Fargo “The Narrow Escape Problem”

Fargo S3E4 “The Narrow Escape Problem”

After last week’s thrilling excursion out to the city of angels, Fargo had a bit of a situation on their hands. Nearing the halfway point of the season, it seemed pretty unclear how things are going to shake out. While the “Narrow Escape Problem” doesn’t have the moment the dynamite goes up, the episode in its entirety has lit the fuse for what should be some explosiveness in upcoming episodes. To start the episode, the characters are cleverly framed to represent the Russian fairy tale “Peter and the Wolf” with musical instruments to compliment them. We have Emmit the bird represented by the flute, Ray the duck represented by the oboe, Nikki the cat represented by the clarinet, Sy is the grandfather represented by the bassoon, Yuri is the blast of the hunters shotgun represented by the kettle drum, Varga is the wolf represented by the French horn and lastly Gloria is Peter and is represented by the strings. The clever framing technique adds some electricity upon our return to Minnesota and to start the episode. The narrator said it best so I’ll just quote him to get us underway. “Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin”.

If Ewan McGregor playing a set of twins wasn’t fun enough for you, “The Narrow Escape Problem” ups the ante. Ray ditches the mustache and gains a suit and a wig to pretend to be his brother in an attempt to gain access into the safe that Ray and Nikki think Emmit has the stamp in. McGregor is playing two twins and in this episode also playing one of the twins pretending to be the other, how’s that for fun?

Ray doesn’t seem too confident in this plan to start and he sort of bumbles his way through his conversation with the bank manager. To make things worse, Ray doesn’t actually have the key and when he mentions this to the manager, his plan seems ruined when he says Ray will have to order a new key and wait for it to come in. Ray finally gains some confidence in himself and threatens to take all his money out of the bank and move to a new one. Playing assertive works and Ray gets them to drill into the safe. To his disappointment, he learns what the viewers already know and sees that the stamp is not there. He does find the remains of Emmit’s dog Luverne in the form of ashes (cremains being the proper nomenclature according to Sy). He pours out the ashes to make sure that nothing’s hidden there (not before tasting the ashes) and leaves the bank when it proves to be a dead end. No stamp, but he did take out ten grand from his brothers account. Nikki is disappointed he didn’t take more since there was over a million dollars in the account but Ray says he’s not a criminal and only took what the net worth of the stamp in, nothing more.

Ray continues to make his own decisions as the episode moves further along. Sy hands some pictures proving Ray and Nikki are a couple over to Ray’s boss and he is irate as a parole officer dating one of his convicts is strictly prohibited. Ray’s boss decides to give him an out though, admit it was a one-time thing, end the relationship and serve a small suspension for the trouble. Ray doesn’t take it though as he genuinely loves Nikki and will continue to love her even if it costs him his job. Unfortunately for Ray, this does cost him his job as he drinks his sorrows away at a bar, blowing off his important dinner with Nikki and their potential sponsor. Nikki may have been driving Ray the wrong way earlier on, but Ray’s decisions in this episode are all his and right now they don’t look to be very good ones.

As we turn our attention to the other Stussy brother, things seem to be heating up. The expansion/merger/whatever this actually is between Stussy lots and Varga’s company is getting underway as Varga takes the initiative. Varga heads over to Emmit’s house unannounced and joins Emmit and his family for dinner. After dinner, the two men walk into Emmit’s office to talk business. Varga tells him that he posed as his agent and went to the bank and got Emmit’s credit limit raised by twenty five million. While upset at first, Emmit for the first time starts to see some potential good out of this whole mess rather than just feeling trapped. Varga tells him that an uprising is coming from the lower 99% being fed up with the wealthy 1% and tells Emitt that if he’s going to survive, he’s going to have to get a whole lot richer and use that money to blend in and not be easily identified as a one percenter. With Varga promising to do just that for Emmit, Emmit finally decides that he’s all in and signs the documents that Varga brought over. Things are definitely picking up here.

Throughout the series, Emmit has been fighting a two front war, one with Varga and one with his brother. The brother front also continues this week as Emmit finds out about his brother taking his dog’s ashes and money out of his safe box. I get the feeling that Emmit still does care for his brother, Ray has given him plenty of opportunities to swear him off but Emmit never confronts him personally, most of the time its been Sy who straightens things out with Ray. That trend continues in this episode as Sy was the one who gave the pictures to Ray’s boss and he doesn’t stop there. While Ray was getting fired, Sy locked Ray’s car into place and waits for him to come out and see his work. Sy tries to look tough but butchers the exit again as the door to his Hummer won’t open, making his exit look a whole lot less smooth. He really has to work on that.

As I’ve noted, this isn’t the first time that Sy’s intimidation stunts on Ray haven’t gone super smoothly. In “The Principle of Restricted Choice”, Sy smashed into Ray’s car but also smashed into a waitress’ car on the way out. That little failure comes back to haunt Sy as Officer Winnie Lopez makes her Fargo debut and is responsible for the investigation of the hit and run. Winnie heads on over to the Stussy Lots office and waits for Sy in the waiting room with Yuri and Meemo. When Sy does come, he’s clearly nervous and tries to make it very clear that he did not call the police, not wanting Yuri and Meemo to think that he’s ratting on them. With that in mind, Sy brings her into a more private room and makes his way through the conversation being very unhelpful. He promises to find out who was driving the car tomorrow and call Winnie to let her know. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Winnie is going to have to follow up on that herself.

Our last but certainly not least character of the starring cast to check in with is Gloria, fresh off her trip to Hollywood. The transition of power that she delayed with her trip gets further delayed in the episode as she tells Moe, the new chief that she’s not quite done investigating the murder just yet. While looking through Maurice’s wallet, she finds a card with his Maurice’s parole officer’s information on it. As we know, this is none other than Ray so Gloria drives on over to have a talk with Ray. I have to admit I thought Ray would lose his cool as Gloria perfectly described what happened without actually knowing it, but he didn’t. Nothing comes out of this but Gloria does find it a bit peculiar that Ray shares his last name with Ennis. But what can she do with that information?

That question is going to be answered next week as the episode ends with Gloria getting more than enough information to get this case rolling. Winnie pays her a visit late at night and through her investigation of the hit and run, has inadvertently connected the dots for Gloria’s case. Gloria now knows that Emmit and Ray are brothers that seemingly don’t like each other and that Emmitt lives in Eden Prairie, a place that could easily be confused with Eden Valley, the where Ennis lived. With this information all in hand, Gloria is on the verge of breaking this case wide open.

Other Thoughts:

Varga has come across almost god like in the first few episodes but this episode does a good job of humanizing him. We learn quite a few things about him, among them that Varga lives in that big truck of his, he’s bulimic, and that he gets all his information that he probably shouldn’t know simply from the Internet. David Thewlis continues to do a great job with Varga.

I do hope there is a payoff to Gloria and her inability to get technology to recognize her. That whole bit got laid on pretty thick in this episode.

It was great to get Billy Bob Thornton back into Fargo as the narrator for the cold open. A lot of people thought he was the devil back in season one so it’s kind of fitting that he’s narrating this story, probably already knowing how this thing ends.

Small call back to season two. Emmit’s dog’s name is Luverne, the town in which most of the action in season two took place.

We got to see Maurice’s corpse in the morgue. I know death by falling appliance would do a number on your body but wow, his head got caved in real bad.

Quote of the day comes from Ray’s coworker, attempting to convince Ray to pick his job over Nikki. “What if she’s manipulating you Ray? Using her poontang to hoodwink and bamboozle?” Just got to love the vocabulary that gets thrown around in this show.

“The Narrow Escape Problem” brings us back home to Minnesota and sets the stage for what should be an explosive second half to the season.

Grade B+

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