In the second to last episode of the season, Fargo experiences an overwhelming drop in quality from episode eight’s twisted and colorful odyssey of violence. “Aporia” continues to unroll Noah Hawley’s endless disappointment in humanity. Yet without the unobtrusive optimism which made the Coens’ Fargo a masterpiece, Hawley’s inhumanity ends up feeling too superficial and trivial. Of course it must be difficult to sustain any sort of vision of that sort over the span of ten episodes, and while Fargo certainly has preserved a unique sense of layout and style in that period of time such a high volume of information, plot and story has stretched most of Fargo’s underlying themes into incoherent garble, from Gloria’s weepy end monologue (“I got this theory, in private, that I don’t actually exist”) to Varga’s progressively confusing moral philosophy (“The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care?”).
Picking up where the last episode ends, Emit Stussy sits in an interrogation room waiting to confess his part in his brother’s death. There’s hardly any interrogating in the scene, Emit reveals almost everything about himself and his brother Ray to Gloria, how the latter ended up with the red corvette, how Emit always wanted the stamp the two brothers fought so viciously for. His guilt and self-defeat comes almost as a disappointing anticlimax to Gloria who’d been on his tail the last few episodes making surprise inquiries, provoking the ire of his employer V.M. Varga. Just as the show flirts with depth, however, his interrogation turns out to be a red herring. Varga, already well prepared, successfully pins Emit’s crime on someone else in yet another of the show’s irritating wheel-spinning.
Fargo’s rampant wheel-spinning, however, sometimes cleverly disguises itself as endless, subtle variations on certain themes. The vastly under-appreciated policewoman Gloria is always just inches from nabbing her perp before higher-ups get in the way. The futility of her pursuit strongly alludes to the labors of Sisyphus, eternally fated to roll a boulder up the hill only for it to roll back down upon every attempt. Shrewd as it is, ten episodes is simply too many for this Sysphus-like recurrence to work efficiently. Its endless takes become more akin to repetition. Gloria’s character, established early on as a bumpkin with fierce intellect, has not only failed to stand apart from the first and second season’s Alison Loman and Patrick Wilson, respectively, but has come to embody the monotony and limitations of Noah Hawley’s moralization.
Of course, “Aporia” isn’t all repetition. After a promising redirection for character Nikki Swango in episode eight, writers Noah Hawley and Bob DeLaurentis have also failed to succor this original and encouraging path, relying on cliche and awkward contrivance in a sour attempt to provide Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s dull, straight-faced confidence with more zeal. In a jarring turn of events, Nikki and Mr. Wrench make a vengeful comeback, first assaulting Meemo, Varga’s right-hand man, and stealing his beloved semi-trailer/base-of-operations. Fargo, which fetishizes carefully planned capers, have conveniently failed to nourish us with the ingenious timing and precision of Nikki’s planned assault. Those trivialities aside, one still can’t help but feel confused by episode nine’s muddled direction and unintentional ironies. While episode eight told us a dark and sobering fable on two criminals on a path to redemption, “Aporia” contradicts itself by showering that same ugly criminality with an unironic approval.
While there’s no question that over-direction has always been associated with Noah Hawley’s series, “Aporia” is the first to abuse Fargo’s charming affectation of style-as-substance. The season’s notable use of music, classical or otherwise, has never been more obnoxious than under Kieth Gordon’a inconsistent direction. The ugly mistreatment of a grisly murder in the opening, played ironically against ill-fitted music, imitates the Coen brothers’ edginess without their clever and fascinating ability to purposefully misapply and identify coalescing tones. Or the insufferable use of jazzy fanfare denoting Nikki Swango’s smug victory over Varga, a moment too cheesy to have been conceived by Noah Hawley (though by this point I have my doubts). There’s nothing remotely productive or interesting happening in Fargo’s ninth episode and if “Aporia” tells us anything about the series as a whole, it’s that it’s at least one episode too long.