There are no accidents in the tragicomic events that shape each season of FX’s Fargo, and it’s probably also no accident that each year the show delivers a female star off whom we cannot take our eyes.
For the third season of Fargo, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET, that would be Mary Elizabeth Winstead (below).
Winstead plays Nikki Swango, the parolee girlfriend of Ray Stussy, whose rivalry with his brother Emmit is the primary trigger for a Fargo-esque cascade of really unfortunate dominoes.
Ray and Emmit are both played by Ewan McGregor (top, as Emmit), who makes them markedly different in spite of the fact they were clearly shaped by small-town Minnesota, a world where you’d hardly know it’s 2010 if there weren’t so doggone many cell phones.
Emmit, the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” is successful. Ray, a parole officer, is resentful.
Seems that when their father died years ago, he left two significant possessions: a Corvette and a rare stamp. Emmit got the stamp, Ray got the Corvette. Ray still drives the Corvette and is convinced that somehow Emmit became successful because he conned Ray out of the stamp.
There’s little evidence for this supposition, but once Ray convinces Nikki it’s true, the get-even game is on.
Nikki, who might be described as the Minnesota flim-flam version of Marisa Tomei’s character in My Cousin Vinny, is like a 10,000-volt of electricity for the depressed, mopey Ray.
She will have much the same impact on viewers, whose eyes and ears should perk up every time she comes into a frame.
It’s the kind of impact Alison Tolman had in season 1 and Jean Smart had in season 2, though they played radically different characters.
In any case, Emmit at first doesn’t realize he’s under siege from Nikki and Ray because he faces a bigger and more tangible menace.
Seems that after the fiscal meltdown of 2008, Emmit and his parking lot partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) had to take out a million-dollar loan from an off-the-books sort of fellow named V.M. Varga (David Thewliss).
When they approach Varga to pay it back, he throws them a curveball and not in a good way.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, Eden Valley Police Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon, left) finds herself struggling with a divorce, a teenage son, a world full of technology she rejects and now a murder that seems to make no sense.
We know all this ties together long before the characters realize it, which is standard Fargo M.O. and keeps the suspense percolating on several levels.
While Fargo takes an occasional liberty with plausibility, it remains faithful to the paths and instincts of its characters. However blockheaded some of their decisions may be, we have little trouble believing these characters would make them.
Accordingly, we have no trouble accepting that what may seem to be a series of small reckless moves can snowball into something far more dire.
Creator Noah Hawley also meticulously leaves a trail of Fargo-style jelly beans along the path.
Ray’s beat-up Corvette is exactly the kind of touch we expect from Fargo, as is one of Nikki’s schemes: that she and Ray will make big money in competitive bridge tournaments.
In any other part of the world, they’d be fleecing rich tourists. In the world of Fargo, they’re playing bridge.
We’re still many weeks away from knowing exactly how all these threads will weave together, or what the final picture will look like. But the story is promising enough that we need no convincing to follow it. It’s further enhanced by solid performances from, among others, McGregor and Coon.
And if none of that were true, Winstead alone would be reason to watch.