There may be no sight in Fargo’s third season more representative of the American Dream than Emmit Stussy’s (Ewan McGregor) house. It’s a symbol of hard work, early mornings, and shrewd deals. As it is now—decorated with Christmas paraphernalia and boasting a cavernous foyer, in which a gigantic Christmas tree shelters a bevy of presents—it’s everything the American Dream promises. The house suggests a close-knit family, a hardworking set of parents and a promising future. And yet, there’s V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), the very image of corruption and moral rot, sitting next to the Christmas tree, opening presents that don’t belong to him. He’s a toxic presence in the life of Emmit and Sy, and perhaps that warrants some sympathy. On the other hand, he’s reality intruding into their lives, the suggestion being that there’s no American Dream, not anymore, without corruption. They come together, packaged in cheery holiday paper to disguise the waste and consumerism—the kind of stuff that rips people apart—inside.
Strapping a complete Marxist reading onto this season of Fargo is probably ill-advised, but it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the show is engaging in some form of critique of work, wealth, power and class. “The Law of Inevitability” is largely a table-setting episode; surely there will be fallout from Ray’s (Ewan McGregor) death, and Gloria (Carrie Coon) and Winnie (Olivia Sandoval) are getting closer to finding out the truth behind Ennis’ murder and the Stussy brothers’ feud, but for now everyone is stuck in place. That gives the show’s cultural critiques a little more room to play out, and the result is an episode that often muses on wealth and power.
For much of this season, Fargo has been playing with ideas of personal and moral responsibility. The feud between Emmit and Ray is one of shifting blame, with neither man willing to accept their role not only in their fight, but also in the course of their own lives. Ray attributes his relative lack of success to an age-old deal over a stamp and car, and Emmit refuses to see his success as anything other than the result of hard work—this despite the fact that V.M. Varga is the living embodiment of Emmit’s recklessness. Even if one accepts that Emmit was looking for a legitimate lender, he’s still, on the most basic level, looking for help in his success. Where would the Parking Lot King of Minnesota be without a little help from other people, whether they’re shady mobsters or not? Perhaps life would have turned out differently.
In this look at culpability and personal responsibility is the potential for a critique of privilege and the social blindness it creates. Emmit, while meeting with the widow Goldfarb about a potential buyout, goes on a tangent about the grubby hands of the poor and disenfranchised that suddenly reach out when you have money. He chastises them for needing help, for not wanting to put in the work, and yet he’s the one who needed the help in the form of a hefty loan. Emmit has his blinders on, and so does Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg), driving around in his ridiculous Hummer boasting about his millions of dollars and yet totally willing to pawn off this Varga mess on the unsuspecting Goldfarb.
There’s a sense among the most corrupt characters this season that their money is a shield. They believe it entitles them to certain things, granting them leeway where they expect strict adherence from others. Emmit wants compassion for the situation he’s in, yet throws around vulgar terms when referring to Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her attempts to rise up out of her situation. Emmit killed his brother, yet he blames Ray for his own death. His logic is that if Ray hadn’t been an unsuccessful loser, he wouldn’t have ended up dead.
As blind as Emmit and Sy are to their own responsibility in this mess, there’s a chance that they’ll be forced to see it when Gloria and Winnie figure this all out. Technically, their superiors take them off the case, but that’s not stopping them from searching for the truth. They’re the ones doing the real hard work, asking the right questions, connecting the right dots. Where Chief Moe can coast on ignorance in much the same way as Emmit and Sy, Gloria and Winnie must prove themselves time and again.
It’s never enough, though, and within that story is a critique of the supposed meritocracy of capitalism and the American Dream. Emmit and Sy believe that you just have to work hard to get what you deserve. It’s telling, then, that what they deserve is V.M. Varga and a connection to organized crime. Then there’s Gloria and Winnie, doing all the legwork to expose a string of murders despite their superiors refusing to see the connection, only to then have the case taken away from them.
“Follow the money” is all Nikki says when Gloria questions her about Ray’s death. It may as well be a thesis statement applied to the whole season. Follow the money, and you’ll find corruption, privilege, and a total lack of responsibility.
Kyle Fowle is a TV critic whose work has appeared at The A.V. Club, Entertainment Weekly and Esquire. You can always find him tweeting about TV and pro wrestling @kylefowle.