‘Fargo’ Season 3 Episode 1 Recap: The Law of Vacant Places

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Fargo Season 3 Episode 1 Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, and David Thewlis as V.M. Varga in ‘Fargo’ season 3 (Photo by Chris Large / FX)

FX’s critically acclaimed Fargo is back for its much anticipated third season, kicking off on April 19, 2017 with an episode titled ‘The Law of Vacant Places.’ The episode begins in 1988 in East Berlin which is immediately jarring because A) the location, and B) the German officer seated at his desk in his office eating lunch looks straight out of the 1940s. The office is set up for interrogations and the officer clicks on the tape recorder when a nervous man is brought in. The officer asks if he’s Yuri Gurka, and the man says no. Everything the officer does is slow and deliberate, and he continues by asking the man to verify his address. The man claims his name is Jakob and that there’s been a misunderstanding. The officer says if that’s his address, then he’s Yuri and he’s a 20-year-old immigrant. Jakob is obviously much older than 20, but the officer will have none of his story. If Jakob is telling the truth, then the State is wrong – and that can’t happen.

The officer claims Helga Albracht is Yuri’s girlfriend but again Jakob says no. He’s married and her name is Helga, but not Albracht. Jakob begins stammering when the officer accuses him of strangling his girlfriend. The officer shows Jakob a photo of the strangled Helga, absolutely convinced he killed her despite the fact Jakob’s actual wife was alive to offer the officers tea when they came to his door this morning.

The camera pans down and we see a light dusting of snow on Jakob’s shoes. A small stream of what appears to be urine flows toward the drain in the floor. The officer says, “We are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth.” The camera then slowly works its way past Jakob’s face to the back wall where a framed photo of trees in snow has been hung. Up comes the tagline, “This is a true story.” ‘True’ disappears and the adjusted tagline reads, “This is a story.”


And now we’re among the trees and snow in the photo and it’s Minnesota, 2010. Kids play in the snow and then run up to the house where a ‘Happy 25th Anniversary’ banner hangs. Inside, Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) – the Parking Lot King of Minnesota – seems to be involved in a business disagreement. Buck (Dan Willmott) vouched for a company and Emmit’s upset they can’t reach this company. Emmit wants to pay back the company for a loan he received, but neither he nor his right-hand man, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), have even been able to leave a message when he calls their number. Since no one has a solution, Buck’s about to leave when he mentions the Storage Queen is looking for a silent partner.

Business over, Emmit and his wife, Stella, celebrate their marriage anniversary with their friends and family members. Among those gathered are Emmit’s twin brother, Ray (also played by McGregor), and his girlfriend, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The party attendees, with the exception of Ray, toast Emmit and Stella. Ray chooses instead to toss his drink into a plant.

Ray, Sy, and Emmit have a brief meeting upstairs, away from the guests, after the toast. The tension’s so thick you can cut it with a knife. After the tiniest bit of small talk in which Ray, a parole officer is told why he wasn’t invited to Emmit’s daughter’s wedding, Ray announces he’s getting engaged.

A flashback shows Nikki being booked and Ray being assigned as her parole officer.

Sy asks if Nikki’s a drug mule or maybe an embezzler, and that irks Ray who asks why Sy’s even in the room. Emmit reminds him Sy is always there for talks involving money. In fact, Ray does need money to buy a ring and he thinks Emmit owes him for something that happened when they were kids. Sy ticks off a list of money they’ve given/lent to Ray, and Emmit says he doesn’t mind having funded him before. Sy and Emmit both claim now’s not the best time for them financially, and Ray asks for his stamp – which is framed and hanging on the wall behind Emmit’s desk – back or else he might sue. Apparently, stamps were bequeathed to Ray in their father’s will, but Emmit reminds Ray he begged him to trade the stamps for his dad’s car. Ray claims to have been tricked into the deal when they were young, and wonders what the two or three dozen vintage stamps are worth now. Ray wants to buy Nikki a sweet ring, and asks if Emmit will do what’s right.

Ray and Nikki leave the party and she asks if he got the money. Ray confesses Emmit told him it wasn’t the best time, but claims he’ll handle it. The valet brings his old Corvette – the one he received in the trade with his brother for the stamps – around and it looks like it’s on its last legs. The focus shifts to the license plate which reads “Ace Hole” as he pulls away in a hurry.

Nikki tries to give Ray tips on an upcoming tournament while they’re driving away, but Ray’s distracted. He finally reminds her she can’t leave the state for the tournament, plus they’re not even supposed to be dating since they are parole officer/parolee. She reminds him just how much money is at stake in the tournaments and that they’re always on the same page when they play.

And now, 20 minutes in, we finally get the Fargo opening title.

Inside the Red Owl Market, Ennis Stussy is stacking bottles while his grandson, Nathan (Graham Verchere), plays with his phone. The boy’s mom, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon), wants in but the automatic door doesn’t open. Finally, the kid gets up and lets her in. A few minutes later they take off but not before she tells her stepdad she’ll see him later that night for dinner.

Ray’s back at work, collecting pee from parolees and looking beyond bored at his job. Parolee after parolee stop by his desk to check in, each peeing in a cup on their way out. Day over, Ray heads to the bar where he finds Maurice (Scoot McNairy) and lets him know he failed his piss test. Ray set up the meeting in the bar because he has a place he needs Maurice to rob. If he does the job, he’ll forget about the positive piss test. Ray wants Maurice to steal the stamp from his brother’s office, and Maurice – who is three sheets to the wind – struggles to make sense of the offer. Ray hands him a piece of paper with Emmit’s address and says, “Just get the damned stamp!”

Meanwhile over at Emmit’s, he gets a call from Sy who tells him to get to the office immediately. The people they’ve been trying to contact are there now.

Maurice hits the road and heads to Emmit’s while getting high and talking to his shrink on the phone. He wonders where the president shops, why the morgue is on the bottom floor in hospitals, and wants to talk about his parole officer being mean to him. When the doctor asks if he’s getting high, Maurice nearly loses control of his car and the paper with the address flies out the window. Using his headlights, he searches for it in the dark before finally giving up.

Emmit arrives at work to find a stranger named V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) waiting with Sy. Emmit explains they called the number but couldn’t leave a message, and now they’d like to pay back the money lent to them last year. V. M. Varga tells them to keep the money. Sy and Emmit explain, again, that they’re ready to pay it back. V.M. clarifies that the company he works for didn’t loan Emmit the money, they invested it in his company. Varga adds that Emmit’s confused and that their partnership is just beginning. Sy’s a lawyer and says the contract did not say this would be a continuing partnership. V.M. wonders why they didn’t ask why his company loaned them $1 million without collateral. They studied Emmit’s business and now they’ll use it to “disguise” their activities. Emmit doesn’t want any of this, but V.M. assures them their business arrangement will continue and they can keep the $1 million. He also reveals his company already has access to Emmit’s company’s software and warns him not to mention this to anyone. V.M. leaves and Emmit and Sy are stunned.

Gloria serves her son and stepfather dessert, and Nathan checks out a carving his grandfather just gave him for his birthday. Gloria discusses how her police department might be absorbed into a larger force, and she reminds Nathan he’ll be going to his dad’s this weekend. Apparently, Gloria’s ex is gay and Nathan wonders if his dad’s boyfriend is also his dad. (Gloria thinks he’d be his step-father.)

Ray and Nikki arrive at the Wildcat Regional Bridge Tournament which is packed with mostly elderly players. They check in and begin playing.

Meanwhile, Maurice is still on the road. He remembers the name Stussy and that the street may have started with an M and thinks the town was something biblical. He sees a sign for Eden Valley and thinks that’s it. (Wrong. Emmit lives in Eden Prairie.) Maurice pulls into a gas station and after an argument and a threat, the attendant finally hands over the phone book. Maurice rips out the page he needs and once back in his car, he finds an entry for E. Stussy who lives on Malta Rd. (Wrong again. Emmit lives on Maiden Lane.)

Ennis takes a late night slug of vodka after Gloria and Nathan leave, and as he’s drinking headlights light up the kitchen.

Fargo Season 3 episode 1 Carrie Coon

Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle in ‘Fargo’ (Photo by Chris Large/FX)

Gloria makes small talk as she and Nathan head home. Nathan realizes he left the carving his grandfather made him behind, and convinces his mom to turn around and retrieve it. Leaving Nathan in the car, Gloria is shocked to find the front door open, the house torn up, and Ennis taped to a chair, dead. Nathan followed her in and she sends him back out, instructing him to lock the car doors while she searches the house.

The killer has escaped but during her search, Gloria discovers a box hidden under the floorboards. Inside are sci-fi books, and the discovery leaves Gloria stumped.

Back again to the bridge team of Ray and Nikki who snagged a 3rd place finish. They’re giddy as they return to Nikki’s place, unaware Maurice is watching them from his car.

Nikki and Ray celebrate their win with a romantic bath surrounded by candles, telling each other how proud they are of their teamwork. Their celebration is interrupted when Maurice enters the bathroom and takes a seat on the toilet. Maurice admits the theft of the stamp did not go smoothly, and Nikki is caught off-guard by the admission. Maurice reveals the guy he stole the stamp from didn’t cooperate, and Nikki figures out Ray had Maurice steal the stamp from his brother’s house. When Maurice says “Eden Valley” and that the guy’s place wasn’t fancy, Ray realizes Maurice went to the wrong house. Nikki’s not angry, calling the heist a romantic gesture. Maurice then describes Ray’s brother as being really old, confirming to Ray that this parolee hit the wrong place. When he turns over ordinary stamps, Ray grabs him and raises his fist. Maurice reacts by whipping out his gun, demanding $5,000 to keep quiet about their deal.

Nikki tries to distract Maurice by emerging naked from the bathtub so that Ray can go for the gun, but Ray’s not quick enough on the uptake. Maurice gives them a day to come up with the money and leaves the apartment. Nikki immediately springs into action, loosening the air conditioning unit that hangs out over the sidewalk. Ray watches the street and when Maurice is directly under Nikki’s window, Ray kicks the unit out and it lands on Maurice, instantly killing him. Ray can’t believe what they just did but Nikki remains calm and collected. She calls 9-1-1 and reports the incident, telling Ray she’s been telling the landlord that unit has been loose for weeks. She sends Ray out the back way to avoid the cops.




Rebecca Murray

Rebecca Murray

Editor in Chief at Showbiz Junkies
Journalist covering the entertainment industry for 19+ years, including 13 years as the first writer for About.com's Hollywood Movies site. Member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and President of the San Diego Film Critics Society.
Rebecca Murray
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