Fargo: “The Law of Vacant Places” Season 3 Premiere Review

After a mood-setting prologue in 1988 Berlin, the third season premiere of FX’s anthology series Fargo-ifies the classic opening wedding scene from The Godfather. This twenty minute sequence introduces us to a number of the characters, all attending the 25th wedding anniversary of Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and his wife. We see backroom business negotiations go as politely as they possibly could. Even as the central conflict arises, with Emmit’s brother Ray (also Ewan McGregor) asking for money to buy a ring for his girlfriend, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), there’s a restrained attitude toward hurting anyone’s feelings, perfectly recapturing the absurdist comedy that made the first two seasons work so well. Ray and Nikki work as a sleazy antithesis to Emmit’s gentlemanly mannerisms, backed up by his lawyer, Sy (Michael Stuhlbarg). But what is all this hoopla for?  A stamp. And with that, welcome back to Fargo.

“The Law of Vacant Places” has two primary jobs. First, re-establish the show’s effortless tone. Second, introduce us to a string of new characters we’ll want to watch fumble around each other for the next nine weeks. The premiere succeeds at both, but is also a tad limited in what it can accomplish for the same reason.

Either way, McGregor injects both Emmit and Ray with so much life, chewing scenery at every turn in a way he hasn’t quite been asked before. But the hero of this “true” tale is far removed from the Stussys at the start. Gloria (the wonderful Carrie Coon) is a renowned police chief in her small town. She’s a single mom who also makes herself responsible for taking care of her father. She’s cheerful yet strong, as we learn in the premiere that she’s not afraid to charge into a home with a shotgun. Her life only intersects with the Stussys by way of a tragic “accident.” Ray hires his parolee Maurice (Scoot McNairy), who’s clearly drugged up, to go steal his brother’s stamp. But the written directions go flying out the window and Maurice goes to the wrong place, killing Gloria’s father in the process. Classic Fargo.

With introductions and the main inciting incident out of the way, Noah Hawley’s third iteration will have a better chance to truly take off next week. But for now, this cast is more than game for a season of well-mannered debauchery and idiocy. The tone has been renewed and is ready to go, now we just have to wait and see what they do with it all. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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