‘Fargo’ Season 3, Episode 2: ‘The Principle of Restricted Choice’ (RECAP)
“The Principle of Restricted Choice” is a slow burn that takes its time dropping a few more hints at the direction of the overall story without actually moving much in that direction. Ray and Emmit (Ewan McGregor) still have a fraught relationship, made more volatile by the contributions of Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Gloria (Carrie Coon) is still in the preliminary stages of her investigation into Ennis’ killing. The area with the most forward movement is the development of the series’ more villainous elements—chief of which being the misunderstanding and misuse of technology, with V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) taking a close second.
Gloria’s distaste for technology seems to have a firmer basis than the average luddite’s, given the fact that not even an automatic door—much less a cell phone— will cooperate with her in the opening scenes of the episode. But her seemingly justifiable aversion to computers doesn’t sit well with the new county chief who’s absorbing her department and usurping her title. The new chief sends Gloria to follow up on her lead, but warns her that after some mandatory time off, she’ll need to get used to the new order of things, computers included. It’s all too fitting that the evidence Gloria collects comes in the form of that low-tech remnant of a bygone era: the phonebook.
On the other side of the law, the technological faux pas continue as Emmit and Sy recruit their old-fashioned lawyer, Irv, in an attempt to distance themselves from Varga. Instead of confronting Varga directly, the parking lot kings decide to have Irv dig up some dirt about him online as they maintain plausible deniability of any shady dealings. With a name, address, phone number and corporate ID, it should be a simple task to track down Varga’s online presence.
“Friend this c–ksucker on Facebook and reel him in,” Emmit demands.
For Irv, things aren’t quite that simple. Anyone who’s ever tried to teach a grandparent about computers has probably heard something like “What if I click the wrong thing and break it?” Fargo takes that anxiety to the next logical step of “What if I click the wrong thing and an angry Cossack pushes me off a parking garage?”
Varga doesn’t take kindly to Irv’s labored Googling. The malicious link Irv clicks takes over his webcam for a quick peek, and then proceeds to shut down the network. Just like that, Irv has become a target for execution.
On his way back to his car, Irv is approached by an imposing man named Yuri (it’s not clear yet if it’s the same Yuri Gurka mentioned in the premiere’s East Berlin cold open, but it seems like a safe bet), who has a chat with him about his Ukrainian heritage before tossing him over the edge of the garage with help from his diminutive, silent partner Meemo. Yuri’s name is a potentially important callback to the puzzling season opener, and along with Meemo, he fills in yet another Fargo character archetype, being one half of the standard chummy pair of hired muscle.
Later in the episode, as Varga makes himself at home in the Stussy offices, he explains that parking lots are a perfect front for whatever it is that he does precisely because they’re cash businesses that use minimal technology. He also hammers home the underlying conceit of the entire Fargo franchise by explaining just why Minnesota is the perfect place to operate a criminal organization.
“It’s so perfectly, sublimely bland,” he says, contrasting the wintry wonderland of superficial niceness to the more obviously corrupt and unstable regions of the world like Putin’s Russia.
In the middle of all this technological villainy, the brotherly conflict between Ray and Emmit strays more to the spiritual side of things. Despite Maurice’s death being ruled an accident and Nikki’s reassurance that the only possible way for anyone to solve their crime would be to understand “unfathomable pinheadery,” Ray is a bit out of sorts.
Ignoring his murderer’s remorse, Nikki places the blame for Ray’s condition on blocked up chi—another throwback to the style of Peggy Blumquist’s pseudo-spiritual self-help from Season 2—which can only be corrected by resolving his trouble with Emmit, one way or another.
The “psychic Drano” Nikki suggests involves Ray distracting Emmit by extending an olive branch while she breaks into Emmit’s house and steals his last vintage stamp. The ruse of brotherly reconciliation works better than anticipated, with both Emmit and Ray coming away feeling like they’ve made amends, but Nikki’s break-in gets messy.
Finding a safety deposit box receipt where she expected to find the stamp, Nikki decides to lean into her “dangerous and frightening woman” stereotype by weaponizing her period. Finding a used tampon in his desk drawer goes a long way toward reversing the good will Emmit had just built up with Ray, and Sy agrees to step in to handle the situation. A brief exchange of chest-puffing and middle fingers by the decidedly unintimidating Sy and Ray leads to Sy crushing Ray’s Corvette with his giant Hummer.
Sy’s vandalism could escalate things between Ray and Emmit, but overall, their relationship isn’t in much worse shape than where it started. Emmit’s relationship to Varga, on the other hand, now seems significantly grimmer. With everyone, including Gloria, now thoroughly backed into the various technological and spiritual corners of their circumstances, it will be interesting to see who finally lashes out, and how, as the season progresses.
-For reasons yet unknown, Ennis’ secret double life as sci-fi writer Thaddeus Mobley will probably become an important plot point.
-Same goes for Yuri Gurka’s former life in East Germany.
Fargo, Wednesdays, 10/9c, FX