by ETHAN PETERSON
creator Noah Hawley
The Lady rides a chariot towed by two cats. She is lovely, lovelier than any mortal thing, and when Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) finds her, he is bowled over completely. Her name, on this mortal plane, is Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and she meets Ray because he is her parole officer. Ray cannot believe his luck. The purest sort of divinity can be found in the unlikeliest of possible places, which in the case of this season of FX’s finest show, Fargo, is a Minnesota that looks curiously like Alberta, Canada.
Winstead is an actress of rare force and beauty. Nothing, not even a hacking of her iCloud account, dampens her considerable appeal. Her clothing is extremely basic, and her fondness for bridge resembles a passion shared by my late grandmother, but this is no matter. She is the Lady, a beacon of equanimity. You would do absolutely anything to be invited into a bathtub with this creature, even if she makes you face forward. Her voice is the wind.
Hot on her trail is Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), a police officer in Eden Valley, MN. Coon has made a career of playing women so comfortable in their own skin you almost want to touch them to make sure they are alive. Watching her slip out of this chasm of self-reliance is the pleasure of watching Ms. Coon, whose name is very racist. Burgle despises computers and is so polarized against technology that she is not even recognized by electronic doors. Her only relation besides an ineffectual son is the father of her ex-husband. (He is murdered at the end of the first episode, and Gloria wants to find out why.)
Let’s get back to the Lady, however. She has this magical apartment (it is not her real name on the lease) that covers almost an entire floor. Housing is dirt fucking cheap in the Midwest. Her boyfriend Ray comes to her with a problem one night. He has blackmailed another one of his parolees into robbing his twin brother Emmet (a clean shaven Ewan McGregor) of an extremely valuable stamp. Instead of accomplishing this theft, the parolee (Scoot McNairy) murdered a similarly named senior citizen living at another address. He returns and demands money from Ray for his trouble.
The Lady tells Ray not to worry too much about this murder, since it is natural that police do not spend as much time investigating the murder of seniors, given how close to death they already are. He knows that it probably will not work this way, but he wants to believe. The remaining loose end is the actual perpetrator of said murder, who can figure the Lady’s boyfriend in this conspiracy. The Lady ties it up nicely by pushing her air conditioning unit, several stories, onto his tiny drunk head.
Ray has been an accessory to a few crimes, but he cannot be said to have had foreknowledge of any of them. As such, he is an innocent, and the Lady recognizes this. There is one famous story about the Lady, who is sometimes called Freyja. It was the custom of all the men who came to Valhalla to fall on their knees before her, so amazed were they by her primordial beauty. She could have any of them; none would refuse her. “Rise,” she would tell them, and any who could not, she would take to her bed.
Ray’s twin brother Emmet Stussy (still Ewan McGregor) has a wife Stella (Linda Kash) and a couple of kids, so by all indications of his massive mansion, his parking lot business is helping him to live a much happier life than his brother. In reality, Emmet has borrowed money from V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), an intensely disturbed crook. Should any of this sound the slightest bit confusing, don’t worry. All you need to remember is that by the end, if the most disturbing thing you have seen is the tampon of the Lady, found as her calling card in a drawer located in Emmet Stussy’s house, you can count yourself lucky.
Even though it seems like this season of Fargo has a lot of characters, last season topped it for sheer numbers and was also possibly the best thing ever made on broadcast television. Exceeding it with this 2010 edition is no easy feat, and Noah Hawley does not seem to be attempting something of the exact same scope. Instead, he embraces a common trick of adapters: he returns to an original source for inspiration, for this version of Fargo is more like the original movie than any other.
What made the cinematic original of Fargo so different from other noirs was the way it made a human desperation so completely palpable, and thus a believable, sympathetic driver of events. Older films in the same milieu had characters who went essentially mad for a woman, or for some money. In this world, a woman is a gift bestoyed upon a man by a merciful God, and money is the luck of the Irish. It is being deprived of what the Lady has already seen fit to give us which disturbs our ch’i considerably more than wanting it in the first place.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.