A Familiar Face Returns To Fargo

And it's just the person to provide a much-needed twist.

Last week's episode of Fargo had much to recommend it, but one part in particular stood out: Ray's sudden, accidental death. I was sure I'd figured out that the sibling rivalry would be the core of the whole season, with all the other players essentially supporting it. I thought the brothers Stussy were like two kings on a chessboard: unlikely to accomplish much on their own, but surrounded by more unpredictable pieces that actually make things happen. But then obviously one of the kings got tipped over before the endgame, leaving me pleasantly confounded.

Killing Ray off early also dispelled any lingering worries that the Two-an McGregor casting was little more than a gimmick. I can't believe I didn't realize this before last week, but think about it: if one of your series regulars is playing two characters, that frees you up to dispatch one of those characters without having to update your call sheets for the rest of the season -- or having spoilers based on casting leak out to the internet. It's actually a brilliant scam.

It also left me wondering where the story was going to go from here. Alas, judging by this week's episode, I wasn't the only one. Even at Fargo's typically deliberate pace, there was hardly enough story this week to fill an entire hour. This is not to say that there aren't highlights, which included:

  • Emmit rapidly unraveling as he loses the ability to do anything but wax cynically poetic.
  • The cops hauling Nikki back through a motel bathroom she's trying to crawl out of -- less a shout-out to Jerry Lundegaard's abortive escape in the movie than a faithful cover version. The original scene was so indelible it hardly seemed necessary to play this one out to its conclusion, but it happened anyway.
  • An extended riff on paperwork and bureaucracy that makes one wonder if Noah Hawley thinks the Coen Brothers made Brazil.
  • An appearance by DJ Qualls. Having skipped The Man In The High Castle, I haven't seen that guy in so long that I thought he was dead, his skeleton harvested so that Marvel could temporarily graft Chris Evans onto it for the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • Another scene in which a Minnesota cop lets a lupine stranger from out of town intimidate him into walking away, à la Gus Grimly's first encounter with Lorne Malvo in Season 1.
  • Gloria getting more and more frustrated with the obstinacy of her superiors without ever departing from the uniquely formal phraseology of a police report.

Aside from these moments, however, I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time watching the progress needle crawl across the bottom of my screen. As a rule of thumb, not a lot is going to happen in an episode that features this much Moe Dammick, a character who seems to exist solely to prevent things from happening.

But I still tend to believe that very little of what Fargo does is unintentional. Maybe that even includes boring me for the better part of an hour. Maybe the purpose of that was to increase the impact of what happens at the end.

So there's Nikki, being ushered aboard the crowded prisoner transfer bus. Central Minnesota's various law enforcement agencies are certainly transporting a surprisingly large number of felons in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, but I don't claim to understand the logistics of these matters. Nikki is led to her seat and shackled to it, her face expressionless. We have just enough time to wonder why we're not seeing the prisoner seated next to her before the camera pans right.


And oh, look! It's Mr. Wrench!

It's been a while since we've seen the sign language-using hit man from Fargo's first season, but we are provided some helpful cues to assure us that it's him. He's still wearing his trademark fringed buckskin, pointy sideburns, and the same straight-ahead glower he was sporting when we last saw him a few years ago, in the Fargo-verse's 2006. But most of all, it's that aggressive but jazzy drum track that announces his presence, just as it did for him and his late partner Mr. Numbers back in the day.

For those who are just picking up the show this season, and for whom the appearance of a character you've never seen before isn't much of a payoff, the episode closes out with a bit of action, in the form of Yuri Gurka causing the bus to crash and starting to break into it. For those same viewers, I'll catch you up on Mr. Wrench, if you like (and if you don't, here is your warning that Season 1 spoilers are about to follow).

Back in the first season, Mr. Numbers (Adam Goldberg) and Mr. Wrench were dispatched to Bemidji, Minnesota by the Fargo mob to investigate the killing of one of Fargo's underbosses, Sam Hess. We the viewers knew perfectly well that Hess's murder was the work of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) as some kind of random favor to another man he'd just met, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Numbers and Wrench eventually caught up with Malvo during a white-out blizzard, leading to that season's best action scene and the violent demise of Numbers. As for Malvo, this was the closest anybody had ever come to taking him out, so he offered the wounded Wrench a partnership at some point in the future. Which likely didn't happen, because Malvo ran out of future shortly thereafter. Without a partner, Wrench vanished from the story -- until now.

Wrench and Numbers also turned up in the finale of Season 2. Of course, it was 1979 then, so they were just a couple of bickering kids on a ballpark until Hanzee Dent intervened with some bullies on their behalf, which probably marked the starting point of his own organized crime outfit, almost certainly the aforementioned Fargo mob. (Fargo newbies, you can come back now.)

So now Mr. Wrench is, unless I'm mistaken, the only character to date who has been shown in all three seasons of Fargo. And this is the first solid plot connection between this season and the larger Fargo-verse. Yes, there was a dead dog named after Lou Solverson's former hometown, but that was a wink to the audience, not continuity. It's a little odd that we had to wait until almost three-quarters into the season for this, but I'll take it.

Things I will also take: Wrench and Nikki teaming up to take down Yuri, Emmit, Sy, Varga, or any combination thereof. Flashbacks exploring any aspect of Wrench's past but especially his personal relationship with Numbers, no matter how lengthy or plot-derailing these flashbacks might be. Wrench and Nikki teaming up to go shopping for less distinctive coats. More -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- drum solos.

Yes, Yuri's assault on the bus is well-executed and kind of scary. But in my view, Wrench was the true climax of the episode. That's what gave me the real turn.

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