“The most purely enjoyable episode since Season 1”

On this third season of Fargo, Noah Hawley is doing a phenomenal job of stealing ideas from other filmmakers but nonetheless managing to create something interesting and memorable with them. The Narrow Escape Problem opens with voiceover from Billy Bob Thornton, narrating the Benjamin Britten recording of “Peter And The Wolf”, as we catch up with our ensemble of characters beginning their days. It’s ripped straight from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which begins with “Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra”, but it establishes a tone of theatricality for the proceeding 50 minutes that proves highly involving, and allows for — though not as cinematically-impressive as last week’s episode — the most purely enjoyable hour of Fargo since Season 1.

Michael Stuhlbarg playing with a miniature train is always a positive sign, and The Narrow Escape Problem gives the series’ MVP some significantly funnier material than he had in Episodes 1 and 2. His aggressive pointing at Ray (Ewan McGregor) from across the parking lot, and attempts to evade a policewoman’s questioning, utilise brilliantly his unique comedic nastiness. The setting-up of David Thewlis’ Varga as “The Wolf” of this scenario, in contrast to Gloria (Carrie Coon) as “Peter” works terrifically in its simplicity, but equally well when Varga’s henchman tie-in the Tale of Vladimir Putin.

Like last week, which focused entirely on Gloria, Leftovers-style, this was very much a concept episode; choosing a framework and running with it. Fargo works best when it follows this system; otherwise it’s always at risk of repeating too many of the tropes from previous seasons. So far, Thornton narration included, I’m getting a very pleasant Season 1 vibe from this era of Fargo.