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One Bad Download Leads To Another On Fargo

A computer novice learns the hard way that technology in the Fargo-verse is nobody's friend.

Distrust of technology is rapidly emerging as a theme in Season 3 of Fargo. Would I have noticed this if I hadn't recently read a novel by Fargo's showrunner, Noah Hawley, in which the bad guy hacks cell phones and the hero doesn't even own one? Probably. As previously noted, the season premiere featured several scenes with people paying more attention to their phones than the people they were with, including Ray and Nikki during their shared bath. Not that I blame Nikki.

The second episode takes that theme even further, as we learn about Eden Valley Chief of Police Gloria Burgle's attitude toward "the future you come from." Her new boss is unimpressed that her department has to operate out of the Eden Valley Public Library. Then he's dismayed that, in the absence of a holding cell, Gloria detains her prisoners in the storage room where they keep the computer boxes. And then he's horrified that, worst of all, those computers are still in their boxes. Gloria explains that it's not that she doesn't like computers -- though she doesn't; it's just that she's perfectly content to type up her police reports and submit them via telex. Telex, like Lou Solverson might have used back in 1979.

Now, Fargo without a healthy measure of unlikelihoods would not be Fargo at all, but we are being asked to believe that a Generation Xer (a) is happy to use a telex machine; (b) found a telex machine connected to another telex machine somewhere in 2010; and (c) could pick a telex machine out of a lineup. This is Luddism on such an unlikely scale that in the absence of an explanation that a computer killed her parents, I call bullshit.

And speaking of throwbacks in technological concepts, Ray has to use his boss's computer at work when the cable (note the singular) for his own desktop is chewed through by "vermin." As if we're still in the ENIAC era and the term "bugs" is used literally. It doesn't feel like going out on a limb to predict that Ray's use of someone else's system to research the cause of death of one of his parolees might come back to bite Ray's own cable, if you know what I mean. Treacherous technology again.

Maybe I'm a little biased toward technology, given the platform on which you're reading my words right now. And this is not to say that going online is entirely without its dangers. But I suspect that this particular episode of Fargo may be overstating them just a tad.

Take Emmit Stussy's attorney, Irving Blumkin, who is at a more plausible age to become roadkill on the information superhighway. When Emmit and his Fargo-accented sidekick Sy drop the problem of V.M. Varga in Irv's lap, Emmit suggests to him that "you should be able to friend this cocksucker on Facebook and then reel him in!" Irv reasonably wonders what comes next, but it turns out things never get that far.

To start with, Irv is so not tech-savvy that he has to get help from his assistant Deb to operate that advanced web utility that elite hackers know as Google. Fortunately he's not afraid to ask penetrating follow-up questions like "What's it doing?" and "What's 'Enter'?"

Let's ignore for now the plain fact that nobody in TV or movies uses Google. The minute cameras are in the room, everyone uses Bing or something even more fictional. Leaving that aside, even in 2010 it was pretty tough to come up with any string of ten characters that would fail to generate several pages of results, let alone come back with a single hit -- and one this sinister-looking.

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And when the link brings Irv to a new screen inviting him to download a file, without any explanation, Irv's computer illiteracy leaves him unaware of anything unusual about the situation. So with the alacrity of someone feeling dumb and wanting to prove he knows what to do next, he clicks the download link before Deb can stop him.

Then things get really weird. A moment later, Irv and Deb are looking at their own faces in the monitor, as though they're Skyping themselves. And then every computer in the office (all two of them) goes down with a noise like the Enterprise's life support systems failing. Even Irv knows enough to realize this is bad. But you'd have to be a pretty serious computer guru watching this to realize how bad.

Because that evening in the parking ramp, Irv is accosted by a stranger who has some surprising knowledge about Irv. (Unlike Irv, we do know a bit about the stranger -- namely that he must be Yuri, the Ukrainian sought for murder in 1988 East Berlin as referenced in the season's opening scene.) We already know from Varga's first conversation with Emmit that he and his people have the resources to invade and compromise computer systems, which is certainly what happened to Irv when he downloaded that file. What has Irv brought down on himself with that ill-advised click? Threats? Blackmail? Nope:

Previously.TV

Later, while installing those very same henchmen into their new offices at Stussy Lots, Varga himself explains the cause of Irv's death to Emmit and Sy: he can't have people researching him. It's potentially Varga's most intimidating moment yet. What can't this man do, if he is capable of hacking Google itself? Ray and Sy aren't just in bed with him; they're strapped down, and Irv's fate proves it. Which is bad for them, but worse for Irv.

Put simply, Irv dies within hours of Googling the wrong phrase. If this isn't a warning about the dangers of technology, I don't know what is. It's like Gloria's parents all over again.

Yes, this is pretty overheated as information-age fables go. But it's never a good idea to click suspicious links or download software from a source you don't trust. Such behavior could open you up to expensive computer repairs, spyware, and identity theft, if not the kind of catastrophic systems crash that results from a multi-story plunge to the sidewalk. So be careful and use common sense. That advice still stands, even if Irv doesn't.

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