Monday, July 24, 2017

GAME OF THRONES 7.02 - "STORMBORN"


If you were complaining that not much happened in the premiere, “Stormborn” should address that.  There was significant movement on every front, complete with the deaths of some familiar, if not popular, characters.  With the cast whittled down – a relative measure to be sure, but this season has removed an entire continent from the map, only a single Tyrell left standing and the Martell/Sand contingent on the verge of joining Houses Baratheon, Bolton and Frey in the dirt – there are simply less storylines to cut between.  Which means that plenty can happen even as the show continues to find room for leisurely scenes of eunuch loving, pie baking tips, musing on long-dead Robert’s relation to the legacy of the even longer-dead Targaryens, and dire wolf reunions that don’t have any immediate narrative payoff.  Only at the Citadel does it feel like anything is moving in a hurry, where Sam is breaking major rules to flay Jorah with kindness the night after he met him.

That surgery takes us back to Arya with a nauseating jump cut that may have put me off pot pies for the forseeable future (the show’s increasing infatuation with gross-out humor is puzzling for how it seems to have popped up so suddenly in its old age).  After Hot Pie gives her a hot take on the Battle Of The Bastards, she decides to defer her quest to murder Cersei to go north and reunite with her family.  But in a scene heavy with foreshadowing, she encounters her long-lost wolf, now grown to terrifying dimensions and leading a pack of predators.  Nymeria declines Arya’s invitation to be an inside wolf again, a decision that Arya understands even as it saddens her.  Arya’s own time in the wilderness has probably likewise left her unable to ever truly settle down and be a lady of Winterfell again.  I have thought for awhile that she may be a goner once her vengeance is complete, and indeed, I will be chewing my nails at any scene with her in the finale’s denouement, just waiting for some friendly face to be removed to show Jaqen's red mane, there to end her abuse of her Faceless powers.  But seeing her acceptance of Nymeria’s place at the head of this ersatz pack got me thinking for the first time that maybe her end is to lead whatever form the Brotherhood Without Banners takes when the wars of winter are done. 

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Shut up, just let me have this one

In any case, Arya is not the only gal giving Cersei a reprieve this week.  Dany unveils her plan to break the Lannister hold on Westeros in relatively bloodless fashion, to the chagrin of her more vengeful allies.  This is a narrative necessity, as we required some sort of explanation to justify the decision to park at Dragonstone instead of burning King’s Landing outright.  She knows she could win quickly and easily, but she also knows that quick victories in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen did not result in any Happily Ever After scenario for Slaver's Bay.  And in that light, it’s not actually a bad plan.  From the perspective of a ruler aware that the core of her military strength lies in terrifying firebeasts and foreign hordes that cannot exactly be deployed with a light touch, she understands that relying on them only strengthens her enemies’ xenophobic rallying cries.  But its drawbacks become quickly apparent, as it allows time for Qyburn to craft anti-aircraft ballistae, Jaime to sway Tyrell bannermen to support the crown against the foreign invaders (“the Dothraki, they’re not sending their best…”), and Euron to destroy half Dany’s fleet and capture two of her would-be heads of the seven queendoms.  And bringing the Reek back out of Theon in the process.   

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"I..uh..think I left my wallet...in the ocean...brb.."

But the drawbacks for Dany’s military designs are benefits for TV drama.  The tricky thing about making drama about intelligent characters is that bad decisions are more fruitful as story fertilizer than airtight stratagems.  This is an especially thorny issue for this show, with how many allegedly brilliant schemers are incorporated in its complex series of gears within gears. The decision to defer a direct attack needs to be a mistake, because it needs to allow for Cersei to bolster the rather weak position where she started the season, and become a credible threat to Dany’s progress.  Without that, there is no drama.  But when the decisions required to create drama become too stupid, it hurts the credibility of the “hero” side (see: Sansa hiding a larger army from Jon while yelling at him to wait for a larger army, a decision so indefensibly dumb that the show opted for a sheepish apology rather than any real attempt to justify it).  The strategizing scenes in “Stormborn”, of which there are several and will never not give me a nerd boner, are stronger because they thread the needle of showing how smart people could plausibly make decisions with disastrous results, for reasons better than the script requiring those results.

Dany’s questioning of Varys is a great opening in this regard, as it allows her to demonstrate some cleverness before we get to those bad decisions.  It gives Conleth Hill a chance to speak more plainly than usual, spitting some fire back at the Dragon Queen. But it also shows her to be more aware of potential threats and pitfalls than I may have previously thought.  She begins the interrogation by noting that he was instrumental in bringing Dorne and Olenna into her fold, which underlines why she would pick just now to start asking the tough questions, without beating us over the head with it.  The short term value of his assistance was too great to pass up, but now that the pieces are mostly in place she is weighing how much trust she can put in him longer term. This dilemma mirrors what Sansa is going through with Littlefinger, but I can’t imagine Baelish even attempting honesty about his myriad betrayals, much less the populist, pro-peasant angle.  Instead, he tries sidling up to Jon, only to find him no more pliable than Ned, getting the exact same chokehold in the crypts that he got outside his brothel way back in the first season.  

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Like father, like so-...no, wait, not actually son.  So...secret nephew? But I thought
we decided he was Dany's nephew., so... not cousin...shit, I had a chart for this...

Unfortunately, Jon is also seemingly intent on repeating the mistakes of his forebears, as he is waltzing into the seat of Targaryen power to make demands of them, a move that Sansa points out led to Ned’s father getting burnt alive and Robert’s Rebellion kicking off.  Of course, should things go south at the meeting on Dragonstone, all may be surprised to find that Jon does not burn as easily, given his own dragon blood.  In the meantime his new vassals are no more impressed with his decisions than Dany’s southern allies are with hers, grumbling at his decision to leave the North the moment he conquered it, even if he does leave a Stark in Winterfell, with two more unknowingly on the way.  My guess is that he misses Arya (since she is coming up from the southwest and he is heading southeast) on the road, but does encounter the Brotherhood.  And then…


Damn, is it next week yet?


  • Lots of callbacks to earlier seasons here – Varys’s role in supporting Dany’s brother and her assassination attempt, Tyrion and Jon’s time as travel companions, Nymeria and Arya recalling her own rejection of her father’s vision of domesticity for her, lots of musing about Robert’s rule, Jon throttling Littlefinger.  Also Arya’s time with Hot Pie and Sansa’s with Tyrion come up in significant ways.  The series sense of history has always been one of its greatest assets (it’s sort of the key to the entire fantasy genre, really), but with this episode a lot of the history being referenced was things we’ve actually witnessed.  Which is neat.
  • It’s obviously not going anywhere now that the Dornish have been made redundant, but I’m glad the show took the moment to let the tension between Tyrion and Ellaria flare up.  Of course there would be hard feelings between them after the deaths of Oberyn and Myrcella, and internal tensions liven up those scenes of Dany ironing out exactly how she will eventually, inevitably take the throne.
  • I kind of skipped over the entire attack sequence, but it actually kind of upset me.  I don’t know why exactly, since I basically called it going down like this last week and I’m generally not squeamish about the show’s violence. But watching Euron just bash the faces and murder 2-3 women in a row put me off more than even greyscale surgery.  In general, I think I prefer the show not take it easier on its female fighters than the men, but there was something about the inherently gendered nature of the violence that made it hard for me to appreciate the other merits of the scene, such as how it was clearing some of the most useless, unloved characters from the deck or the completely over-the-top spectacle of Euron dropping, alone and screaming, onto a burning ship on fanged gangplank. And the implications for Yara, Ellaria and Tyene getting captured by the rapiest group of rapers in a nation where rape is practically the national sport aren't any better (nor are their prospects any better once they are delivered to Cersei).  I'm a bit surprised not to have seen much in the way of online backlash for the sheer quantity of brutality toward women today.  Maybe everyone with the vigor to give it a good thinkpiecing checked out back when Ramsay still held sway over what felt like half the show.
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Half-Assed Moralizin' is, once again, brought to you by Papa John

  • The actor who plays Randyll Tarly is a great piece of casting.  When he talks I feel like I’m being lectured by a British granite quarry.  It makes enough of an impression that it took me awhile to remember that tonight was only his second scene ever on the show.
  • While the Jon stepping out of a blaze of (either sacrificial or dragon) fire is too good a dramatic reveal of his heritage for me to dismiss entirely, cutting against it is that he did conspicuously burn his hand when defending Commander Mormont from the wight attack back in the first season.  But since it’s magic juju anyway, you can handwave it away by saying he was still more Stark back then and it took becoming king to awaken his dragon or whatever.
  • Yohn Royce’s continuing presence and deference to Jon confuses me.  I gather that the Vale supports the North’s independence, but certainly they don’t consider themselves part of his kingdom?


Death Watch:  While I don’t think Thoros and Beric are long for the world once the Hound is in the orbit of more important characters, Ellaria and her captured daughter are the easy bets.  I shudder to think what Cersei will do with the women who murdered her daughter.  I think Cersei will want to extend Ellaria’s suffering, but I can’t imagine killing her daughter in front of her won’t be a part of that.  I’d say the best Tyene “bad poosi” Sand can hope for is that her old frenemy Bronn is moved to smuggle her some poison in her cell, in a mirror of the “favor” she did him back in Dornish jail.  Otherwise…things are going to get nasty, even for this show.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GAME OF THRONES 7.01 - "DRAGONSTONE"



Some of the initial online reactions to “Dragonstone” have complained of “table setting”, which loosely translates to not enough action.  And I won't deny that is what it was.  the entire hour does culminate with the lead character literally standing at the head of a table and delivering her only line of the episode, “shall we begin?”  For those of us obsessed enough to have committed every tidbit of Targaryan backstory to memory, to have plumbed the History And Lore featurettes from the video releases or even (shudder) cracked the books, the episode's title announced that it wouldn’t be speeding the main storyline along. I do understand how that could feel almost like taunting to those who feel they have waited patiently for dragons to grow and winter to come for 6 years now. What I don’t understand is not realizing at this point that the table in this “table setting” is the show.  It’s in the title, frequently referenced in the dialogue, and in the floor map Cersei has commissioned to mirror that elaborate Risk board at Dragonstone.  And while I want to get to the fireworks factory as much as anyone, I can’t pretend to be mad when I’ve been away from this board for so long, and the pieces are all being their best selves.

Well, give or take a Cersei. The only bum note of the episode (I'm still not entirely sure who Ed Sheeran is, so I can't even say he bothered me) was her blasé attitude about the deaths of her children in her otherwise solid scene with Jaime on the map mural. I totally buy that she would be in denial about her role in it all and simply shutting out her grief to focus on her remaining ambitions and enemies.  On paper, all that tracks, but something about the performance is just a touch off.  It seems like when she is delivering the lines about building an empire for the two of them, she is treating it like a line to convince Jaime, when she should be trying to convince herself as well. It’s a fine line to be sure, but the kind Headey has walked dozens of times throughout the series, so I’m inclined to chalk it up to a brief lapse on the direction side. 

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"No, seriously...you're the guy who does the Christmas duet albums, right?"

Regardless, if the Lannister siblings’ emotional beats were a little off, their tactical discussion laid out the situation clearly and with handy visual aids for those that fast forward the opening credits.  And it led to a character for whom quality direction led to a vast improvement, in Euron Greyjoy. Last year, I found the actor who to be one of the few casting bum notes in the entire series (shortlist including Shae and the original Daario).  But this week, he was suddenly, vastly improved.  He seemed to have lost weight, trimmed his facial hair, is dressed in loose, stylish leather instead of bulky grey rags, and the writing and blocking of his one scene allows him to swagger.  And if there is one thing a pirate king should have, it’s swagger.  His proposal to ally with the Lannisters surprised none of us obsessives, but his promise to bring her a gift to prove his bona fides introduces some intriguing possibilities.  Does he mean to bring her Tyrion?  The head of a dragon? A live dragon, somehow?  I have seen all possibilities bandied about, but my money is on something more prosaic, which is to perform a quick hit and run to burn Dany’s fleet while it is still anchored at Dragonstone.  This, as Jaime reminds us, was his signature move back when the Greyjoys were rebelling against Robert.  Of course, the Lannisters didn’t have multiple flying deathlizards to chase the ships away, so the “run” part of the equation may be a bit stickier than last time.


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Swag/Not That


Cersei’s has to pin her hopes on this long shot because the Lannisters have lost their last moderately powerful allies in the Freys, as Arya’s opening power play sweeps that multitudinous family completely from the board.  It's a move so ballsy that the queen would, if she understood the details, probably applaud it in spite of herself.  It seems like it should kind of be a retread of last year’s surprise merking of Old Walder, but it works an OldGodsDamn treat for a couple reasons.  For starters, it takes a beat longer to register what is really afoot because on the rare occasions the show has used flashbacks, it mostly positioned them at the top of episodes.  It barely even rises to the level of a misdirect, but just those extra few moments make an enormous difference compared to having it be obvious what's happening from the sequence’s opening frame.  It allows us in the audience to feel like we connected the dots ourselves, and to let those feelings of self-congratulation mingle with the giddy anticipation of what is to come.  Which giddiness is still strong, because the Red Wedding was so traumatic that I was still excited to see it avenged a third time over.  And finally, her capper is perfectly badass  – “Tell them the North Remembers.  Tell them Winter Came For House Frey.”  I can just hear the capital letters in her speech, and I love it when the Starks characterize themselves as winter. 

Arya then follows up this moment of absolute badassery with one of disarming normality and goodwill.  She is more shaken by meeting a group of men that aren’t interested in raping and killing her than by murdering an entire extended family, because it's just been that kind of 3-4 years for her.  She sits down eager for the Lannister men to give her a reason to get homicidal, but is taken aback to find that despite wearing Cersei’s colors, they’re just some alright dudes that would rather be fishing.  It doesn’t make her immediately change her plans to assassinate the queen, but it does cause her to briefly question some of the callousness she picked up from people like the Hound, who himself is having even graver doubts about the lessons he taught her. 

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About the importance of subtlety, for instance

I would have said that, with the end in sight, spending a sizeable chunk of the episode on The Hound revisiting the site of his most seemingly-pointless interlude from 3 years ago would be a frustrating waste of time.  But the actors playing Sandor, Thoros, and Beric have such easy gravitas that watching them snipe at each other and ruminate on the destinies they know in their bones they don’t deserve were some of the strongest scenes in a premiere that didn’t really have a weak one in it.  And Rory McCann just knocks his internal crisis out of the park, letting pain and regret seep through, even as his dialogue remains mostly glib, caustic one-liners.  Last year, I viewed the Hound’s revival as something a mistake; his few scenes not good or novel enough to make up for the loss of viewer trust that comes with such narrative take-backsies.  These scenes were better, even somewhat redeeming what I had previously found to be the character’s most boring, repetitive scenes. 

On the flip side, for a series whose biggest flaw has always been a tendency to let its best characters languish in such repetitive environs for seasons on end (Dany in Meereen, Arya in Braavos, the early seasons of Jon at the Wall), it seems strange to suggest that it should have planted Sam at the Citadel earlier on. With the show winding down entire plotlines over the last year and waving goodbye to major locations like Meereen and for the most part, the Wall, the rapidly rapid-izing nature of the plot did not seem to leave Sam the space to do the time-intensive exploration and study that seemed to be required of him.  Or at least not to do it in time to travel back across a continent and put it to use.  But credit where it is due, the show did a fine job of employing a bit more overt stylization than usual in the escalating montage of him pouring slop and scouring chamberpots.  The repetition made the point about the drudgery of his work, even as the rapidly rapid-izing intercutting gave the sequence an energy that the subject matter would naturally lack.  This would still be faint praise, as Sam has never been a favorite of mine, but his scenes also got a kick from a fine turn by Jim Broadbent as the archmaester (not sure if that is higher or lower than the late Pycelle’s rank of grandmaester) and the encounter with a significantly deteriorated Jorah Mormont.  I had been predicting the two would meet here since last year, but it was still exciting to realize just whatshot from the trailers was about to come up, and it gives the entire plotline a sense of purpose that can’t come from fancy editing alone.

Last but not least, we turn to the North, where we pick up right where last season left off.  Jon’s first acts as king are immediately unpopular with his new vassals, including Sansa, but he does a better job quelling the dissent than he did with the Watch (thought things would have been different there if he had a right hand as indomitable as Lil’ Lady Mormont).  The tension between Jon and Sansa is much more palatable than last year, as while I still ultimately agree with him, her counterpoint is not based in abject, suicidal stupidity.  She makes a solid point that pardoning the Umbers and Karstarks forgoes the opportunity to reward those that actually kept faith when things were at their bleakest.  But I still find the exigent circumstances he cites compelling.  As far as he is concerned, they are still at war even with the Boltons eliminated, and that doesn’t leave any time to carve up lands, reoccupy fortresses and distribute favors.  He needs the entire North marching as one, even if Sansa is right that he is ignoring the threats to the south (much less east).  She concedes the point, but still gets plenty of strong moments, demonstrating a clear eye of her family’s shortcomings and her “allies” ulterior motives.  Her dismissal of Littlefinger in particular is one of the character’s best lines. 

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Seriously, it's like you can never tell if this guy is about to start
jacking it, or he just finished.  But you it's one or the other.

Which was the order of the day.  Part of it may have been just eagerness to return to Westeros after so long away, but it really seemed that “Dragonstone” was displaying all these characters at their best, even as it mostly just expounded on the same situations where “The Winds Of Winter” left them.  Jon was at his most regal.  Sansa was at her sharpest.  Arya was at her awesomest.  The Hound was at his soulful-est.  Sam was at his most interesting.  Lil’ Mormont at her fiercest.  Even Euron came to play.  And to here Dany tell it, we have not even begun yet.

Is it next week yet?



SUBPLOT REPORT CARD:

King's Landin':  B+   (Small touch I liked:  Cersei has turned all the Kingsguard’s golden armor to the mourning black she is wearing.)

A Girl Is Arya Stark:  A   (Other small touch I like:  Arya’s hesitation to take a bite of rabbit, as she is still holding out hope the soldiers will try some shit, but sharing food with them invokes the guest rights that she just finished punishing the Freys for violating.)

The Citadel:  B   (Medium touch I like:  Broadbent’s articulation of the Citadel’s role in elevating men above the level of beasts – “can’t remember any meal but the last, can’t see past any but the next”.  I promise not to force modern day political commentary into every one of these reviews, but given the particularly anti-intellectual moment we’re living in, this small moment struck a chord.)

Wargin':  B  (Large touch I like:  ZOMBIE GIANTS.  We have seen shots of the army of the dead marching indeterminately for 5 years now.  It should be a maddening self-parody at this point, but…ZOMBIE GIANTS.  Come on.  I’m not made of stone.)

Dragonstone:  B (It's more a tease than even an appetizer, but a fairly effective one.)

Brotherhoodin':  A

The North:  A


Season Morghulis:  House Frey.

Death Watch:  The toughest part of this is always trying to figure out which subplots just won’t show up at all next week.  It seems like Tormund has been given a death sentence by being sent to be the only named character at ground zero for the White Walker invasion.  But I’m going to go with a Sand Snake, since we didn’t check in with them at all this week, and we have a superfluous number of them to thin out when Euron comes to burn Dany’s fleet.  The problem is they’re so interchangeable that it hardly matters which one you pick, but I’ll say Nymeria (the one with the whip).  

Map Watch!:  While I beamed with delight when I realized that the opening feast was not a flashback, and for ZOMBIE GIANTS, my single greatest moment of relief came when the credits excised Essos in its entirety, indicating that we would not be spending any time watching Daario cock up the rule of Slaver’s Bay or whatever.  Meanwhile, Oldtown makes it on the board, as we get presumably our last appearance by the folding bridges of The Twins.  It seems likely that it will be replaced by Eastwatch By The Sea for at least a week or two, and maybe Casterly Rock at some point? 

The has been Map Watch, the most wholly pointless subsection of an already pointless exercise. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

FARGO 3.10 - "SOMEBODY TO LOVE"

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“We see what we believe, not the other way around.”

This twisty, dark, bizarre season began with an accused man being brought into a room, to sit before a representative of the state who coolly laid out the circumstantial evidence that he was responsible for a terrible crime.  It ended the same way, only this time instead of knowing the man was being railroaded, we knew that he was guilty of everything the government was saying, and more.  This time the accused was the one rattling off state-sanctioned “facts” as irrefutable proof of his innocence, rather than the inverse.  In the Cold War era, the nightmare was that the state could dictate its own preferred reality upon the helpless individual.  Today, the even more frightening prospect is that even the government is powerless to rein in the shadowy, moneyed interests that set the terms for our brave new world.

But before we get to that room, we have the final moves in Nikki’s revenge scheme.  Her transformation into a commando may not be the most believable of turns, but having Wrench to do the heavy lifting helps in that regard and in any case it is satisfying as all get out to see the tables turned on Varga.  He slithers away, but the moments of fear, vulnerability and surprise she engenders in him will be important to remember when we circle back to that room, and that ending.  But first, she still has to reckon with Emmit. This is less satisfying, as she pulls her shot just enough to take out an innocent highway patrolman instead.  That she gets taken out too should seem like a bigger deal, but the introduction of this wholly innocent collateral damage puts it in a more nebulous place. It’s still a bummer, but she kind of has it coming and it’s neither the biggest tragedy or most deserved comeuppance the series has depicted.  So my favorite character gets shot in the head and my response is basically mirrors Gloria’s “well, okay then.”

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It was a flippin' sweet coat, though

It appears to be just the latest iteration of Emmit’s completely inability to get himself punished for his misdeeds, no matter how directly they place him in a literal crossfire. But then the show plays its niftiest little trick of the episode, using a time jump, chyrons, and an elegiac version of the main theme to suggest that it is transitioning to a coda.  The expectation forms, quickly and quietly, that we will float through a couple more check ins with the survivors and go straight to the credits.  But then Wrench shows up to throw a wren...some sort of spanner in the works, and put a bullet in the back of Emmit’s head.  It’s belated payment for his late(st) dead partner’s end of the deal.  He did get the money, after all; she was owed the brother. 

With Swango and the Stussys sorted, we circle back to that interrogation room, and that ending.  It’s a classic Lady or the Tiger ending, and boy, I love me a Lady or the Tiger ending. Enough that I liked the ending of The Sopranos right off the bat, and I rank Inception as one of the best films of the century despite finding about 50% of it to be a boring slog.  I like it because it allows you to have it whichever way you like, or both, if you prefer the Lady on Tuesdays and Tiger on Thursdays.  But I also like it because it makes you work.  Because it forces me to take at least that final step for myself, and requires an engagement beyond passively lying on my couch while shoveling Rocky Road into my gullet.

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right...couch...

Now, there’s a case to be made that this sort of ending is a cop out, a failure to follow a particular thematic throughline to its logical conclusion.  And done poorly, that may be the case.  The key to properly crafting such an ending, and what this finale excels at, lies in making both the Lady and Tiger seem like equally viable options.  This is actually very, very difficult.  Generally, a long lead up will have accumulated enough evidence to accidentally favor one side over the other, even though by definition there can be no “right” answer  - if Tony “really” was killed, they would have just shown it rather than crafting an elaborate question mark.  In this case, we have seen ample evidence that Varga does have connections and powers that may as well be supernatural for all that local law enforcement is concerned.  And it wouldn’t be the first time he had whisked a suspect Gloria thought she had dead to rights out from under her.  IRS Agent Dollard also noted that his initial investigation was stymied by interference from Washington, and even after the evidence was dropped in his lap, the result was a misdemeanor plea and probation.  On the other hand, Varga is most definitely not infallible, given the loops through which an amateur bridge player was able to throw him.  He didn’t plan on losing 2 million dollars, or Yuri or Meemo or any of the rest of his men, to her.   And he never intended to see Gloria again, or the inside of a DHS interrogation room.  When people refuse to play along with his line of fables and bullshit, as Gloria pointedly does in the room, he has been shown to be quite mortal.  It also seems entirely plausible that the bloody, costly end to the Stussy affair led to some loss of standing, such that whatever other forces control the levers of power are more inclined to just cut him loose.

And even with everything else being zeroed out, the scales of interpretation still tip, in my view, toward the last person to speak, or the final image.  “Somebody To Love” balances this really well, by allowing Varga to lay out his version of events after Gloria’s, making it seem more credible from an audience perspective.  But then she reiterates her conclusion, and he closes the debate by calling it a waste of breath.  So he technically gets the last word, but it’s not as authoritative as if his story about the man who would set him free had been our closing statement.  And then we see her face last, as an uncertain smile creeps onto her features.  And then, the final image isn’t either of them, but the empty hallway and ticking clock, as they wait to see what sort of tiger will show itself. 

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"Is...is that it?"

Which is how it has to be, I think.  Wedded as I am to my interpretation of Varga as the embodiment of disinformation and Fake News, it would not be appropriate to end with him soundly defeated by the forces of traditional American values.  And it would be too defeatist to end with him utterly triumphant, suggesting that the conquering of same is complete and irrevocable.  We are still fighting against what he represents, a fight that is complicated and difficult and significantly bigger than my personal loathing of Donald Trump.  Passing the White House back to the other side won’t end that fight, if such a shift also happens on the back of dubiously-sourced innuendo and outright lies.  If Varga does go away, chances are his replacement won’t have such fucked up teeth, and maybe he won’t be talking of pitchforks specifically.  But the new boss's message will be the same.  Nothing is as it seems.  All your fears are justified. In fact, it’s worse than you thought. Your friends, your neighbors, your institutions, they can’t be trusted and aren’t worth investing in.  Only I can tell you the real story, which is that the only way to keep what you have is to play dirtier than everyone else.  But all you have to do is sign on the dotted line, and we’ll take care the rest…

“There’s violence to knowing the world isn’t what you thought,” Gloria tells her son over popsicles. But, she adds, even though the world doesn’t make a lot of sense, “how we get through it is, we stick together.”  The Vargas of the world want to use that violence to induce feelings of helplessness, and when they succeed it leaves us so vulnerable that even DJ Qualls can seem like an unstoppable adversary.  But I do think Gloria has the right of it; if the Stussy brothers had stuck together, instead of clinging to the versions of the story that flattered their preexisting perspectives and grudges, Emmit would not have been such easy prey for the predators, and the Wildcat Regional may have been the start of something beautiful, instead of something stupid and bloody. 



Maybe. 




 COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT

  • The title of the episode is the same as the Jefferson Airplane song that features prominently in “A Serious Man”.
  • In a great interview with Alan Sepinwall (requests from Schwartzblog for such access have sadly gone unaddressed), Hawley calls Fargo a “tragedy with a happy ending”, which is a turn of phrase I really should have come up with myself, in 20 weeks of trying to describe the show.
  • For the record, I was totally wrong about the Widow Goldfarb.  I still don’t quite understand how having her in the wings to buy a bankrupt company after its value has been bled dry benefits anyone. Also, as nothing ever came of it, I guess Thaddeus Mobley was just a very fresh-faced 40 year-old in those 70’s flashbacks after all.
  • This is the second Lady or Tiger? Finale to fall on Carrie Coon’s shoulders in the last month.  The Leftovers finale is another of those cases where when you dig into the particulars, one of the options doesn’t seem all that viable.  SPOILERS:  She confirmed the possibility of undoing the giant traumatic event that broke the entire world, and this is not of any particular interest to anyone?  Does not compute.
  • Varga gives his name, if I’m not mistaken, as “Daniel Rand”.  Which is…Iron Fist?  I have no idea what to make of that, except that Hawley has an established affinity for more obscure Marvel comics. 
  • Varga has one last lie for the road – “Anything further would be wasting our breath. And if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s waste.”   Now just point him to the bathroom stall with the softest kneeling towels, please.
  • The finale could have used one more beat with Lopez.  If you aren’t going to exit her on her tremendous friend game from last week, you need to give her more than a line or two of exposition at a crime scene.  I also could have used one last scene with Chief Moe and Deputy Donnie, who both dropped out of the narrative without the grace notes Hawley normally grants to characters of even minor stature. 
  • Speaking of minor characters, there is really no better show on which to be cast as a henchman than Fargo.  Roles that appear at first blush to be mere flunkies wind up being as formidable and distinctive as Yuri and Meemo, where in years past you have Hanzee usurping Big Bad status from the ostensible shot-callers and Wrench resurfacing in a different story altogether as a righteous ass-kicker.
  • I do wonder how Wrench’s prominence played to people who had skipped season one.  Not that there is any truly vital backstory missing, but you have to be more inclined to accept his sudden airdrop into the frontlines of the story if you know who he is as soon as Nikki sits down on the bus.