“The Law of Vacant Places” may have been the most focused -- and funniest -- hour of Fargo so far. Now that the audience knows the main cops and crooks of the new saga, even wilder characters are ready to enter the mix in the nine hours following.
In Nikki Swango’s intoxicating card game of choice -- contract bridge -- the law of “vacant places” helps players guess whether their partner or an opponent holds the card of interest.
You don’t always have to play a card in contract bridge to help you and your partner take enough tricks to fulfill the “contract” (or prevent the opposing side from meeting their goal). But when you play, your action helps all who watch closely ascertain what cards remain in your hand -- where the so-called “vacant places” lie.
As the vintage stamp conflict unfolds between brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy -- both played with startling differences by Ewan McGregor -- plenty of characters will need to keep an eye on who holds what.
Naturally, sympathies lie with the more evidently self-reliant Ray. He’s balding and pot-bellied but his pattern of power means those who have the hardest time in society are quite literally forced to count on him.
So when Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy of Halt and Catch Fire, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Argo, and much more) asks Ray “why are we meeting in a bar?”, a related family of questions should be on everyone’s minds.
For example, did Ray think that telling Emmit the money was to buy a ring for Ms. Nikki Swango would make him MORE likely to fork it over?
The point is Ray sometimes plays his cards a little carelessly. It’s part of why he and Nikki are such a good match. She has a good read on his subconscious tells, but there isn’t anything wrong with that in the context of a game. Ray’s maneuver with Maurice is a little less forgivable.
Maurice is really only trying to do what Ray asks when his fateful incident is set in motion. Failing his “piss test” means a new opportunity that atones for his earlier breaking and petty thieving, so he’ll be steered to that path whether he wants it or not.
It’s ultimately why Maurice opens his window and starts getting real lost, setting off a chain of events that truly may have been in everyone’s best interest.
At the end of the night, Maurice, the audience, and Nikki’s entire Facebook feed see the delirious effect a third place victory has on her and the effect Nikki has on Ray in turn.
Maurice bypasses the glowing sign just a step sideways from Nikki’s apartment building to update Ray on the mission he was asked to complete because he knew how important Ray made it sound.
All Ray didn’t reveal is why the stamp mattered, and the answer is sitting in the tub with him. It turns out she’s the answer to more of his riddles than one.
Meanwhile, Emmit’s “partner” in “justice” is Sy Feltz, who’s always concerned with Emmit’s fiscal sense. Michael Stuhlbarg (previously of Boardwalk Empire, Doctor Strange, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man along with much more) may be the most fun actor to watch in the new Fargo installment, as Sy transitions from feeling in control with Emmit to getting overmatched quickly by the arrival of “clicks and buzzers.”
Emmit made the call which gave away his cards to V.M. Varga, who just might believe he’s the best schemer in all America. The call revealed Emmit was in trouble, and that’s what V.M. Varga prepares for.
Don’t take offense -- we’re just explaining what happened.
Like Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, David Thewlis (of Harry Potter films, The Theory of Everything, and much more) has prior history with Joel and Ethan Coen, having appeared alongside Julianne Moore in the cult/classic The Big Lebowski.
As Thewlis memorably pulled off in that previous role, V.M. Varga seemed a little TOO happy with the knowledge he has over his previously-unwitting victim. So Varga could be the one to look at closest while this “ten-hour movie” progresses.
Varga’s manner of manipulation can come back to bite him easily. He's a possible wizard at networking analysis but his approach isn’t likely to make him a good partner at the bridge table.
So when Nikki Swango and Ray Stussy -- the pair that WILL live forever, because “The Law of Vacant Places” is here to stay -- take their seats, the music is fittingly celebratory.
Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” is the show-stopping discovery play for Fargo’s Wildcat Regional because it encapsulates so many ways we communicate without language. The “lyrics” mimic sounds of English as heard by an Italian speaker and couldn’t possibly be translated to take one single new meaning.
Fargo may be all about what some technically call paralinguistic cues. A literal or linguistic meaning implied by the content is the wrong thing to focus on, at least when singing. The feeling overcoming the listener results from the singer’s emotions and the arrangement of the backing instruments.
In that light, rewatching the Wildcat Regional and “Prisencolinensinainciusol” with Nikki and Ray playing their cards should give the viewer a different such feeling each time around.
This third season of Fargo will show much more of the feelings at heart of its new truest heroine, police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon, the simultaneous star of Fargo and HBO’s The Leftovers) over its remaining hours.
For now, the family tragedy accidentally brought to her by Maurice (and either Ray or Emmit depending how far you go back) simply has her world upside down.
- The hour opens in East Berlin, 1988. Be aware of future border crossings.
- The vintage stamp Emmit holds and Ray covets depicts Sisyphus, the mythological king who has been made to push a boulder up a hill ever since he tricked way too many Greek gods a very long time ago. Sisyphus is frequently used to illustrate the impossibility of completing tasks in life. How the impossible fits into a Fargo true story is never always clear, but the theme has recurred since “The Heap” -- one of the first year’s stunning payoff episodes -- or earlier.
- Fargo had always kicked off in a new year’s winter, but decorations reveal that Christmas is near in 2010.
- We don’t know those books that Gloria finds under the floorboards either, not to mention the story behind the model carving Ennis made for his grandson Nathan. Stay tuned.
- Like the first hour of Legion, “The Law of Vacant Places” is written and directed by series creator Noah Hawley.
MORE FARGO: Why Genre TV Fans Need to Tune In to Fargo
-- Zach Ellin is a freelance writer for ComicBook.com. Follow him on Twitter for more of his insights.