebrew-speaking stranger being God or one of his angels, but it is not explicitly obvious. And if this is God, is Varga the devil? It could be so.
Nikki has to leave the cat and says goodbye to Ray, asking the stranger to put it in front of the television with some beer when the Gophers play.
Then Yuri, earless, strolls up to the bowling alley, drenched in blood. The stranger appears to Yuri, who we learn is a descendant of the genocidal murderers from the stranger’s previous story. The rabbi and those murdered allegedly have a message for Yuri, and he turns to face hundreds of Jewish people.
Back to solid ground, we are taken to Officer Burgle opening presents with her son, her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s gay lover.
She is called away from the awkwardness to the horrific scene of the wreck. We learn the fate of the passing couple, and it is as expected.
Meanwhile, Sy is fetching Emmit for a meeting. A dancing Meemo and Varga, munching on a chicken wing, greet him. Varga gives Sy $5 million as a year-end bonus and all but forces tea down his throat. Once the tea has been swallowed, Varga kicks Sy out, but not before telling him that Emmit is fast asleep.
“A little bit of the old snore and drool. He took a pill I think, maybe two, or three,” Varga says.
Sy sees a distraught Emmit through the window as he leaves.
We cut to Sy struggling in an elevator. It is not too far-fetched to assume he was poisoned as he starts throwing up once he reaches the reception desk of his building.
“Well that’s not right,” Sy says before falling backwards.
A few months later Sy is in a coma with a gnarly beard. Emmit is visiting him and upon leaving, he is jumped by Winnie and Gloria. The officers, clearly on to Emmit, fire a barrage of questions at him. Emmit, not saying anything, walks to his car but finds his dead brother Ray’s car has replaced it. He then goes to his office to find that all of his pictures and posters are now copies of the infamous stamp that started it all. Apparently someone came in and redecorated.
Emmit gets in contact with Varga, claiming that his brother is still alive and he and Nikki are plotting something. Emmit also reveals that Yuri never came back from his trip to the bowling alley. Apparently Yuri was not judged favorably.
Varga assumes Nikki fled to Canada and says that Emmit won life. Varga sends Meemo over with papers to sign.
Meemo continues to dance and Ray’s visage continues to haunt Emmit, who now has a mustache that he can apparently peel off. Emmit never signed the papers. He is in a great amount of pain. Varga gives Emmit pills to deal with his demons.
Varga tells the story of a Japanese lieutenant refusing to believe the Japanese lost the war. He calls the lieutenant the “last man to die for an ideal.”
As Emmit falls asleep Varga is rambling about the importance of what he is doing. Ray then wakes up in his bed with pills in his hand.
We end the episode with Gloria Burgle signing her divorce papers, no longer married and no longer a chief. As Gloria files the papers in the outgoing mailbox, Emmit’s voice rings out.
“My name is Emmit Stussy and I want to confess.”
The exciting and visceral opening chase sequence serves as the only highlight of this episode. After the chase, we are fed a series of setups for the final two episodes of the season.
Is Emmit actually going to confess? Is Burgle going to beat Varga? Who is messing with Emmit’s life (probably Nikki)? Is there a God (in the show)? What is the deal with the bowling alley? What does it all mean?
This episode was a steeper venture into the supernatural than the show has taken before and, while it is heavy on oddities, it is light on answers. While I am excited to learn the answers to these questions, I found watching this episode to be an exercise in frustration.