Fargo Season 3, Episode 4 Recap: "The Narrow Escape Problem"

Photo: Chris Large/FX.
Don’t know much about biology? Then this week’s episode of Fargo is the metaphor you need. A Brownian particle (that is, an ion, molecule, or protein) has the stand in of human beings in the comparison, wherein they try to escape the sticky situation they’re in and face a narrowing window in of time in which to do it.
That’s where we find Emmit and Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), along with their partners in the bridge game of life, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Instead), this week. They are all looking at a slowly closing window of escape for their current problems and barreling head-on into even bigger problems.
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But first, a little music? This episode is cleverly tied into Peter and the Wolf, with all of the above characters getting identities from the classic (and not coincidentally) Russian fairy tale and musical accompaniment to match with a voice over from Fargo season 1 alum Billy Bob Thornton. So do V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan), and Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), who is our Peter. If you were at all in doubt about her future hero status, that is a pretty big spoiler. Emmit is the bird, Ray is the duck, Nikki is the cat, Sy is the grandfather, Varga is the wolf (another light spoiler for where this story is going), and Yuri and his cohort are the hunters.
Back to the cat, Nikki. Winstead gave some context to her character to Time in an interview this week that changed my perspective on her. It seems she was conceived to be not quite as malicious as I suspected towards Ray.
“The main question that I had for [showrunner Noah Hawley] in order to really know her was whether or not her love for Ray was real. He immediately, without having to think about it at all, said, ‘Yes. It's completely genuine. They're completely in love and it's a true, real relationship,’” Winstead said.”Then it all kind of clicked in for me because that was the only thing that, to me, could have turned the performance one direction or another. So once I knew that their love was real, then I was able to really move forward with this sort of sweet, bubbly, optimistic version of a femme fatale.”
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Okay, so love is real and that real love combined with a real criminal streak is what compels Nikki to send Ray into the bank dressed up as Emmit. Ray breaks into his brother’s safe deposit box with the advice from Nikki that he remember that “the richest guy in the room is always the boss.” All he finds, after some trouble with the staff, is the ashes of his brother’s dog. He takes $10,000 to make it right — that is the market value of the stamp they are fighting over, apparently — plus a dollar in quarters “for the meter” that tip Emmit and Sy off to his scam. When she finds out his haul is so small, Nikki starts to be pissed, but since we’re taking her optimism and love for Ray seriously, she bites back her old way of thinking for him. True love also causes Ray to lose his job, because it’s illegal for a parole officer to be in a relationship with a parolee, as some anonymous photos (from Emmit’s party in episode one) sent to their office prove he is. Given the opportunity to end it and say it was a one-time thing in exchange for suspension, he chooses to declare his love and takes the ten minutes to clean out his desk. Talk about star-crossed lovers.
Peter, er I mean Gloria, is out there doing the work, in the meantime. She checks the belongings of the horribly disfigured body of Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy), finding a ripped out phone book page with Ennis Stussy’s information on it. She appeals to her new boss, Sheriff Moe Dammik (Shea Whigham) to work on the case a bit longer. He wants to close it and move on, keeping it as a robbery, and mansplains this to her in grandiose fashion with some analogy about being in war because that’s the summation of his life experience. She pays a visit to LeFay’s parole officer, one Ray Stussy, which brings us our first acknowledgment that Ennis has the same last name as Ray & Emmit but no resolution on why or where this tie is going. Her experience in the ladies room is the same thing that happens to me every time I wave my hands under a sensor driven sink: nothing. She does meet the chatty Officer Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval), who shows up at Gloria’s place that night after interviewing Sy, whose antics in the parking lot in episode 3 are still haunting him, and realizing their cases are connected.
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Emmit also has a realization. Varga shows up at his house unannounced and invites himself to dinner (we know where that is going after the all too realistic reveal of his bulimia at the start of the episode) for a chat and with promises to make Emmit rich. Their talk about having money versus having wealth and holding off the oncoming hoards of peasants is a real throwback to the French Revolution. Emmit is still perplexed but tempted — especially after Vargas tells him he had the bank extend his credit by $25 million more. It seems that money is melting his distrust to a certain degree, or it was until Vargas asks if his brother, about whom he seems to know everything (so our money is on Vargas for sending those pics of Ray and Nikki), is going to be a problem. You don’t want to be in the crosshairs of the wolf.
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