Fargo Who Rules the Land of Denial? Review
Written by Noah Hawley, Monica Beletsky
Directed By Mike Barker
Emmit Stussy/Ray Stussy: Ewan McGregor
Gloria Burgle: Carrie Coon
VM Varga: David Thewlis
Nicki Swango: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Meemo: Andy Yu
Yuri: Goran Bogdan
Officer Lopez: Olivia Sandoval
Sy Feltz: Michael Stuhlbarg
Maurice LeFay: Scoot McNairy
Golem (Assassin): DJ Qualls
Mr. Wrench: Russell Harvard
Who Rules The Land Of Denial? is the best episode of the third season of Fargo yet. Continuing with the escape from the previous episode, this episode places us just moments before the prison bus crash. Aided by Mr. Wrench, Nicki heads towards the woods, chained with the popular deaf character from season one. Wandering aimlessly through the woods of Minnesota, they’re followed by Yuri and Golem taunting them before a kill, similar to the way a wolf would before pouncing on its prey.
Entering Through The Gates Of The Bowling Alley
What most people are scratching their heads about is the mysterious bowling alley and what it represents. Walking through the front door with Mr. Wrench, Nicki sits at the bar and is asked by the bartender, “D’you want shoes?” A hint that her stay may be a long while.
Sitting next to her is a familiar face from episode three, The Law of Non-Contradiction, Paul. His initial presence didn’t spark anything out of the ordinary but his remarks about the soldier leaving for war and leaving behind a declaration of divorce to his wife sticks out even more.
Where he mentioned that a stationed soldier is both divorced and married in his first twelve months of serving overseas, Nicki and Mr. Wrench are in a similar situation while in the bowling alley – they are both alive and dead. After fighting for their lives in the woods, killing Golem (in the coolest way possible) and seriously injuring Yuri, they stumble upon a bright light in the darkness of night. Much like the UFO appearance in season two, the bowling alley presents an interesting allusion to the afterlife. In The Castle, the appearance of a UFO stops everyone dead in their tracks during a stand-off at a motel.
In Who Rules The Land Of Denial?, Nicki’s conversation with Paul alludes to him being the devil or a malign figure of significant importance in the afterlife. He shows her a kitten, who takes a liking to the name Ray and informs her of the Massacre of Uman. He asks, “Have you been to this place before?”
“The bowling alley,” she questions.
“Is that what you see,” he says.
Allusions To The Afterlife and That UFO
The bowling alley is the manifestation of what Nicki believes comes after death and just before heaven or hell; the bowling alley is purgatory. In much the same way The Stranger breaks the fourth wall in The Big Lebowski, Paul is able to provide that same sense of self-awareness.
The opening title cards mention the series is based on the testimony of those involved in the story. Meaning divine intervention can play a major role in someone’s truth. The UFO is from the perspective of Ted Danson’s character and the bowling alley is from Nicki’s perspective, but both representing similar things.
Now the question remains if Nicki and Mr. Wrench are indeed alive or allowed to roam the earth as unclaimed souls, as per Paul’s dialog.
With Yuri entering the bowling alley, he’s forced to atone for his past sins and the sins of his father before him. While hunting, he mentions to Golem, “I knew a Helga once,” adding she would never shut up. The first episode of the season mentions that a ‘Yuri’ killed his girlfriend ‘Helga,’ though many fans didn’t want to assume the Yuri we meet in episode two is the same one responsible for that crime.
Those fans get a definitive answer here where Yuri comes face to face with Helga and the rest of the slaughtered Jews from Uman. Yuri’s fate seems pretty sealed and with Meemo’s dancing showing he’s untethered to his Ukrainian counterpart. Memo dancing is symbolic of him being free.
What’s Eating Emmit Stussy?
With Sy in the hospital and Fargo jumping three months in the future, Emmit’s guilt is slowly eating away at him. Seeing his brother’s car at the hospital and the copies of the stamp replaced at his office send him down a spiral that Varga can’t mend with pills. Later, when a mustache is glued to his face, he assumes his brother is still alive and tormenting him.
The stamp bears the image of Sisyphus, the Greek king doomed to push a boulder uphill for the rest of eternity for his deceitfulness and exaggerating his personal wealth. The stamp’s image really spoke on Ray’s failed attempts at life, with hiring Maurice LeFay and hounding his brother for money. Now that Emmit has to live with the guilt of his brother’s death, his wife and children gone, and his best friend in a coma, and his deceitful dealings with Varga, his guilt weighs on him, continuing to push that proverbial boulder up a long, arduous hill.
Dead, Or Just Wandering Souls?
Is Nicki and Mr. Wrench dead? That’s a question that remains to be answered. Paul mentioned he placed Mr. Wrench on a new path, “I convinced that he’s on a better path, now.”
Paul quotes Psalms 94:16, “Who will rise for me against the wicked. Who will rise for against evildoers.” Immediately followed by, “you need a ride?” Paul is giving Nicki the opportunity to head back out to the world and take a stand against those who wrong Ray. While not completely innocent, there is room for Nicki to “stand against the wicked” and then atone for her killing of LeFay in episode one.
Who Rules The Land Of Denial? is one of Fargo’s best episodes. Not just because of the opening sequence through the woods but because of it’s metaphorical tones and it’s structure and placement in the season.