Thank the TV gods for David Thewlis’ masterful mastication. For without the English thesp’s diabolical mouth-acting, this third (and hopefully final) run of FX’s Fargo would have likely proven impossible to finish. Thewlis’ character, enigmatic manipulator V.M. Varga, brought a sinister energy and compelling ugliness to the series that was otherwise totally missing: whilst Varga picks at his rotting molars with a small metal rod and heads to the bathroom for a bout of after-dinner vomiting, the rest of Fargo’s supposedly wacky world remains extremely, frustratingly ordinary.
Creator Noah Hawley, a screenwriter of greater arrogance than talent who seems to have merely gotten lucky with the brilliant 2014 debut of this show, has made criminal waste of his stellar ensemble cast: Carrie Coon and Michael Stuhlbarg, two of the most emotionally evocative performers in the business, cast in B-tier straight guy roles; Coon’s breakout part on The Leftovers has seen her display an exceptional range of nuanced feeling, yet the character of Gloria Burgle saw her relegated to yet another Marge Gunderson photocopy, politely questioning suspects and occasionally dispelling some clichés to her 13-year old son. As Sy Feltz, business partner of Ewan McGregor’s Emmit Stussy, brow permanently furrowed, Stuhlbarg is trapped behind a large moustache and is ultimately sacrificed to literal silence for the conclusive episodes.
Even McGregor, who struggles with two versions of a Minnesotan accent, is let down by Hawley’s messy plotting: Ray, by far the more interesting of the brothers he portrays, is dispensed of midway through. Bad choice. Mary Elizabeth Winstead ends up doing the same stuff she always does: transformed without warning or context into a Joan of Arc heroine ‘badass’ who takes revenge on the bad men who wronged her. Her character’s storyline after boyfriend Ray’s death provides some of the season’s dullest material – namely an extended woodland chase and successive chat with Rise Wise in a bowling alley – and I’ve almost been turned against Winstead by how much I did not enjoy her work under Hawley’s guidance.
Where Year 3 peaked, and was for brief moments genuinely good TV, was when it stopped screwing with Lebowski, Raising Arizona and Fargo material, and instead paid tribute to the Coen films I personally love the most: the standout third episode follows Gloria (which, in this episode, Coon basically just plays as Nora from The Leftovers) to Los Angeles, where she investigates what her stepfather got up to during his screenwriting career decades earlier: it’s a strong homage to Barton Fink, and brings Stuhlbarg’s A Serious Man co-star Fred Melamend into the mix to delightful results. However, that episode also features a bunch of weird, pointless animated sci-fi vignettes, which prove to have absolutely no relevance to the series at large. Hawley, once again, playing with FX’s cash for his own amusement without even trying to justify the tiresome material he’s producing with any supposed profundity. What began in 2014 as an incredibly exciting and subversive work of modern television has turned into a vacuum of originality; a parade of mediocrity. “Aw jeez” indeed.