‘Fargo’ season 3 first look: Inspired casting, storytelling collide spectacularly

Fargo’s third crack at small screen neo-noir is more welcome than a wool sweater on a Minnesota winter morning.

(Warning: Some mild spoilers for Fargo’s first three seasons are present below. Fargo newcomers, proceed at your own risk!)

Fargo‘s first season featured dead fish falling from the sky. Its second included a (spoiler alert!) visit from a flying saucer. The original FX series from creator Noah Hawley — inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 cult-favorite film of the same name — has, however, saved its biggest stunt for its latest 10-episode arc.

The core actors steal the show, but even the supporting cast’s performances are dripping with nuance, and drenched in eccentricities.

We’re referring, of course, to the casting of Ewan McGregor as twins Emmit and Ray Stussy, the rivaling siblings at the center of the third season’s twisted, darkly comedic tale. Calling this a “stunt” isn’t entirely fair, though, as McGregor’s portrayal of two very different characters is no mere ratings gimmick. In the first two episodes made available to press, the potentially risky move never comes off as a cheap trick, but is instead a brilliant bit of casting that’s already put this season in the running as the series’ best yet.

Emmit is an entrepreneur whose savvy business skills have earned him the title “Parking Lot King of Minnesota,” while his younger brother Ray is a down-on-his-luck parole officer envious of his sibling’s success. Thanks to smart writing and spot-on acting, it’s not only possible to forget that the pair is being played by the same person, but also to forget you’re watching the well-known thespian who once wielded a lightsaber; McGregor absolutely loses himself in both roles, allowing us to join him for the ride without reservation.

Familiar Fargo shenanigans

The warring brothers soon find themselves in an unfortunate situation any fan of the movie or previous seasons will find familiar. Misdemeanors mistakenly turn into murders, misguided attempts to cover crimes make things worse, and pretty much everyone involved winds up way over their heads. Coupled with the expected quirky characters, clueless criminals, frigid weather, and funny accents, Fargo‘s third small screen outing checks all the franchise’s signature boxes in its first moments.

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Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. Chris Large/FX

Despite the familiarity though, nothing about the series feels phoned-in or rehashed. In fact, every scene in the first glimpses is endlessly watchable to the point you’ll probably find yourself rewinding to hear an instantly quotable line repeated or watch a character sport a meme-worthy facial expression or affectation. Unless you possess ironclad restraint, plan on watching one such scene — in which a character ponders the Methamphetamine-making properties of orange juice concentrate —multiple times over.

We can also say with some degree of confidence that episode one sports the best urine-collecting musical montage ever committed to film.

McGregor absolutely loses himself in both roles, allowing us to join him for the ride without reservation.

The supporting cast has little trouble keeping up with McGregor’s dual roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead more than holds her own as Ray’s morally ambiguous, professional bridge-playing parolee girlfriend Nikki Swango, while David Thewlis’ mysterious baddie, V.M. Vargo, is bucking for an Emmy nomination with every menacing line spoken through his rotten teeth.

Equally excellent is Emmit’s right-hand heavy Sy (Michael Stuhlberg), who delivers some of the second episode’s best dialogue when confronting Ray about a feminine hygiene product used as a “weapon.” Additionally, Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) adeptly picks up Marge Gunderson’s good-cop mantle from the film that spawned Hawley’s sprawling series, braving Minnesota’s biting cold and dumb criminals with equal measures of resiliency.

The core cast steals the show, but even bit performances are dripping with nuance, and drenched in eccentricities. Toss in the sort of superb pacing and plotting already introduced in this first blush, and Fargo‘s third season is well on its way to adding yet another rich chapter to this riveting “true story.”