The road back to “Fargo” leads through East Berlin, 1988. A terrified man is called before a uniformed officer who insists that he is someone else, someone guilty of a horrible crime.
To the man’s protests, the officer responds that “this is a problem. Because for you to be right, the state would have to be wrong.” And of course the state can’t be wrong.
If we feel, briefly, that we’ve wandered into the wrong show (“The Americans,” maybe), never fear. Melting snow on the man’s shoes and a small picture of a desolate winter scene lead us to Minnesota, 2010, and the familiar opening: “This is a true story.”
Season 3 of “Fargo,” arriving Wednesday on FX, was a long time coming. Noah Hawley, who so expertly channeled the Coen brothers and their 1996 dark comedy twice before, made time to create “Legion,” based on the Marvel comic, also for FX. Shooting on “Fargo” also had to wait for real cold in Calgary.
So 16 months will have passed between the Season 2 finale and Season 3 premiere, but because “Fargo” tells a different story every season, no homework is needed. As soon as the first character says “Hon?” or “OK then,” we’re back.
The premiere meticulously sets up the story without giving us more than a hint of where it’s going, and that’s how “Fargo” fans like it.
First we meet Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor), dashing in a white dinner jacket, having a serious business discussion with two associates. It’s Emmit’s 25th wedding anniversary, and the house (a mansion, really) is full of guests gathered to help him celebrate.
Among those guests is his younger brother, Ray Stussy (also Ewan McGregor), and here’s what everyone will be talking about the morning after the premiere. McGregor is so good, and the characters are so vividly differentiated, that it’s almost impossible to believe they are played by the same person. Can an actor win two Emmys for the same role? If so, cue up McGregor for both.
Although Emmit is clearly a success, with his Hair Club for Men curls and Champagne lifestyle, Ray is much less so. Balding and paunchy, he is a parole officer, constantly struggling to get by and having called on his brother for help in the past.
But what’s between the brothers isn’t just the inequity of their lives. In a grievance that dates to their teenage years, Emmit has possession of a valuable stamp that Ray believes was left to him. Instead, Ray got a red Corvette, now sadly rusted out.
Ray’s luck may have turned in his engagement to Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a client who’s as sharp as she is gorgeous and seems way out of Ray’s league. What’s a younger brother to do?
From this brother vs. brother premise, the story spreads its tentacles. In “Fargo,” the tide always turns on a bad decision, one based on greed, stupidity and in this case jealousy, that winds up being more disastrous than anyone could have imagined.
So Ray’s decision to get back what he believes is his is countered by Emmit’s earlier decision to take a dubious loan. No good, we know, can come of either.
Meanwhile, we meet Gloria Burgle (the wonderful Carrie Coon from “The Leftovers”), the police chief of little Eden Valley, Minn.
Like Molly Solverson in Season 1 and Marge Gunderson in “Fargo” the movie, Gloria is a smart, straight-up law officer, doing her job and rising above expectations.
In Gloria’s case, she’s struggling out of the funk of a recent divorce and trying to keep her son’s chin up (and eyes off his phone). A shocking crime, though, is personal.
These three plot lines, of Emmit and Ray and Gloria, are already interconnected by the end of the first hour. There is time, too, for a little fun, if your sense of humor runs to the dark side. (If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t watching “Fargo.”) A scene involving a window air conditioner shouldn’t be laugh-out-loud funny, but it is.
Nods to all the previous editions will delight “Fargo” aficionados. En route to commit a crime, the would-be perp loses the address and hunts for it futilely in a frozen field. In her hat with ear flaps, Gloria looks strikingly like Marge. There are more, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.
Hawley (who has a twin brother in real life, whatever you make of that) wrote and directed the premiere, setting the tone both with bleak, painterly vistas and with anxious, claustrophobic scenes. The music is complicated and eclectic but always pushes the right buttons.
In short, “Fargo” is back, and it’s brilliant.
The cast of characters
Who’s who in the new season of “Fargo,” broken into four groups/families of characters who interact:
• Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, the “Parking Lot King” of Minnesota, a wealthy real estate investor
• Linda Kash as Stella Stussy, Emmit’s wife of 25 years
• Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, Emmit’s attorney and right-hand man
• Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy, Emmit’s younger brother, a parole officer always chasing his break
• Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango, Ray’s girlfriend and client
• Scoot McNairy as Maurice LeFay, a stoner client asked to do a job for Ray
• Carrie Coon as Gloria Burgle, chief of police in Eden Valley, Minn., and the newly divorced mother
• Jim Gaffigan as Donny Mashman, a police deputy
• Shea Whigham as Sheriff Moe Dammik
• Olivia Sandoval as Winnie Lopez, a police officer
• Hamish Linklater as Larue Dollars, an IRS agent
• David Thewlis as V.M. Vargo, the mysterious representative of an organization that lent Emmit money
• Goran Bogdan as Yuri Gurka, a gangster in league with Vargo
• Andy Yu as Meemo, also in league with Vargo