Fargo Season 3, Episode 8: ‘Who Rules the Land of Denial?’ (RECAP)
Year three of Fargo has reached its fish tornado, UFO invasion moment. In fact, “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” has reached peak Fargo in just about every conceivable sense, from its white-knuckle action to its delightfully inscrutable injection of the paranormal into an otherwise earthbound story.
Blessedly, the episode begins just where episode 7 left off. On a dark road winding through a snowy forest, Yuri, Meemo, and Golem—the would-be assassin from the jail—set up a ramp to flip Nikki’s prison bus. As the hitmen work their way through the guards and the lock, Mr. Wrench wakes up and braces for a fight.
The look Yuri gives Meemo as Wrench beats down Golem is priceless, and the chase that follows throughout the first third of the episode culminates in one of the series’ most tense and brutal standoffs. Nikki and Wrench each take a crossbow bolt in the fray, and Yuri loses an ear, but it’s Golem who winds up in the worst condition. He loses his head to Wrench and Nikki’s collaborative chain work and leaves a couple of very bloody stumps out in the forest. It’s all grimly satisfying in its goriness and earned in a way that only Fargo can be.
What seemed like it could have just been a fan-service cameo for Wrench last week has become something of a twisted redemption arc for the character, particularly taking into account what happens next.
It is at this point in the episode that things get weird. On the heels of the visceral and gripping chase, the show follows the very same group of characters to Fargo’s other forte: enigmatic foray into biblical and supernatural mysticism.
Happening upon a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere, Nikki and Wrench take refuge. At the bar, Nikki meets the very same Paul Marrane (Ray Wise) Gloria encountered a couple of times on her trippy journey to L.A. The idea of an omniscient and effortlessly cool character sharing a drink with a put-upon protagonist at a bowling alley smacks of The Big Lebowski, but Marrane is given a little more context than the Cohens gave the Dude’s Stranger.
Marrane, throughout his conversation with Nikki, drops a dizzying litany of references to Jewish lore, scripture and history, beginning with the concept of gilgul. According to this notion of reincarnation, a primarily Kabbalistic belief, an old soul can attach itself to a new body. Ray, it seems, has found his way into a helpless and adorable kitten. Not every soul is so lucky.
Moving on from gilgul, Marrane explains that the victims of the Haidamak Massacre of Uman—a 1768 event in which Cossacks, among others, slaughtered thousands of Jews in Ukraine—became lost souls who were eventually shepherded and comforted by the soul of rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
Marrane himself, with his worldly knowledge of Jewish struggles past and present, seems to be a take on the Wandering Jew. The Wandering Jew, or Eternal Jew, is a legendary figure who serves both as a scapegoat for anti-Semitic sentiment—stemming from his origin as one being punished for taunting Christ—and as an embodiment of the frequent persecution and dislocation of the Jewish people throughout history.
The Wandering Jew, who also goes by the name of Paul Marrane in the 17th-century French text Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, is cursed to continuously travel the earth until the second coming of Christ. Hence the six flights Marrane had taken by Tuesday when he first met Gloria. In his Fargo context, Marrane also seems to double as some sort of angel of judgment. Quoting passages from Psalms and the book of Obadiah, he sends Nikki on her way as an agent of vengeance, equipped with a green VW Beetle and a message for the wicked.
The villains of this season, Varga and Yuri especially, have made no secret of their anti-Semitism, but Marrane’s usage of Obadiah as his message of choice could indicate that the wicked person he has in mind is Emmit. The book of Obadiah is, after all, about God smiting a nation for joining a hostile force and turning against a nation of its brothers.
Plus, it seems like Marrane already has different plans for Yuri. When the villain arrives at the bowling alley a few minutes later, one-eared and bleeding, Marrane cites Yuri’s credentials as a grandchild of the infamous Wolves’ Hundred before turning him over for judgement by the victims of Cossack violence, including Helga Albracht (for those of you keeping score at home, she’s the victim of the murder referenced in the very first scene of the very first episode of the season).
From here, the episode shifts almost exclusively to Emmit and Varga. Varga invites Sy for a meeting during which he rather unsubtly poisons him with his mother’s special tea. Emmit is certainly aware that Sy has stopped by, but it’s not clear yet whether he approved the poisoning.
Once enough time has passed for Sy to grow an impressive mountain-man beard in his hospital bed, Emmit begins to unravel. Reminders of Ray mysteriously begin to appear to haunt Emmit, including Ray’s busted Corvette and photos of the stamp he died over. At first, it seems like this could be some sort of manipulation play by Varga, designed to push Emmit to his breaking point. But even Varga seems surprised when Emmit sprouts a spontaneous moustache. The most likely culprit, if not Varga, seems to be the recently divinely charged Nikki.
Whoever is working against Emmit is getting results. Menaced by his brother from beyond the grave, Emmit finds himself under enough distress to discard Varga’s sedatives and take himself down to the police station to confess. Gloria didn’t have much to do this week, aside from keeping tabs on Emmit and making up her mind to finalize her divorce, but depending on just how much Emmit is willing to confess to, she should have plenty to keep her busy as the series comes to a close over the next two weeks.
-The mental image of kitten Ray sitting in front of a tiny TV with a tiny bowl of beer watching the Gophers game is overwhelmingly sweet.
-Meemo is an excellent dancer, and I sincerely hope the remaining episodes explore this element of his character further.
Fargo, Wednesdays, 10/9c, FX