He's been out at a business dinner with his longtime colleague and friend Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor), in hopes of persuading Emmit to sell the pair's parking lot business to an intrigued businesswoman. But the meeting is interrupted by the news of Emmit's brother's death. When Sy drops off Emmit at home, he glances up to notice the villainous V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) peering down from a second-story window.
So Sy goes home — home being the constant source of security and sanctity in the Fargo universe. But he can't shake what has happened. The devil is living in his own friend's house, and for whatever reason, he can't be cast out. Things have spun out of control.
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"The world is wrong!" he wails to his wife. She tries to comfort him, tries to stop his tears, but there's nothing to be done. In previous seasons of the show, this simple reassertion of domesticity would have been enough to keep the wolves at bay. But now Sy, one of the most decent characters in season three, can't hold off his despair.
Something is broken in the world, and even though Fargo's three seasons follow completely different sets of characters, in three separate timelines (with a tiny bit of overlap), they combine to form a convincing argument that what's broken isn't the souls of its characters but the economic systems that grind them down. Fargo, see, is ultimately a series about the death of capitalism, where the only people who can profit are con men and hucksters, who see the world for what it really is.
Fargo bills itself as a series about petty crime. But it's much more powerful as a drama about economics.
When you start to look at Fargo as a show about the economic wheels that make the world turn, it snaps into focus in a way it often doesn't when considered solely as a nifty bit of Coen brothers pastiche.
The 1996 Oscar-winning film that gives the FX series its name, setting, and overall aesthetic was a darkly comic but ultimately hopeful tale that suggested the laws of decency and justice would win out in the end. In its final image, a couple sits down to dinner together, while waiting for their first child to arrive; there's a darkness in the world, it seems to say, but also enough light to shut it out.
Noah Hawley, who created the TV series, has worked with his writers to slowly but surely turn that idea inside out over three seasons of television. Justice might still be meted out on a micro scale. Murderers might be sent to jail, and thieves might be forced to return their ill-gotten gains. But on a macro scale — forget it. You can't stop the tidal waves that swamp otherwise ordinary Americans, because the tidal waves have become surly, implacable gods, caring little for the rest of us.
That's why it's so fitting that the first three seasons of the show are all set during vital moments in American capitalism's slow strangulation. Season one, set in 2006 and 2007, takes place on the verge of the collapse of the housing market, as an otherwise standard murder investigation in a small town is sidetracked by the presence of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), an amoral contract killer who works for a faceless organization that seems to permeate everything, even if no one realizes it's there.
Season two is even more explicit, taking place in 1979, at the dawn of Ronald Reagan's rise. Reagan himself is a character, though Fargo portrays him as a well-meaning dupe who didn't understand what he was about to unleash. The season's true story is about a mom-and-pop outfit swept aside by the rise of corporate crime — a symbolic retelling of the corporate invasion of the heartland that kicked off in the '80s and ran rampant in the '90s and 2000s.
And finally, season three takes place in 2010 and 2011, just as Americans are beginning to realize that whatever economic recovery they might see after the housing collapse will be long and grinding and unevenly distributed. Here, the well-meaning dupe is at the show's center; Emmit believes himself to be an upstanding citizen and, indeed, doesn't do anything wrong. But he nonetheless ends up destroying everything he cares about, solely because he gets into bed with a massive global organization he doesn't fully understand. The rising tide of globalization raises all boats, but only in theory. Most people — even Emmit in the end — are swamped.
And if you chart Fargo's storyline chronologically — meaning season two, then season one, then season three — this overarching throughline becomes even more clear. Season two contains hints of the chaos to come, but justice reasserts itself in the end. The American small town is still robust, worth fighting for. Then season one comes along and darkens this idea considerably, but justice arrives in the end (albeit in an anticlimactic and unsatisfying finale). Finally, season three closes in deliberate ambiguity, offering little to no justice whatsoever. Is the cavalry coming? Probably not, but we can hope.