Fargo – Season 3, Episode 1: “The Law of Vacant Places”

FX’s Fargo
Season 3, Episode 1: “The Law of Vacant Places”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “Palindrome” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Principle of Restricted Choice” – click here
Pic 1Year 3.
1988 in East Berlin. A man is interviewed by an officer, though claims he’s not who officer believes he is, a man named Yuri Gurka. Seems they’ve got a problem. “That state would have to be wrong” for all this to be an issue. Surely, that can’t be correct, can it? I see where this is headed. There’s a murder, which puts this poor man, not Yuri, at a disadvantage when up against the crumbling Soviet.
Now, we head into Minnesota during 2010 for our current timeline story.
Pic 1AEmmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) are conducting a bit of business, as a 25th anniversary party for Emmit and his wife Stella. Afterwards the celebration goes on happily. In attendance is their daughter Grace (Caitlynne Medrek), as well as brother Ray (also Ewan McGregor). And the much more greasy-looking brother is there to get a meeting with Sy and Emmit. It’s been some time, evidently.
They do a little catching up, awkward as that goes. The tension is clear. Ray obviously feels lower class compared to his brother; Sy’s like the best friend who’s more like a brother than the brother himself. We’re also introduced to Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and the fact Ray wants to get her an engagement ring. This brings up issues of money, plus some betrayal over a stamp collection, “vintage” stuff worth tons of cash.
The relationship between Nikki and Ray is a weird one. Likely she’s using him, but too early to judge. He’s a cagey one, too. So, I wouldn’t count anything out. Nikki says they’re “simpatico to the point of spooky” and he’s inclined to agree. Be interesting to watch more of them together, love McGregor and Winstead’s odd chemistry.


Ray is a parole officer – where he met his latest girlfriend – spending his days drowning in paperwork and piss. No short of characters he encounters. And no doubt we’ll see some kind of ethical murkiness rear its head; well, more than already with Nikki. You can’t help imagine what kind of plans Noah Hawley has for a main character with that profession in his quirky, twisted little world of Fargo.
At a bar Ray meets with Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy) who’s recently failed a piss test. This P.O is a little more lenient on those under his care. He wants Maurice to help him out with a robbery; quid pro quo, poof, vamoose, and the problems go away. If he can get his hands on the stamp in Emmit’s office.
Sy and Emmit have business to take care of late in the evening. Simultaneously, Maurice lurks around waiting for the right time to strike on his mission; he’s a little busy smoking a joint and talking to his shrink via speaker phone in the car. Then he loses the paper on which Ray wrote the address; it flies out the window, into the snowy roadside. Does he remember? Or will this cause unintended consequences? I’d vote on the latter.
When Emmit gets to the office he finds V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) waiting for him. He’s from their lender, Narwahl. Says they don’t need to pay back the money, apparently. It’s an “investment” he tells them. Followed by cryptic talk of “singularity” and “continuity.” Hmm, a few strings attached. Seems the boys got in over their head and didn’t ask questions before jumping in deep.


Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is at home celebrating her son Nathan’s (Graham Verchere) birthday. They’ve got a bit of a fractured family; modern by most standards. Another interesting family for the series.
A great tune, as always, plays (Adriano Celetano – “Prisencolinensinainciusol“) us through while cards are being dealt in a regional tournament. Dream team Swango and Stussy hit the tables together to make themselves a big a payday.
Poor, stoned Maurice, searching out the address he lost, remembering it incorrectly and headed in the wrong direction. Headed right for Eden Valley, where Gloria’s the law. Then the guy winds up going to Ennis Stussy’s – no relation to the twins, far as we know – place, where Gloria just left. She turns back to get the model he made for her boy, then finds the place in shambles, door open. The old man taped to a chair, dead. After looking around awhile she locates a hidden compartment in the floor with a box in it; inside, old books, a figure, and more.
When Maurice goes to see Ray, things are messy. The misunderstandings are only just beginning to pile up. It’s about to get wild, and nasty. Particularly when the parolee goes crazy on him, pulling a gun. However, Nikki’s always thinking. As Maurice leaves the apartment, they drop an air conditioner on his head obliterating him. They’ve got a plan and everything. A convenient way out.


This is the beginning of what’s sure to be an interesting Season 3. Such a great premiere, and I know there’s even greater things to come.
Not sure how the East Berlin moment earlier plays into the whole thing, though there’s a Russian connection: Maurice is wearing a shirt in the bar with RUSSIA written on it; maybe nothing, or maybe something. Who knows.

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10 Cloverfield Lane is an Interesting Spin-Off Spun Right

10 Cloverfield Lane. 2016. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Screenplay by Josh Campbell, Damien Chazelle, & Matthew Stuecken.
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr, Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper, Sumalee Montano, & Frank Mottek. Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot/Spectrum Effects.
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
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I was never a fan of Cloverfield. The movie never reeled me in enough to be effective. By the end I was just glad the thing had finished. At the same time, there were some elements I did enjoy. It was all very mysterious. To my surprise, J.J. Abrams came out awhile back and revealed they’d secretly worked on this little same-universe flick parallel to the original 2008 film. That alone intrigued me, the secretive nature of its production. Then there’s the fact Damien Chazelle had a part in writing it, first time feature for director Dan Trachtenberg. Plus they went and got three great actors – John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr – to help make the entire thing even more exciting. And it’s the mystery again, even more so, that makes the film compelling.
This is a great slow burn. Even without Cloverfield so obviously looming over everything, this could stand on its own. At the same time, the fact we know about what’s been happening because of that first movie adds a special ingredient to make the tension and the suspense, all that mystery so distressing.
For all intents and purposes, 10 Cloverfield Lane could be performed as a stage play, confining all its wonderful character development and mysterious plot elements into the suffocating location of a survivalist’s bunker. Further than that, the writing takes you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, never failing to evoke paranoia.
One thing’s for certain, you’ll find even as the plot burns slow the excitement never ceases.
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The writing is great here. Especially the film’s dialogue, which is both endearing and at times bitingly comic (“And I know I seem like a sensible guy, but at the time I wasnt myself“). As a fellow writer, I’ve always found it tough to write genuine dialogue because you almost want to hear the conversation aloud yourself. But the screenplay here is natural, for such an unnatural situation and series of events. That’s part of its strength. In making the characters feel so incredibly real, so vivid, the screenwriters – Chazelle alongside Joseph Campbell and Matthew Stuecken – allow this mysterious story come across authentic. No matter if your film’s story is science fiction or even fantasy, the plausibility of its premise and the resulting situations in which you put the characters works if those characters feel like real people.
One of my favourite moments is when they’re playing the game together – the whole Santa Claus bit was super clever and all around well-written/acted. A perfect little scene that reveals so much in a bold, creepy way.
In addition, the plot’s mysterious structure in the first half shifts heading into the second, which brings out an even more interesting dynamic between the characters. All of a sudden the entire thing has changed. As a fan of Psycho and the classic shifting screenplay, as I call it, this is something I enjoy; when a movie can start out headed in one direction seemingly then navigate a whole new course, or a couple new courses, before the end of the line. The whole movie is one tense and consistently surprising ride.
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The well-written script is aided by the fantastic performances. Goodman is someone I’ve loved a long time, his talent is tremendous. His character is complex, and we make it almost to the halfway point before figuring out whether or not the man is genuine, or if he’s a terrifying psychopath. And it’s not just the writing, Goodman brings across that friendly quality while also still capable of being menacing. Then there’s Winstead, whose chemistry with Goodman makes for a tense relationship between characters. She is a talented actor I first noticed significantly in 2014’s knockout indie Faults opposite Leland Orser. She has that sort of girl next door appeal, she also plays a strong female character, so having her between the other two (male) leads is perfect. And Gallagher is a nice third party to Goodman and Winstead. Likewise, he has a boy next door charm. He’s enthusiastic in every role, even when playing a murderer. Here he’s no murderer, just another confused soul left behind in the aftermath of some major event, a man trying to go along to get along. Once the plot shifts a little and we figure more things out, his character is fun. His acting talents get the chance to shine, here and there.10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Bear McCreary is one talented son of a bitch. Everyone now knows him for his excellent work on The Walking Dead. I first heard his music in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, funny enough. But his talents extend into a ton of different places, such as the new A&E show Damien I’ve been digging, among a ton of other stuff. He does some very classic, eerie sounding horror-mystery stuff. It’s never derivative, and that’s most likely why McCreary has experienced a massive influx of work over the past few years. He gives us stuff that sounds and feels familiar yet has his own indelible sound, as well. On top of the score, there’s a nice soundtrack including Tommy James and The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, in such an ironic little montage that it’ll make you smile wide.
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Trachtenberg does a swell job directing this film. He keeps everything tight and claustrophobic, even more so than just the location. A lot of his shots inside that bunker are fun, unique, and help push the whole story along. This is a 4&1/2-star film for me. It is entirely a wonderful experience. With the background of 2008’s Cloverfield, this story soars in an entirely unexpected way. Parallel to the events of that film this smaller, more personal drama unfolds with plenty of mystery and a steady dose of horror nearing the finale. Not only that, the plot shifts several times to keep the audience guessing, and you can never be totally sure what’s coming next.
I’d love to see another spin-off in the same timeframe as Cloverfield, which has the potential to go anywhere after this awesome little movie shows us there isn’t only one way to envision the possible end of the Earth as we know it.