Thursday, June 15, 2017

FARGO 3.09 - "APORIA"

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“A lie’s not a lie if you believe it’s true.  Do you think that?”
“It’s not my story.”


It’s been true, and not to the season’s benefit, that it has felt  like Emmit’s story more than Gloria’s.  As the center of Varga and his brother's machinations Emmit has gotten more focus than about any character outside Nikki, but he still felt less defined than his brother that only made it to the halfway point, or his sidekick Sy, or his villainous tormentors, or Gloria, our ostensible hero.  “Aporia” makes great strides to bring this less consistent season of Fargo to a strong close, by letting Emmit and Gloria finally voice the deepest angst they’ve been pushing down all season, and allowing Nikki the most swagger since at least the Wildcat Regional.  It may not be the “best”, or most outre, episode of the year, but it is the most satisfying. 

Pushing Emmit to his breaking point finally reveals some depths to his character beyond moderate cowardice and moderate greed.  He “won” exactly the life he wanted, but carried into it a nagging awareness that he did it by handicapping his brother’s shot at the same. In a roundabout way, this makes more sense Emmit’s odd lack of reaction to losing his wife over a clumsy forgery of a sex tape.  On some level, he has an inkling that his family may be better off at a remove from whatever lies at the end of the Varga imbroglio, but on another level, he has always felt that he cheated his way into that family, so it only makes sense he’d be cheated out of it.  Then he’s even cheated out of the penance he has assigned himself, as Varga sows enough disinformation to overcome even a direct confession.   

This comes as a blow to Gloria, who had finally allowed herself to get her hopes up that she could close the book on this thing (not an unreasonable expectation, seeing as she did have a confession and all).  It sends her spiraling into self-doubt about whether she can ever accomplish any good in her job, or whether she even exists at all.  Luckily, she has a friend to dust her off and give her a hug.  Stated directly like that, it sounds like a rather pat resolution for an existential crisis, but as scripted and acted by Olivia Sandoval and Carrie Coon, it feels like an actual, nice moment between friends.  Which is harder to pull off than it sounds.  Gloria needs to feel like she’s seen, and Winnie does her one better by saying not only do I see you, I actually like you.  People just need to hear that now and then, even (perhaps especially) amidst whirlwinds of fratricide and mistaken identities and brazen assaults on the structure of civilized society while wearing animal masks.

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This. This Must Be Stopped.

She also advocates for resilience and a long view of the battle between good and evil, one where good ultimately triumphs no matter how recent and crushing its defeats.  Gloria might be more receptive to that particular message if she knew that her old suspect had already returned to upend the Bad Guys’ best laid plans. While Burgle & Lopez are an adorably supportive pair of partners, Swango & Wrench are a well-oiled machine of strategic vengeance.  I had a feeling that some sort of ambush was coming when we lingered on the semi idling at the stoplight, but it was still a total fist-pumper of a moment when Nikki appeared to casually drop a friggin’ grenade through the shattered window.  That it turned out to be a bluff, to steal the mobile command center rather than destroy it, was even more satisfying.  But still not even the best part.  The long- awaited Swango vs. Varga face-off was all I could have hoped for, allowing our accumulated knowledge of Varga’s tactics to play off our increasing context for Nikki’s bridge fixation as an outlet for a strategic mind in a serious of small feints and countermoves that leaves the Big Bad Wolf gnawing at his own leg in frustration while our girl struts out to a triumphant horn section, sidekick in tow.  The time for tampon pranks has long passed, and Nikki surprises everyone but herself by upping her game accordingly. Varga, meanwhile, can’t manage to buy her off, poison her, or have her shot. 

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It’s enough to drive a man to eat a quart of Rocky Road on the toilet

 
Nikki counters all of Varga’s moves, but I want to focus in on the one tactic that does take her off guard; to mitigate the deterrent effect of meeting in the open with someone you intend to kill, he packs the lobby with men matching his basic build in the same nondescript jacket and tie.  It’s a move that encapsulates his entire methodology, in that it’s hardly foolproof, but it doesn’t have to be.  He’s weaponizing the problems of mistaken identity that have driven so much of this year’s story, by quietly sowing the seeds of doubt and misinformation.   

Now, I try not to get overtly political in this space, because critics that insist on making every movie or show about their personal politics annoy the crap out of me even when those politics are in general alignment with my own. But,...okay.  You may have heard some scuttlebutt about how Russian intelligence services are suspected of tampering with our election processes, as they are accused of doing throughout Europe and Asia.  The question of the day is to what extent the Trump campaign was knowingly complicit in abetting these efforts.  I’m not going to pretend that I know at this point exactly who knew what or when they knew it; who was a mastermind (Varga) and who was a semi-knowing patsy (Emmit) and who just so caught up in their own civil feud that they didn’t realize what they were dealing with until it was too late (Swango).  But it’s an important question to answer completely, because even if it turns out all the president’s men are innocent of actively conspiring with foreign powers, those powers are still conspiring.  As long we take Chief Moe's route of closing the books and moving on as quickly and quietly as possible, the Vargas of the world will carry on, free to further manipulate us and poison dissenters.

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Sy's Moustache: April 19, 2017 - June 7, 2017
Rest In Power

So whatever the truth of the matter, be it high treason or comedy of errors, I hope Robert Mueller turns out to be more of a Gloria than a Moe.  His job will be as difficult as hers, because per pretty much all reporting and western intelligence agencies, Putin has embraced a chaotic form of disruption that is not much concerned with carefully orchestrating specific outcomes.  The alleged collusion with the Trump campaign wasn’t about grooming a Manchurian candidate, but rather the careful manipulation of social media to dissemble specifically targeted propaganda.  In the short term, such stories serve to undermine specific politicians, but even when the “fake news” is outed, it still works to degrade confidence in the media and elections themselves.  What Putin and his strategists have realized is that a democracy relies on an informed public to function, and when attacking such a country directly is too dangerous, it only takes a little muddying of the information waters, a touch of the titular "aporia", to start it eating away at its own foundations. 

Varga knows that criminal investigations are similarly vulnerable.  His move with the coats is digital astroturfing in analogue form.  He doesn’t need an airtight alibi, just enough to get Moe and Gloria arguing over what they’re looking at.  And the scary thing about it is that it doesn’t even require Moe to be on the take, or a specially-tailored plan to exploit the particularly contentious dynamic between those two individuals.  It’s just a general awareness that if the cops are tripping over themselves, they’ll never catch up to him.  Does it matter that the “serial killer with an oddly literal method of victim selection to match two complete, and completely different, MO’s” cover story doesn’t hold up to very much scrutiny?  No more than it matters that it is much more plausible that Trump was compromised by accepting investments from a Varga-type organized crime figure to bail out some ailing real estate venture back in the 90s than by some mythical video of golden showers at the Miss Universe pageant. No, what matters is that introducing a competing narrative requires that energy and attention be spent to debunk it, all while the trail to the actual truth gets colder and more obscure.  What the Russians, real and fictional, have figured out is that if you can create an environment where it’s impossible to definitively prove anything, there is nothing you can’t get away with. 

Or maybe I’m way off base.  Maybe too much cable news has me reading current events in what is just a straightforward story about a powerful international criminal with Russian ties propping up a dim-witted “billionaire on paper” for his own ends, while said billionaire is flummoxed by a phony sex tape and demands to release his tax information, as the investigation into their connection is stymied because those in charge of it would much rather end it quickly and quietly than catch the actual culprits.  Perhaps the finale will prove me definitively right, or wrong.  Or maybe it will just add another layer of competing narrative to separate us from the truth.


 


 COEN BINGO AND OTHER RANDOM SHIT

  • I got so caught up with Swango’s swag and Gloria’s near-breakdown that I completely forgot to look for Coen references, even on a second watch.  Um, let’s see…the Stussy dentist is clearly about to make a White Russian when Meemo kills him?  Yeah….that’s the ticket.
  • Moe parrots the interrogator from the opening vignette of the season, stating of the orgy of planted evidence and quick-n-tidy confession that “these are facts.”  And they are.  The trouble comes when you select to view only the facts that support the outcome you’ve already decided upon.
  • Gloria immediately passing her fries to Donnie is just the sweetest.
  • But Thewlis’s gaping, overbitten reaction to Meemo’s disheveled arrival is, in the parlance of our times, everything.
  • That widow Goldfarb sure seems shady, huh?  I’m not sure what is up with her.  On the message boards, some suggested that she must be in league with Varga somehow, which I can understand since he is the only other shady game in town.  But it doesn’t make a lot of sense that he would be orchestrating a buyout of the Stussy empire when he’s already managed the much more complicated task of taking it over from within.  My best guess is that the season will end with Varga going down but Meemo (who has already demonstrated smarts and a varied enough skillset to sit down with the IRS between flipping buses) stepping up to run “Narwhal” with Goldfarb as a new, improved frontwoman – smarter than Stussy, more agreeable than Swango.  I base this mostly on it not seeming to fit the Fargo brand for someone as monstrous as Varga to go completely unpunished, but at the same time the state of the world (particularly when this would have been in production) does not seem such that ending with Fake News utterly vanquished is a viable option, thematically.
  • I don’t imagine Trump watches any scripted shows besides SNL, but I imagine him seeing the file Nikki left for the IRS and spontaneously spurting “She’s a leaker!”   I really do love how the president has settled on this as some horrible insult.  It’s simultaneously childish-sounding and just so utterly, blatantly disingenuous.  We remember you publicly exhorting the Russians to commit espionage to provide you with more dirt on your political opponents.  Ass. 
  • I need a .gif of Varga sitting dead-eyed on the toilet, shoveling ice cream into his mouth, right now.  No, I don’t know what situation could possibly call for its application.  I’ll figure that out once I have it.  

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