Fargo Season 3, Episode 5: ‘The House of Special Purpose’ (RECAP)

Fargo - Michael Stuhlbarg
Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz.

In what seems to be a major turning point for this season, the two little devils sitting on the shoulders of Fargo’s brothers, Nikki and Sy, finally meet to offer terms on behalf of their respective Stussys. Unfortunately, Varga’s foot soldiers interrupt before any peace accord can be struck. As a multi-front war breaks out between all of the many factions of Fargo Season 3, “The House of Special Purpose” brings all the combatants’ different “facts” and “truths” a little bit closer to a single, objective reality through blackmail, intimidation, violence and good, old-fashioned police work.

The episode’s opening volley, fired by Nikki and Ray, involves blackmailing Emmit with a sex tape of someone else. Using the same Emmit disguise he wore to withdraw money from his brother’s bank account, Ray films a raunchy scene with Nikki. On a side note, preparing to make a sex tape for the purpose of blackmail while disguised as an immediate family member seems to Ray like a perfectly romantic time to propose. Nikki, held up only by the fact that she’s wearing a “hooker wig,” accepts Ray’s offer.

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Nikki’s plan for the engagement celebration/sex tape is to show it to Emmit and threaten to hand it over to his wife, Stella, unless he pays up $100,000. Of course, this is Fargo, where the most complicated plans go awry in simplest of ways. Stella sees the tape before Emmit finds it, prompting her to immediately leave him, never stopping for a moment to remember that Emmit is in a feud with his nearly identical brother. This, in turn, prompts Emmit to call on his fixer, Sy, to make things right. Little does Emmit know about the kind of day Sy has been having.

Varga, in an openly anti-Semitic act of aggression, has fornicated with Sy’s cookware, forced him to drink from it, and kicked him out of his own office at gunpoint. Shaken, seemingly more by the indecency than the very real threat of violence, Sy takes a meeting with the storage mogul Goldfarb to try to unload his Varga problems to someone else.

Emmit pushes Sy even closer to the brink when he calls him over to fix his Stella problem. “What is the point of you?” Emmit asks, voicing a question that’s been looming all season. “You’re supposed to be a fixer. Nothing’s fixed. Everything’s broken.” Sy, waging a personal battle against the reality that he is, in fact, a comically ineffective fixer, says he needs more leeway to deal with Ray how he sees fit. Emmit agrees to take Sy’s “shackles” off, so he can deal with Nikki and Ray, once and for all.

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This all seems very ominous as a clearly destabilized Sy makes arrangements to meet with Nikki. Since Stella has already seen the blackmail tape, Nikki changes the terms. The way Nikki sees it, Stella believes that Emmit having an affair is the truth. She prices the “other truth,” that the tape actually shows Ray, at $200,000. Sy, clearly at the end of his rope tells Nikki to meet him in a remote parking lot in one hour.

While that’s going down, Gloria and Winnie carry out an insubordinate operation to bring Ray into the station for questioning. Gloria’s former deputy protests that the new chief won’t like it if she keeps trying to piece together Ennis’s case, but she remains persistent. “You don’t have to like the truth for it to be true,” she says.

Gloria’s suspicion is yet another truth to add to the pile of Fargo’s “truths,” but this one, at least, has the benefit of actually being true. The new chief isn’t having it, however. He catches Gloria mid-interrogation and forces her to cut Ray loose just before she can make any real progress.

Before resolving the Nikki and Sy plot, the episode also slips in a scene of psychological warfare. Varga materializes from the darkness of a parking structure to try to turn Emmit against Sy. Emmit doesn’t seem to believe that Sy is working with Ray, as Varga suggests, but the seed of distrust is planted.

Once Emmit and Varga get inside the office, something happens that seems to shake the previously unshakable Varga: a visit from the IRS. Varga looks on intently as an affable IRS agent (Hamish Linklater, Legion) questions Emmit about the $10,000 withdrawal Ray made from his account. As soon as the agent leaves, the agitated Varga approaches Emmit about the possibility of threatening the agent’s family.

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Meanwhile, on the waterfront, Nikki and Sy’s parley gets underway. As it turns out, the extent of Sy’s nefarious plan is to offer Nikki less money than she had asked for, but things take a violent turn at the site of the deal.

Yuri and Meemo, who have been following Sy since they made him drink from the “holy cup” in his office, intervene. When Nikki mouths off, Yuri decides to make an example of her, beating her nearly to death before leaving Sy to think about what he just saw. Sy, perhaps assuming Nikki to be dead or perhaps just too cowardly to help her, turns tail and retreats from the situation.

This incident could bring the brothers together as a united front against Varga, but it’s just as likely to escalate the conflict between them further. Nikki may tell Ray that Sy is to blame, which could lead Ray to lash out against Emmit. Or, with the seed of doubt planted by Varga growing in his head, Emmit may believe that Sy, in his unshackled frenzy, was the one who attacked Nikki, making Sy into a scapegoat for everyone. In any case, tentative battle lines have been drawn, the first major casualty has been dealt, and blood is likely soon to follow.