The newly-named “true story” of FX’s Fargo is unknotted by a familiar sound in the latest hour’s opening moments.
This year’s opening pair (“The Law of Vacant Places” and “The Principle of Restricted Choice”) teased family allegiances that Stussy brothers and hangers-on still only partially understand, and last week’s domestic roundtrip (“The Law of Non-Contradiction”) studied the idiosyncratically hopeful heroine at Fargo’s awkward new nexus.
Tonight’s “The Narrow Escape Problem” frightens the cult audience and casual watchers alike in its opening moments with a startling shift of focus from history to metafiction.
The devilish speaker -- unnamed, for now -- briefly narrating a re-spun “Peter and the Wolf” (the classic Russian fairy tale written by composer Sergei Prokofiev) turned Fargo devotees pale long ago. His return invites fervent speculation yet conceals the important introductions made between his two announcements.
Last night’s particular tale is instigated by its renewed “clarinet,” Nikki Swango. She easily convinces her bridge partner to adopt an all-new look that escalates the spiraling Stussy conspiracy in St. Cloud, MN.
The revealed contents of Emmit’s safe deposit box throw both of the Stussy partnerships for a loop. Ray’s changing attitude in the wake of the thievery -- refusing to abandon Nikki when confronted by his now-former-supervisors, but ditching their could-be sponsor for a solo evening at the bar -- shows why he needs a partner who sits literally across the table.
Emmit, who celebrated his anniversary with invited onlookers only days earlier, learns of Ray’s identity stunt while watching invaders Yuri Gurka and Meemo (who previously erased Irv Blumkin from his not-so-great lot in the sky) take over another piece of his parking lot empire’s castle.
But before V.M. Varga goes hunting for dinner personally at Emmit’s door in the evening, Gloria stumbles through lawful superiors wielding authority with falsehood.
Her first meeting with her new chief, Moe Dammik, concerns implication -- not a specific implication, but the very concept of the practice. Eden Valley’s new overseer, it seems, doesn’t believe in it.
Gloria understands something larger is at play simply because of how much she can’t see. She asks some of the right questions in “The Narrow Escape Problem,” but her personal failing is playing her cards out of order.
Gloria briefly meets her dead suspect’s parole officer, but blows the chance to properly question him by remarking on the seemingly coincidental last name out loud. But the crossing with Nikki outside the building likely threw her off before making entry.
Officer Winnie Lopez (Olivia Sandoval, The Real O’Neals) has the surprising fortune -- good or bad, unclear at this time -- of meeting Gloria in the interim, and their fact-finding approaches are polarly opposed.
Winnie commits so strongly to the task in front of her that she doesn’t even stop to process what’s a coincidence and what could be a clue before leaving the room. While the approach puts Gloria off momentarily, its validity is revealed after Winnie reflects on questioning Sy Feltz -- the so-labeled “grandfather” in the story whose key role is still to be played.
Winnie met Sy fresh after his latest antagonization of Ray, but let neither Yuri Gurka and Meemo nor Sy’s clear agitation displace her scheduled task from the front of her mind.
Though Sy feels safest in his giant yellow car, considered “ugly” by any reasonable standard, leaving the scenes of his “accidents” at speed has him in fittingly hot water.
Winnie’s partial meetings are finally added up over a nightcap -- tea at Gloria’s. The concluding notes of “The Narrow Escape Problem” make the bold statement of the hour clear.
Directed by Michael Uppendahl (after the earlier “Restricted Choice” and three episodes each of Legion and Fargo year two) and written by Fargo newcomer Monica Beletsky, “The Narrow Escape Problem” may be the first truly post-Legion hour of the powerhouse anthology series from the same creator, Noah Hawley.
Like Legion, Fargo has made a hard turn towards horror after rounding up a three-week introduction. But unlike Legion and David Haller’s psychic nightmares and personifications, Fargo is concerned with a new concrete -- digital and social networks.
In that new reality, Meemo (Andy Yu, Hell On Wheels) and Yuri Gurka (Goran Bogdan, The Last Panthers) slowly bring V.M. Varga’s new balance -- nepravda, in the terms of their chosen propagandists -- to Emmit and audiences directly.
V.M. Varga fittingly arrives for his first supper at Emmit’s home on foot and makes it clear that he’ll talk business in front of whoever he pleases before excusing himself to the restroom when things get serious.
The obvious, in this case, must not go unstated: V.M.’s vomiting habit is not at all healthy. So while he convincingly walks Emmit through the compelling next steps, the story’s new “wolf” is blinding himself from his own poison.
“Peter and the Wolf” has been famously narrated by visionaries from David Bowie to Patrick Stewart and countless storytelling titans in between, but a true progenitor of FX’s Fargo returned to set the table tonight.
Billy Bob Thornton’s incomparable body of work made him an ideal central figure for the new series when it debuted on FX in 2014, starring as the mysterious stranger who upends the life of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) before even revealing his name.
While it’s the second time a first-year star has taken a guest turn as narrator, the forward-thinking instance in “The Narrow Escape Problem” is the first to signal that Fargo’s spine-freezing shock will come when least expected.
- The hour’s credits roll to “You Don’t Know” by jazz-funk band Galactic, featuring the Rebirth Brass Band and Glen David Andrews -- all from New Orleans, LA.
- Emmit and Sy talk about the “beloved cremains” formerly in Emmit’s green pouch without really talking about them. Sy says he loved the dog, but that’s no reason to use a pet’s ashes to conceal cash. LUVERNE, the name stitched on the outside, was the Minnesotan setting of Fargo’s 1979-set saga starring Kirsten Dunst and Patrick Wilson.
MORE FARGO RECAPS: FARGO Builds Bridges in Star-Studded Opener | FARGO: Gloria Burgle’s Case Gets Tougher to Crack | FARGO: Minnesota Freezes While Crime Returns to the 1970s
-- Zach Ellin is a freelance writer for ComicBook.com. Follow him on Twitter for more of his insights.