Fargo S03E02: The Principle of Restricted Choice
Director: Michael Uppendahl
Starring: Ewan MacGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis
Writer: Noah Hawley
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
The Principle of Restricted Choice is all about ramping up the conflicts of the season. There are three major conflicts that all connect and will continue to connect, in presumably violent ways.
The first conflict belongs to Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), former police chief. She’s taken an obvious interest in her stepfather’s murder but has to deal with the fact that her department has been absorbed by the County. The new police chief, Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham) makes it extremely clear that he won’t put up with anyone undermining his new position. These are new waters for Gloria to navigate and it’ll be interesting to see how that conflicts with her trying to solve Ennis’s murder.
Gloria mostly focuses on investigating through The Principle of Restricted Choice. She finds out that Ennis had a career as a science fiction writer as a young man, she also connects the home invasion and murder to a complaint from a gas attendant and starts to get closer to nailing down Maurice LeFay as the culprit. Little does she know that Maurice is dead, which brings us to our second conflict.
Ray Stussy (Ewan MacGregor) is a desperate man in many ways, but he’s mostly still keeping it cool this episode. Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his parolee/girlfriend/partner in crime seems to be great at calming him down while ratcheting up the chaos. Murdering Maurice seems to have gone well for them and the police are ruling it an accident. But Ray and Nikki are making the fatal mistake of thinking Maurice’s crimes will never lead back to them. Anyone who has ever seen a Coen brothers movie or a previous season of Fargo knows that some sort of retribution will be heading their way.
Their attentions are focused elsewhere though. Ray is still made that his brother talked him out of a priceless stamp collection and he and Nikki devise a plan to steal the last remaining stamp. This leads to the best scene in the episode. Ray gets his brother, Emmit (Ewan MacGregor) outside to talk to him and distract him while Nikki sneaks in to steal the stamp. The two brothers end up having an actual, open, honest conversation. It’s an impressive feat, considering both characters are played by the same man. It was a very heartfelt conversation from two completely separate entities with completely separate points of view and it’s to MacGregor’s credit that it works so well. Unfortunately for the brothers, Nikki escalates the conflict.
When she sees that the stamp isn’t on the wall — and in its place is a picture of a donkey’s ass — she takes it as a personal insult. Her retaliation includes used feminine hygiene products. It’s sad when Ray tells her about the great conversation the brothers had, knowing that the conflict is about to escalate. Emmit’s right-hand man, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), urges a pissed Emmit to make a clean break from Ray and Emmit agrees. Sy delivers the news to Ray in an extremely antagonistic way, smashing his Hummer into Ray’s old Corvette on his way out of the parking lot. Both brothers have gone all-in on either side of this conflict and it will probably end up being the saddest of the bunch.
The conflict that will probably end up being the most entertaining is between Emmit and organized crime outfit he borrowed money from. I still really like the novelty of a business trying as hard as they can to pay a loan back and being denied. Emmit and Sy go to their lawyer and ask him to look into V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), the only connection they have to the people they borrowed from. In a mundane and creepy scene, the lawyer searches the name and his office computers shut down. It’s no surprise that he’s later thrown off of a parking garage by two of Varga’s henchmen.
At the end of The Principle of Restricted Choice Thewlis’s creepy Varga lays it all out for Emmit. They’re using the Parking Lot King’s business because it’s mostly cash and hard to track. They have big plans for Emmit’s business, whether he likes it or not. To keep an eye on him, Varga sets his henchmen up with some nice office space right on the premises.
Keep watching! The Principle of Restricted Choice was a solid follow-up to the premiere, fleshing out each character a little more and giving us a clearer sense of their conflicts. I enjoy how each storyline, as separate as they seem, are intertwined. It’s classic noir stuff. MacGregor is fantastic and his characters play really well off of Stuhlbarg and Winstead. Thewlis is clearly having a ball, going full-creep and chewing up the scenery with his messed up smile. Gloria is the only character who I think needs to be developed a lot more. Obviously Coon is doing great work with what little she has, but I’m used to what she can do in The Leftovers so my expectations are high, and so far she’s a little too close to Molly Solverson or Marge Gunderson to really stand on her own.