Just past the halfway point this season Fargo’s sixth episode “The Lord of No Mercy” already begins to show suggestions of divine retribution. Self-made millionaire Emmit Stussy is reeling from the recent departure of his wife and has surrendered himself to greater, eviller powers. His twin brother, Ray, further distances himself from Emmit as he tends to his recently battered fiance Nikki. Small town police chief Gloria Burgle is still on the hunt for her stepfather’s killers, despite the disapproval of her superiors. Varga’s reign of tyranny is slightly hampered, if only for a moment, with Gloria’s appearance at Emmit’s office. She tries to connect the dots but the connection is too unlikely. The process is an important one for the series because it unveils the fundamental unknowability of what’s true and what’s not. Her journey, despite the season’s overt nihilism, seems to be the only one bound for a happy ending.
The episode here seems primarily focused on Varga (despite Emmit & Ray’s relationship reaching its tragic pinnacle). David Thewlis’ slackjawed detachment and cool are fully intact but finally tested. The law seems to be his natural enemy. When Gloria appears in Emmit’s office building the man approaches her with slightly less confidence. The scene, which sees Emmit questioned by the two police officers, is undoubtedly a moment of power play. Thewlis is remarkably precise here as a man not used to not being in control and, in the presence higher authorities, we finally catch a glimpse of Thewlis’s character writhing in discontent. The results of David Thewlis’s emotional transformation are unusually effective.
Gloria’s character, bearing little trace of actual characterization and drama, seems to have been distilled purely as plot. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Her entire arch from the first episode has been about finding out who set in motion the string of events that led to the murder of her stepfather. Her quest for justice begins innocuously enough but later begins as a quest for the truth. She supplies the show with its backbone. Ray and Emmit, on the other hand, seem to be the show’s beating heart. Ray, a down-and-out, honest-to-god lowlife, is granted not the Coens usual cynicism but a lyrical tragedy. As the brotherly feud culminates in the episode relates us to the Biblical feud of brothers Cain and Abel. Like Cain and Abel, Ray and Emmit is a tale that ends with brother killing brother.
The sixth episode contains some of the series’ most compelling examples of image-making. The opening shot, a dark room and a light gleaming through shutters, seems to be the most fully conceived. Ray sits in the room, consumed by darkness, only a subtle outpouring of light around his vengeful frame shows a whisper of compassion. Such specificity are the Fargo’s only redeeming quality as, story-wise, it begins to erode into middling cloak-and-dagger. Noah Hawley is sneaky enough to disguise generic episodic filler with his sheer attention to detail—which in turn shows a brawny devotion to character. The long-running format proves counteractive to many shows that draw cinematic inspiration in tone and consistency, but Fargo’s “The Lord of No Mercy” is a example of the show’s supreme commitment in capitalizing on an episode’s individual strengths.