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FX's Fargo does a slower burn in early stages of Season 3


Ewan McGregor in one of his two brother roles in Season 3 of Fargo. FX photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 19th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis, Michael Stuhlbarg, Shea Whigham, Goran Bogdan, Andy Yu, Olivia Sandoval, Hamish Linklater, Linda Kash, Graham Verchere, Mark Forward, Scoot McNairy
Produced by: Noah Hawley, Warren Littlefield, John Cameron, Bob DeLaurentis, Matt Wolpert, Ben Nedivi, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

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The Sharknado-like fish storm from Season 1 of Fargo and Season 2’s eventually pivotal flying saucers might be slightly less swervy than the outlandish/cartoonish first on-camera killing in Season 3’s extended opening episode.

But that’s FX’s Fargo for ya. It remains a land of the lost and found, where everyday denizens become entangled in murders and oddities while outside forces stir in more mayhem. The 1996 movie was one thing and the series is still quite another. Minnesota as always is the principal frozen tundra but the characters are in a constant whirl within their own times and spaces.

Season 3 begins with a chilling 1988 interrogation in East Berlin before time gallops to the 2010 silver wedding anniversary party of Emmit and Stella Stussy (Ewan McGregor, Linda Kash). He’s become the prosperous “Parking Lot King of Minnesota” while younger brother, Ray (also played by McGregor), festers as a put-upon and sometimes peed on parole officer who spends a good amount of time personally overseeing parolee urine samples.

Ray and Emmit began their great divide after dad died and left behind both a flashy red Corvette and a stamp collection. The Corvette since has become a junker with Ray behind its wheel while the stamps turned out to have far greater value. Ray believes Emmit talked him out of them while Emmit insists he gave Ray exactly what he wanted at the time. So there’s no brotherly love lost as Fargo’s new tale of unintended consequences begins to unfold during the Christmas season.

Ray’s latest less than savory girlfriend is parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an aspiring big-time bridge player who already looks like a million bucks. She could use some seed money, and Ray thinks he knows where to get it. “I got a place that needs some robbin’,” he tells a crum bum parolee over whom he holds a hammer. They seal a deal in Fargo’s oft-used den of iniquity -- a dumpy bar. But bad things happen -- and trigger worse things during the course of the two episodes FX made available for review. There again will be 10 in all.

As in Season 1 (and in the original Fargo film) , a dedicated female police officer soon comes into play. This time around, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) also is temporarily the chief of little Eden Valley. Comedian Jim Gaffigan initially was cast as her deputy, sluggish Donny Mashman. But an FX spokesperson says Gaffigan belatedly bowed out because of a scheduling conflict, leaving the role to an actor named Mark Forward. He makes little impression in the early going and apparently will be giving way in future episodes to the as yet unseen Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval) and incoming chief Moe Dammik (Shea Whigham), who briefly lays down the law in Episode 2.

Fargo also requires a genuine villain in addition to those who rope themselves into serious crimes and then dig themselves deeper. David Thewlis fills that role as V.M. Varga, a jack-o-lantern toothed, amoral mercenary whose $1 million loan to Emmit Stussy turns out to instead be a very unwanted investment. Varga has a pair of goons, Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan) and Meemo (Andy Yu), to provide muscle when needed.

As a big fan of Fargo’s instantly captivating first two seasons, I’m a bit less enthusiastic about how this one’s going down so far. The preposterous killing has already been mentioned. But the main characters also aren’t clicking on all cylinders yet, save for the dastardly Varga and his bitingly delicious way of putting things.

In Episode 2, where he makes his first major strong-armed move, Varga tells Emmitt that what he mostly likes about Minnesota is “it’s so perfectly, sublimely -- bland.” He savors every word.

Coon, simultaneously co-starring in HBO’s final season of The Leftovers, has ample room to grow as the divorced Gloria Burgle, who also has a 12-year-old son named Nathan (Graham Verchere). But in Season 1 of Fargo, newcomer Allison Tolman was notably quicker to resonate as dogged deputy Molly Solverson, daughter of a retired cop played memorably by Keith Carradine.

McGregor has taken on the challenge of playing dual roles, and looks as though he can carry them off capably. But Winstead as Nikki Swango might well be the one to co-steal Season 3 along with Thewlis’ sinister Varga. She cements her hold in Episode 2, after Ray says, “I never killed anybody before.”

“Well, me either,” Nikki says with a shrug. “Life’s a journey.”

This latest Fargo likely will be quite a trip, with its principal creative force, Noah Hawley, not to be discounted in terms of coming through in the clutch. But Hawley also helmed the recently concluded Season 1 of FX’s bravura Legion, which can sap the strength of any hands-on dude. So perhaps Season 3 of Fargo merits extra time to marinate. The first two editions comparatively hit their marks running, with Season 2’s opening tableau still one of the damnedest things ever.

Whatever course Season 3 takes, I’m all aboard. Even if the engine’s still chugging and getting up to speed a little more than it has in the past.


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